Master the Details to Manage CAD Project Deadlines Smoothly

26 Sep, 2017 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager Column: To minimize delays and unpleasant surprises, ask lots of questions — and plan backward.

In the previous edition of this column, we talked about how new technologies can change the way we deal with classic CAD management issues — for better or worse — and suggested that new strategies might be in order. So why not start by tackling the biggest problem most CAD managers deal with: deadlines.

In this edition, we’ll explore some proven strategies for managing project deadlines from a CAD manager’s perspective, presented in a decision-making framework. My hope is you’ll find this approach useful in your own work environment. Here goes.

What’s Due, When, and Where?

It used to be that deadlines were defined by a known deliverable (such as AutoCAD files) produced by a known date (the deadline). These days, it isn’t always that simple. Consider the following example:

  • Deadline: November 1, 2017
  • Deliverable: Coordinated building information modeling (BIM) project file set, transmitted using a predefined directory structure of relative paths.
  • Deliverable location: Corporate Box cloud account.

In this case, it’s easy to see that we can’t just send the client a disc with AutoCAD files on it, right? So how does this sort of project deliverable set make life more difficult? Let’s explore:

  • The coordinated file set must be delivered in a pre-agreed filing structure such that all files will resolve when opened. Since we have no idea what the client’s storage structure will ultimately be, we must build in time to research and benchmark how this file transmittal will work.
  • The use of a cloud storage solution (Box, in this case) means we’ll need to procure an account and ensure that the security controls will be adequate to protect our intellectual property.

Strategy conclusion: To effectively manage our task load now, we need to understand what we must deliver in the future — and that means more upfront homework for the CAD manager.

Any New Software?

Will your project necessitate the use of any new software, be it installed on a local desktop, based in the cloud, or on an iPad? If so, consider the following:

  • How much implementation time will be required?
  • Will you need to develop standards?
  • Will users need to be trained?
  • Will that new software require implementation time, IT support, or training?
  • Will the use of a cloud- or mobile-based app require changes to company security policies?

Strategy conclusion: Any time that new software is brought into a project, it pays to be cautious. The difference is that in today’s cloud/app environment, new software is much more likely to be introduced during your project than it was just a few years ago.

Any New Human Resources?

Will your project require the hiring of specialized/new personnel? Will personnel from branch offices be used on the project? If so, consider these accompanying tasks:

  • New workstations must be procured.
  • Software must be installed.
  • New employees must be trained.
  • Remote/branch office workers opening files via the Internet may encounter bandwidth issues that will require IT intervention.

Strategy conclusion: New hires can be disruptive to your schedule, and can require much more interaction with IT than you may expect.

Always Ask to Be Sure

I’ve found that project managers and key engineering/architectural users in project work teams often know things about project details and deadlines that I never would have known, had I not asked. If I can extract these unknown pieces of information from them early in the project, I’ll be better able to deal with any problems I may find. Here are some of the questions I’ve found to be worth asking:

  • Will you need help with key tasks such as creating project standards, training project users, defining new plotting or PDF procedures, etc.?
  • Are there any intermediate deadlines that must be met as the project progresses?
  • Will there be any data translations required at project turnover?
  • Has the client been promised anything outside the scope of the contract that I don’t know about?

As you collect the information, insist on getting timeframes and specifics for each task. For example, if an architect tells you:

“We’ll need to create a virtual reality model set so the client can use Autodesk Stingray for virtual presentations to their potential tenants.”

You should follow up with:

“Will we need custom materials for their virtual reality platform? Do we have that software in our budget here? Who will be the VR expert on the project team? When will this be due?”

As you can see, I’m pushing for concrete information and dates so I can begin to understand how big a problem this unknown may cause in the project timeline. I’m also establishing the fact that this is an unknown, so that everybody in management understands now that there are uncertainties to be ironed out, rather than being surprised by a crisis later.

Strategy conclusion: Never assume that you know what has been promised by someone on a project team — ask around! And always dig for the details so you can minimize surprises.

Work Backward from the Deadline

Now that you know what is due, when it’s due, and the possible disruptions that might occur, it’s time to craft a project CAD management schedule. I find it easiest to get everything in order first, then map out my CAD management schedule, working backward from the due date.


Here’s an outline of my standard process:

  1. Write down all the steps. From the final deadline to the tiniest change in an app, record everything you’ll need to worry about.
  2. Put it all in perceived order. Typically, researching transmittal formats comes first, new software implementations come next, training follows, etc. While you’ll probably never get everything in the perfect order, you can make a good first estimate.
  3. Put the biggest unknowns first. I’ve always found that tasks I know the least about take longest to complete, and are most likely to cause me unforeseen difficulties. By placing the least-understood issues earliest in your project timeline, you’ve got the best chance of working through the inevitable problems without causing deadline delays.
  4. Schedule backward. Now, work your tasks in reverse order, starting from the final deliverable, and you’ll know exactly what needs to be done and when to keep CAD projects on track.
  5. Factor in some surprises. It’s a given that something in your project will go wrong, or complicating factors will arise that nobody could have foreseen. To add a buffer that accommodates these surprises, I add 20% to my timeline.
  6. Share your results with your boss. Chances are, your boss has no clue about all these technical complexities, so tell him or her! After all, you’ll need your boss’s help to get the resources and time to make the project run smoothly, so it’s better for them to know now.

Strategy conclusion: By creating a reverse chronological timeline of your projects, you’ll front-load the most challenging technical problems so you can limit the possibilities for train wrecks later in the project.

Summing Up

There’s an old saying that knowledge is power, and in the case of meeting deadlines it’s absolutely true — especially as new technology seems to cause as many problems as it solves. It is my hope that you can use these suggested methods to better manage your CAD processes and experience fewer unpleasant surprises.

What would you add to the discussion? Email me your ideas at Until next time.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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