To Manage CAD, Understand Project Deadlines

12 Feb, 2014 By: Robert Green

Align your CAD management tasks to support project deadlines for less stress and smoother project completions.

When I speak with groups of CAD managers I always hear about deadline pressure, and the tone of the conversation is usually one of high frustration. I hear comments such as, "I've got too many things to do" and "Don't they understand how much I'm working?" over and over during these venting sessions. As frustrating as it may be to deal with deadlines, the fact of the matter is that without deadlines, projects would never be completed — and none of us would get a paycheck!

In this edition of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, we'll start a discussion about how to manage deadlines more effectively, and even how to use them to help gain control of your workload. Interested? Here goes.

First, Know the End State

Whether you're attempting to control a project, or just the CAD tasks associated with that project, you must first understand the desired result. In a CAD/building information modeling (BIM) world, the end state of a project might look something like this:

Deadline: June 16, 2014
Work product: Final construction documents delivered to Warsaw Unified School District for Neil Armstrong Elementary School.

At this point you have a date and a rough task description, but you must flesh out the details of the end deliverables. There will be data to gather, and you'll need a strategy for getting the CAD/BIM work done to support the end state. So, where do you go to get all this information, and how will you know what technical issues to plan for?

Know Your Inputs

Project managers and key power users within project work teams usually know all the dates and technical issues that you need to be aware of. However, they're busy people, and you can't count on them to automatically tell you everything; you'll have to draw the information out of them. Here are the types of questions to ask in order to zero in on key pieces of information:

  • Will you need help with key tasks such as creating project standards, training for project users, plotting, etc?
  • Will you need any new hardware, software, or configurations to meet the technical requirements of the project?
  • Are there any partial deadlines that must be met as the project progresses?
  • Will there be any data translations required at project turnover?

As you collect this information, insist on getting timeframes for each task. For example, if an architect tells you, "We'll need to create new material libraries to accurately render our custom-dyed rough concrete finishes around the school's main entrance," you should respond with, "Who has the information we'll need to create the materials, and when will these initial renderings be required?"

In all cases, your goal is to find the technical source you'll need to support the effort, and a deadline associated with the task.

The Completion Backward Principle

As you collect more and more information on technical problems and project milestone deadlines, the magnitude of the task will begin to become clear. Here is where a methodology for getting it all done becomes key. The more project deadlines I've worked through, the more I've found that creating a timeline that flows backward from the final date — or "Completion Backward Principle," to use the title of an album by the Tubes — helps me to plan.

Here's a step-by-step plan to get you started:

  1. Write it all down. If you don't, you'll miss something.
  2. Use the dates you're given. If you're told the first renderings must be done by March 17, that date becomes a firm milestone in your project plan.
  3. Define your unknowns. If you're very experienced in defining rendering materials, then creating new materials is not an unknown for you. If, however, you've never created custom materials, this will be an unknown that will likely require extra time and must be accounted for.
  4. Map unknowns backward from set dates. If initial renderings are due March 17 and you've never created custom materials, then you should put time on your schedule to create them now!
  5. Put the biggest unknowns first. I've always found that tasks I know the least about take the longest to complete and are the most likely to cause unforeseen difficulties. By placing the least-known issues earliest in your project timeline, you've got the best chance of working through the inevitable problems without causing deadline delays.

Congratulations — you've now created a reverse chronological timeline for supporting the project in question, and have front-loaded the most challenging technical problems in a way that best controls your liabilities! That wasn't so hard now, was it?

Share What You've Learned

Once I've created the timeline for the project, it's time to share it with project management and the power user team. I find that the process of getting everything written down and shared tends to flush out problems and activities that would have otherwise been overlooked. And as I share more information about my part of the project, others are more likely to share their requirements with me.

Obviously, as CAD manager I don't have the authority to dictate how the project should be executed, but I have found that when I make everyone aware of the technical issues at hand, they will invite me to become part of the process. As always, the best way for a CAD manager to know what's going on is to foster communication and listen carefully to the conversation that ensues.

Resolve to be Proactive

There's an old saying that knowledge is power, and in the case of meeting deadlines that is especially true. Everything in the above processes is designed to inform you and others about project deadlines so you don't fall victim to technical surprises that can cause missed deadlines.

Getting into the habit of gathering information and following up to build an accurate CAD management timeline requires you to be proactive and communicate more than you're probably used to, but I promise the effort is worth it. Think of it this way: If you must spend an hour talking to project personnel this week to avoid a 10-hour emergency surprise later in the project, isn't that worth it?

Summing Up

I hope you've found this discussion to be a useful starting point in the battle to manage CAD/BIM processes from a more deadline-driven perspective. I can assure you that this approach has helped me avoid problems on dozens of projects over the years. I can also assure you that failing to ask questions and communicate properly have been the root cause of almost every scheduling problem I've experienced.

In a future edition of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll share my method for using deadline management to prioritize your task load and work with your senior/project management teams to make your job less stressful and more productive.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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