Making Standards Stick (CAD Manager Column)

31 May, 2008 By: Robert Green

Start by building standards that make users' lives easier.

In last month's "CAD Manager" column, I talked about the process of setting up CAD standards. I hope you've had the chance to work through the exercises I recommended to assess your company's motivation and to start crafting standards that make sense for your users.

As most CAD managers know, writing standards is the easy part. Enforcing standards — what I call "making the standards stick" — is much more difficult. In this month's column, I'll finish off the topic of standards by giving you some ideas for making your standards enforceable and usable so that they'll stick with your users.

Sell the Ease of Use

One of the main topics I try to stress in formulating CAD standards is that you should always strive to make an improvement in your users' day-to-day processes. My logic is that when users perceive CAD standards as things that can help them accomplish their work in fewer steps, they'll view standards as a good thing. A key part of making your standards stick is stressing to all who'll listen that standards make users' jobs easier through better, cleaner processes. Of course, the inverse of that situation occurs when standards actually increase steps by building bureaucratic barriers. When these barriers make users hesitant to follow your standards, you're not making things easier, right?

So the very first thing CAD managers must do to make CAD standards stick is to really examine the standards and make sure they can make users' lives easier. If so, then market that ease of use. If not, go back to the drawing board until you achieve the type of process improvements that will make users embrace your standards. Trust your gut, because you know your users — and your company — better than anyone else.

Make It Even Easier

In last month's installment, I talked about making standards easy to use by customizing your CAD environment with templates, toolbars, and block libraries. Using these types of customizations to make users' lives easier is a great start to making CAD standards stick, but why stop there? Why not conceptualize a way to make a drawing startup routine and automate it using Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) language as an example? You can find a lot of inspiration in Cadalyst's Hot Tip Harry and CAD Manager forums (

The real value in using programming to help implement standards is that users see their jobs getting faster and their errors decreasing. You'll be helping your users get their work done with less hassle, and you'll be making your standards stick as you do so.

Deliver Standards Electronically

To the extent that you have written standards, why not make them easy to find by making the documents available on your local-area network or Web site? If you have a CAD management intranet, you can deploy your standards as PDF files there. You can even make a custom toolbar in your CAD applications that allows users to pull up standards documents without even knowing where the master copies are located.

Many users complain that written standards take too long to read, are too hard to find, or are too cryptic when they do read them. Deploying the standards electronically cuts through these problems in the following ways:

Easy to find. Nobody has to bother anyone else to find the standards documents when you use a logical electronic delivery methodology. Everybody knows where everything is, so there's no more hassle finding the latest standards.

Searching becomes easy. Users can search through standards documents using keywords and terms to help them find pertinent sections as needed. Users will be able to find even the most obscure information this way, just as they would using Google.

Printing is easy. When they've found the information they need, users can print their own documents without you having to run a copying service.

Remember, your standards documents should have a version number and date stamp displayed prominently in the header or footer of every page of the document. This is so printed copies can always be verified as being the latest or superseded.

Train Periodically

One of the things that makes users lose their enthusiasm for standards is a lack of training. After all, it's a lot easier to follow something that's been explained to you rather than read a memo that's been thrown in front of you. And even though we strive to make our standards easy to use and to read, there's something about actually giving your users some group training to get them motivated enough to use them.

Please note that I don't think you have to go crazy with standards training. In fact, good standards training happens in short bursts, not in long, drawn-out sessions. My goal is to keep the coverage brisk and focused while communicating the basic requirements of the standards. Focusing standards training in this manner will make your boss happy, too, because you won't be spending a lot of billable time performing training.

Project and Job Kickoff

When new projects get underway, there's usually a buzz of activity and some excitement you can use to your advantage in reinforcing your standards. Sometimes you may even need to introduce project-specific standards to meet customer requirements anyway. Here are the key things to do to achieve a great project kickoff and make standards stick:

Write it down. If there are any new standards for a project, write them in a short summary-style memo so that users quickly get the information they need.

Talk through it. Present the information in your standards kickoff meeting in a fast-paced, lecture-style format using PowerPoint or your CAD program to illustrate pertinent screen captures or software features. The goal here is to show people what they'll encounter on the project and how the CAD standards will be used.

Record it. Use video and/or screen recordings of your training sessions so anyone who missed the kickoff meeting can catch up later by watching the presentation.

Answer questions. Take down all questions asked during project kickoffs and answer them fully by follow-up documentation. Don't rely on verbal explanations because verbal instructions can be misinterpreted. If any substantial questions are raised, you may even need to do a quick follow-up meeting to answer them.

Remember that the purpose of these kickoff meetings is to emphasize how standards will be used on the job and to rekindle enthusiasm for working with better processes and getting the job done better. All of these concepts will help you make your CAD standards stick.


An old adage says that people only obey the law when they know the law is enforced. CAD standards seem to follow this rule as well. The bottom line is that you may find yourself in the mode of enforcer at some point in your CAD management career, so you may as well know some methods to stay on top of CAD standards enforcement.

Batch standards checker. If you have a copy of AutoCAD in your office, then you already have this useful tool. The batch standards checker is limited — it checks only for layer, linetype, dimension-style, and text-style compliance in DWG files — but I've found that when CAD standards are violated one of these standards items serves as a good indicator. Because so many CAD deliverables are in DWG file format, the batch standards checker is a great low-cost way to audit everything that comes across your desk, no matter which CAD application produced the file.

Peer review. Have some of your trusted power users take turns auditing CAD files for standards compliance. By doing so, you'll send a powerful message that you're watching and you're not going to accept noncompliance. Admittedly, this option is a heavier-handed approach, but it really does work.

Keep Adjusting

I've observed that CAD standards are never really finalized because job scopes change, CAD software evolves, and the process workflow in your company mutates over time. In essence, you're never done with CAD standards because CAD standards must change to help you deliver work more quickly as circumstances change. The opportunity for CAD managers is to adjust CAD standards continually so they'll become even easier to use and more automated as time goes by. So rather than viewing standards changes as a hassle that must be dealt with periodically, view CAD standards changes as a gradual, evolutionary process that gives you a chance to better serve your users.

When your users believe you are looking out for their ease of use, they'll be much more likely to follow the standards you produce.

Editor's Note: The May issues of the CAD Manager's Newsletter included expanded coverage about CAD standards creation ( Be sure to check for more standards-related tips, tricks, and techniques.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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