CAD Manager-Benchmarking Processes and Savings

30 Nov, 2006 By: Robert Green

Analyze your methods to find cost savings.

CAD managers are always looking at new hardware and software tools in the search for CAD efficiency. In fact, many CAD managers use benchmarking techniques to test for computational throughput or to put a new software tool through a battery of usability tests. The good news is that CAD managers seem to know that benchmarking is the best way to analyze the performance of new products. The bad news, however, is that benchmarking isn't used to analyze CAD processes that possess equal if not greater potential for cost savings.

This month, I'll focus on benchmarking for savings wherever it might occur. Think of it as a unified field theory for benchmarking that works for hardware, software, training or any other process you use. Interested? I know your management is!

What You Should Benchmark

The first step in your benchmarking process is to create a list of ideas to benchmark. To get started with this, you'll need a few clean sheets of paper and some quality time when you can really concentrate. Take the following steps:

Brainstorm a list of every cost saving idea you can think of. A great place to start is asking yourself questions such as:

  • 1. What am I asked most often?
  • 2. Where are we wasting the most time?
  • 3. What parts of our standards or processes cause us the most problems?

Your goal is to capture every smart idea you can think of that could accelerate schedules, generate time savings or both. Don't worry about politics, costs, methods or even who might not like the idea—just capture good ideas as fast as you can before you forget them.

Sort the list. Go back through your list and sort it based on the following priorities: First, which changes will positively affect the greatest number of people? Second, which changes will save the most time? Third, which changes will resolve the most irritating, annoying problems in your office?

Identify what you'll need to implement your new idea. Will your idea require hardware, software, training, programming or a combination of the above? Being clear about the types of resources you'll need lets you know whether you'll be able to tackle the implementation.

Get a rough idea of costs. If your idea requires new software, will it be a whole new CAD system or an inexpensive utility? Will training be one day or five? Will you need a $3,000 workstation or a $300 graphics card? Having these rough costs available makes it much easier to compute benefits later. These numbers don't have to be perfect, just close enough for estimating purposes.

Analyze and rethink. Your list should now be ordered according to the most time-wasting, annoying problems that affect the biggest number of people. If you think about it, what you've done is generate a list of ideas that can yield the greatest possible amount of savings while at the same time eliminating vexing problems that CAD users and their managers hate. Now that is a win–win situation!

Craft a Game Plan

Next, you'll need to figure out which items from your list you can tackle soon, which ones come later and which ones are out of your reach due to cost or resource constraints. Based on your realistic understanding of your list, you should be able to identify items you can work on now and their order of implementation. When you craft your working list, you'll probably want to attack the items with lowest costs of implementation first, simply because those items won't require as much management approval.

By working on these lower-cost items first, you'll build political and managerial support for the more expensive items that you'll tackle later. This game-plan phase is crucial to your long-term success, so give it some careful thought and base your plan on the realities of your environment.

Example of a Cost-Saving Process

To illustrate the actual benchmarking process, let's work through an example:

An institutional architect uses AutoCAD to prepare large quantities of door and window schedules. In fact, she has to prepare an average of four schedules per week. The current process involves manual extraction of door and window blocks to a file that is imported into a formatted spreadsheet and printed. Each manually generated report takes 20 minutes to prepare and print. Our cost-saving idea is to create a VBA routine that will use AutoCAD's attribute extraction functions to prepare a comma-separated file and then fire Excel to automatically read the file and print it.

The CAD manager estimates that it will take 8 hours of her time to program the solution and deploy it on the machines of the two operators who prepare the reports. The program will be easy to use, so training will be one hour per operator. Assume $50/hour for the CAD manager's time and $25/hour for the operators' time. Let's work up the solution.

Savings benchmark. Assuming 50 work weeks per year and 80 minutes of operator savings per week, 4,000 minutes, or 67 hours, can be saved per year. At $25 per hour for operator time saved, total savings will be $1,675.

Cost benchmark. The cost of creating and deploying the application will be 8 hours of CAD manager time to develop the code, 1 hour of CAD manager time to train the two operators, and 2 hours of operator time for training. At $50 and $25 for CAD manager and operator time, respectively, the total cost for the routine will be $500 (9 x $50 + 2 x $25).

Compute return. By dividing the annual savings of $1,675 by the cost of $500, we obtain an ROI (return on investment) of 335%. Or, if you prefer, this cost-saving idea can pay for itself in less than four months. And because this application uses standard AutoCAD components such as block attributes and VBA, we have every confidence that the application will port to the next version of AutoCAD, so we can keep saving money in the future.

Example conclusions. This example illustrates the key concept that CAD managers often can save money and get spectacular ROI values on small projects that don't require hardware or software investment. In our example, the CAD manager simply must get the approval to spend the time on developing a custom routine and then deploy it. And if the CAD manager is asked, "Why are you spending time on that programming stuff?," he or she can answer, "Because I'm going to save you three times more than it costs."

In this case, benchmarking helps the CAD manager see whether a project is worth it and then sell it to management, earning brownie points for delivering higher productivity all the while. Please note that communicating your benchmark results to your management is where the brownie points rack up.

General Benchmarking Advice

When you consider all the potential permutations of costs and savings, it becomes clear that there are infinite possibilities. So how then can you get a general feel for benchmarking all these savings opportunities? The key is to realize that any benchmarking process is composed of software, hardware, labor (either yours or someone else's) and money components. Here are some hints that'll keep you sane as you move forward:

Labor. The Holy Grail of benchmarking, especially when savings can be obtained without purchasing new hardware or software. If you can find cases in which clever process changes or use of your time as CAD manager can drive labor savings, you know you've found a great cost-savings idea. Focus on those scenarios and watch your stock rise.

Hardware. New hardware typically is purchased when old hardware is obsolete. If you want to purchase new hardware sooner, concentrate on preventing system crashes, reducing support due to obsolete drivers, minimizing time spent on updating operating systems or even speeding up production due to faster processing speeds. In all cases, you're simply saving time that would be spent dealing with a hardware-related problem and then balancing that time savings against the cost of the hardware. With hardware prices continuing to fall, it may be easier than you think.

Software. Software can be very hard to benchmark because you'll have to use new features and software processes to really gain savings. Hardware or labor benchmarking is straightforward, but software can yield lots of surprises. Expect to be questioned more about new software than any other category of benchmarking you'll do. Also bear in mind that powerful new design software may require new hardware to run well and extensive user training—thus, it presents the most complex benchmarking scenarios. Remember that there's a reason why changing software is so hard.

Money. No matter what you're benchmarking, what's the point if it doesn't save the company money? If your benchmark doesn't show compelling savings, move on to your next idea.

Personal Benefits

Using benchmarking techniques to justify investment in hardware, software, training or even custom programming or configuration on your part is the easiest way I know to get your management's attention. After all, when you've analyzed the technical and business aspects of any cost-saving idea, you leave no room for anyone to argue with the benefits. If you take the time to benchmark your ideas, you'll always be in the strongest position to get the resources you need to do your job.

You may find that when you think more about cost savings and how to benchmark them, you'll focus on the ideas that make the most sense for your company. And believe me when I tell you that CAD managers who make savings and benchmarking a core part of their CAD management plans are the most highly compensated CAD managers in the industry.

Robert Green performs CAD programming and consulting throughout the United States and Canada. Reach him at

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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