How to Stay Billable in the CAD Management 3.0 Era

11 Feb, 2020 By: Robert Green

CAD management facilitates production, so it should be almost entirely billable — which means you need to reprioritize your workload.

As we discussed in the first part of this series, “CAD Management 3.0 — The Change Is Real,” we’re in the midst of major change wave in CAD management. One thing that never seems to change, however, is that senior management wants you to be billable. Have you ever heard the phrase, “Can you do the CAD management stuff in your spare time?” Of course you have! The coded meaning behind this phrase is that billable jobs should be your priority, and anything related to CAD management is just overhead that is to be avoided. But we all know that if we don’t do the CAD management work, mistakes will be made, projects will be delayed, and rework will cost the company more money.

So how can CAD managers in the CAD Management 3.0 world of ever-more-complex technology deal with this conundrum? In this edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll give you an approach that can help you stay billable even as the job gets more complicated. I’ve used some of these strategies to stay billable in the past, and also find them useful today. You may find that you can bill far more CAD management tasks than you ever thought you could! Here goes.

Supporting Production and Becoming Billable

As silly as this may sound at first, start thinking about CAD management as a production task, not a technical task. I know you’re thinking, “Everything I do is somehow technical, be it software installation, configuration, or support — so how can it not be technical?” The answer to this question is: You’re only doing those things so CAD users — who are architects, engineers, designers, drafters, BIM modelers, etc. — can work on paying jobs. So it actually turns out that you are a production facilitator.

Once you accept that CAD management is a production function, it becomes clear that CAD management should be almost entirely billable. Why? Because if you didn’t do your thing, projects either wouldn’t go out or would take much longer to complete — and therefore, would be more expensive.

Repeat after me:I’m a CAD manager, and since I support production I am billable!

Say this line and read the above paragraph as many times as needed until you believe it!

First Things First: Prioritize Your Workload

We all have a long list of tasks we need to complete, and the nature of those tasks is changing as CAD management itself changes. Of course it is hard to get everything done, but I find the hardest part of a long list of tasks is knowing how to prioritize those tasks. Adding to the problem is that everyone wants you to work on their task first, because that is the most important priority for them!

If we consider that job one is to be more supportive of production — and therefore more billable — it stands to reason that prioritizing your workload should reflect that sensibility. The best strategy I’ve found for dealing with task prioritization is to repeatedly ask myself the following four questions while perusing the task list:

  1. Is this task really something IT should be doing?
  2. Does this task support production deadline requirements?
  3. Is this task a result of errors that should not have occurred in the first place?
  4. If I postpone this task, will production deadlines slip?

As you go through your task list, place the number 1, 2, 3, or 4 next to each item and resort your list accordingly. Congratulations, because you’re halfway home! Your new list will be sorted in the exact order that you should use to complete your tasks.

Tackle That List

Now let’s get to work! I can already hear some of you disagreeing with my prioritization order, so let me walk you through my justifications:

Is this task really something IT should be doing? What if setting up a user account or establishing project permissions is blocking work on a project? Now you have a case where production is being impacted by an IT issue you can’t fix — welcome to CAD Management 3.0! My strategy here is to identify the problem, document it, and offload it to IT to start progress on the resolution right away.

Does this task support production deadline requirements? If it does, then it needs to be worked on, but what if you have many items on your list that meet these criteria? If so, prioritize them according to production deadlines: The sooner the deadline, the sooner the task should be completed.

Is this task a result of errors that should not have occurred in the first place? Items in this category tend to be violated standards, lack of proper job kickoff processes, etc. Use the same prioritization logic as above, but be aware that it may take extra time to fix the problems in a job that’s already progressing, so these items may become urgent.

If I postpone this task, will production deadlines slip? Items in this category include examining new software, working on documentation, organizing files, attending meetings, etc. If a task does not correlate to a production goal, then place it at the bottom of your list for now, and work on it later if it does become project-related.

By now, you should now have a pretty good idea of the order you’ll perform all your tasks in. So what could possibly go wrong with such a logical approach? Let’s explore this question a bit.

Enforce Your Priorities

The biggest problem I’ve experienced with prioritizing my task load to support production — and thus be more billable — is that my priorities aren’t the same as other people’s priorities. Simply put, I must explain to people why I’m doing what I’m doing, instead of what they want me to do, in as tactful a manner as I can. The process usually goes something like this:

A project manager (PM) says to me, “Why don’t you have those new electrical tool palettes done for my instrumentation guys yet?”

Here’s how I, the CAD manager (CM), answer that type of question:

CM: I feel your pain, but I’ve been told to make myself much more billable, and to work on tasks that directly support production projects with near-term deadlines. Since I don’t know what, if any, project your tool palettes support, I’m forced to prioritize them lower than other tasks.

PM: Well, I need those new tool palettes to start on the XYZ job in four weeks, with a delivery timeframe of another six months or so. Getting the job started correctly will help us standardize and avoid rework.

CM: Tell you what, can you send a message to my boss explaining the situation, and provide a project number I can bill to so I won’t be on overhead? I’m sure if I can be project billable my boss will be OK with it and we can schedule it.

As you can see, I’ve achieved a few things in this exchange:

  1. I’ve framed the debate in terms of supporting production scheduling, and have forced the PM to make me billable in order to work on their project.
  2. I’ve set things up so my boss sees that doing CAD management tasks like creating tool palettes supports production and can be billable.
  3. I’ve created an easy way to turn down any task that isn’t focused on production by placing the burden on project managers to make me billable.
  4. Should the PM become upset about my response, my boss will understand the difficult position I’ve been placed in, and will have to defend me.

I find this an entirely reasonable, and much less stressful, way to approach working on what have traditionally been seen as overhead activities. And for what its worth, I’ve only had a handful of PMs ever get upset by the way I handled the situation.

Summing Up

If you start using the strategies I’ve outlined, your frustration over CAD Management 3.0–related IT problems will drop, your billable percentage will go up, and you’ll know you’re working on the right topics in the right order. Is this rocket science? No. Is it a smarter way to manage CAD in an increasingly complicated world of multiple priorities? You bet it is. Until next time.


About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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