Lay Down the Law on CAD Standards, Part 1

26 May, 2009 By: Robert Green

Standardization costs little and offers great productivity payoffs, so get started now with this straightforward six-step plan.

Have you experienced frustration trying to enforce standardized work practices? Are you still suffering because of people who don't follow standards? Have you ever wanted to lay down the law about standards? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you're among the 90% of CAD mangers who have experienced problems enforcing standards in the workplace. Here's my question to you: Why should any company have to endure a lack of standardization when there are so many people looking for work who would be happy to comply with your standards?

In this two-part series of theCAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll give you some practical guidance about how to achieve a more standardized and productive workplace. Here goes.

Plan of Attack
Of course, you can't lay down the law if you don't know what the law is or don’t have a plan to implement it. So before you send your first e-mail to the CAD staff, have your first group discussion, or admonish anyone for not following the rules, you need to complete the following checklist:

•     Make sure applicable standards are current
•     Get management's blessing and support
•     Communicate what you'll be doing
•     Decide what will be your first-strike action items
•     Develop a training plan
•     Deputize power users to help you

I'll give you a few hints for your plan of attack as I go along, section by section.

First things first. You can't tell people to follow your standards if you don't have standards or if your standards are out of date. If you've been putting off revising your standards, now is the time to whip them into shape.

Hints for preparing standards:

•     Make your standards as simple as possible so people won't mind following them.

•     Make your standards results focused. Your immediate goal is to start benefiting from standards use, not to micromanage how people get those results. Tell people what you expect, and they'll figure out how to do it.

•     Use pictures, screen captures, and other visual aids to communicate your goals. A picture truly is worth a thousand words.

Management's Blessing
If you're going to insist on a more efficient and standardized workplace, you'll need to make sure your management understands what you're doing, why it makes sense to do it, and why your managers should back you up.

Hints for working with management:

•     Focus on workplace inefficiency as the primary reason that standards are needed.

•     Explain that standards will reduce rework and man hours, which will result in cost savings and happier clients.

•     Explain that you'll be happy to deal with users but that none of it will matter if senior management doesn't support you as a CAD manager when the necessary changes are put in place.

If you're going to embark on your mission of establishing and enforcing standards, you need to tell employees that change is coming. My experience has always been that people are much more supportive of changing standards or work methods if they know what's happening.

Hints for communicating your plan:

•     Tell people what types of standards you'll focus on.

•     Give people a rough timeline for implementing new standards so they can plan and adjust their project workloads accordingly.

•     If training will be part the process, explain what it will entail and when.

•     Communicate with a "We're going to get more productive" attitude rather than an authoritarian "Because I said so" tone. Yes, you are laying down the law, but making it all about productivity works a lot better than going on a power trip!

First-Strike Items
The very first standards that you roll out will set the tone for your new standards policies. Pick items that are so easy to follow that your plan can't fail and that make enough common sense that users won't fight you.

Hints for setting first-strike items:

•     Clean up your servers and file libraries to eliminate junk and put in place standard filing mechanisms that reduce the risk of file loss. (It’s very difficult for anyone to argue against being organized.)

•     Implement standards libraries for blocks, details, parts, and BIM models to standardize routine CAD work. (Again, it is very hard to argue against this concept.)

•     Standardize CAD machine setups to lower your support burden. (Users eventually will appreciate the fact that their machines work better, even if they don't see the benefit immediately.)

These are the first-strike items I typically recommend for standards-challenged organizations. They involve manageable tasks that don't cost much to implement, and they set the tone for a standards-based approach to CAD.

Training Plan
Will any of your new standards require user training? If so, you should specify what the training will entail, how long it will take, and when users will receive it. Communicate your training plan so users will know that they'll have some guidance during the transition.

Deputizing Power Users
Will you need some short-term help as you make yourself the standards sheriff? If so, get your in-house power users lined up to help you and make them deputy CAD managers. I feel so strongly about having deputies because a standards program that flounders due to insufficient initial support ultimately will fail. And if you allow your initial standardization effort to fail, you'll likely never get a second chance.

Hints for gaining assistance:

•     Ask several people to help so you don't overuse anyone.

•     As much as possible, enlist power users who are standards enthusiasts.

•     Reward these helpful power users with a gift card or some token of appreciation for their work.

Deputy CAD managers often become the difference between success and failure when establishing standards, so don't take this step lightly. If your standards rollout goes so smoothly that ultimately you don't need the extra help, you'll still have your deputies lined up when other projects arise later.

Summing Up
In today's economy, there may be many things we can't do as CAD managers -- buying new hardware and software come to mind. But standards don’t cost much money to implement -- they are a budget-friendly CAD management tool. If you've been suffering in silence with nonstandard work practices, now is the time to do something about it.

In the next installment of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll offer more ideas for easy first-strike items that you can use to start laying down the law on standards around your office. Until next time.

Click here to read "Lay Down the Law on CAD Standards, Part 2."