No-Budget CAD Management

27 Feb, 2013 By: Robert Green

These simple suggestions will make an impact on your workplace and don't require a dime — just your time.

If you've managed CAD during the past few years of economic uncertainty, you’ve likely dealt with restricted budgets, unsympathetic project managers, cranky outdated hardware, no time for training, and myriad other issues that make getting the most from your CAD systems a real challenge. Lately I’ve noticed an uptick in the number of e-mails received from readers about layoffs, frozen budgets, and uncertain project loads, which makes me think that more tough times are ahead.

This brings me to a question I’m often asked: “How can I manage CAD if I don’t have the budget to do so?” In this edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’d like to encourage everyone to consider how you would deal with a no-budget CAD management scenario. Here goes.

Acknowledge Reality

The first thing we must all accept is that when money is tight, money is tight. If your company is in a nonspending mode, complaining about it won’t do anything — except get you labeled you as whiner. Think about it from the company owner’s perspective; you’ll quickly realize that budget restrictions may be the only way for your company to survive the downturn.

When you find yourself in a no-budget environment, it's best to tell your management team that you understand the problem and will do everything you can to keep costs down. While you’re at it, make sure they know that just because you can’t spend money doesn’t mean you can’t work to make things better. Explain how you’re going to get to work on CAD management techniques that can increase efficiency via careful thought, planning, and wise use of available time — not writing checks.

The ideal no-budget attitude is, “Anything we can do to become more efficient now will make us more profitable when the work comes back!” Try this approach with your senior management staff; they'll be admiring your determination and business savvy in no time.

The No-Budget Tune-Up

How can you make CAD management pay off for your company without purchasing any new hardware, software, or other services? Try my favorite low-cost, high-impact options:

  • System cleanup. You know all those junk folders full of obsolete blocks, invalid parts, and user-specific/nonstandard files? Get rid of them.
  • Error analysis. Identify where your company makes mistakes in its CAD processes to determine what you need to fix.
  •  Network analysis. Verify that all directories are permitted correctly, shares to printers/plotters are not replicated, and you have administrator-level control of active project directories and archives.
  • Standards. Amending your standards to fix the problems found during your error analysis will make everything run better.
  •  Informal training. Casual training sessions that inform users about the results of your error analysis and standards changes make users into better CAD operators.

What I love about all these ideas is that they can be executed gradually, require no cash to implement, and they all yield better operational efficiency. In fact, I think all companies should do this type of tune-up periodically even if they are rolling in money. Clean, standardized, well-analyzed systems — and well-trained users — can only make things run better!

Now let’s dig into the various types of tasks.

System Cleanup

There’s never a fun time to clean house, but if work is slow and you can’t buy anything new, there’s no time like the present. Get your users together and determine what’s valid and what isn’t, then start deleting the junk. Once the cleanup is complete, your users won’t be inserting old blocks, using wrong templates, using extinct family components, or pulling from incorrect standard part folders anymore.

Note: You know you’ve been putting this off, so get it done now before work picks up again.

Error Analysis

The more time I spend as a CAD manager, the more I find myself performing error-analysis exercises, no matter what financial shape the company is in. The simple truth is that when you know what mistakes you’re making, you can focus on fixing them. If you continue to fumble along making the same mistakes over and over, things will only get worse.

Hint: Whenever users are confused or have a problem, that's your indication that you've found a process error. So as you listen to their questions, ask yourself, Why are these problems happening? How might I fix them?

Network Analysis

Have you ever had a project come to a grinding halt because nobody can write files into a folder? Ever been denied access to setting printer defaults for project files? Ever have to go crawling to IT to get an archive file from backup? These are examples of network access problems that simply shouldn’t exist. The key is to keep a list of the IT problems you experience and work with your IT department to find workable solutions as time goes by.

Hint: Stress how much time these issues waste. Do not make your argument based on which department has the responsibility for these problems; make it about wasted time, and if your IT department doesn’t support your need for network access, your management will.


As you clean, analyze, and get your network in top shape, make sure to amend your standards so the misplaced files, improper procedures, and IT policy mistakes don’t come back again. Since the goal of standards is to get best practices in place and maximize efficiency, it stands to reason that keeping your standards up to date should always be a priority.

Note: Your boss doesn’t have to write a check to formulate standards, but he or she must see standards as necessary to achieving higher operational efficiency if you're going to be permitted to spend time on them.

Informal Training

I’ve come to believe that standards aren’t much good if users don’t get some basic training in their use. I understand, however, that formal training courses with custom-crafted manuals can be expensive, which is why I'm focusing on informal training methods.

I’ve found you can convey a concept in training with basic handouts and a decent projector on a breakroom wall in 30 minutes or less. The point is to offer training that focuses on standards and better methods, even if it's not elaborate or extensive. After all, why put all the time and energy into finding better ways to do things and standardize procedures if you're not going to train users on what you’ve learned?

Note: If you create your own training program, your boss doesn’t have to write a check to pay for training. Your superiors do, however, have to be willing to invest the time — yours and your users'.

What I’ve Left Out

Did you notice that I haven’t talked about upgraded software, new hardware, or new peripheral devices? This wasintentional, because I’ve seen many companies go a year or two without upgrading any of these. Of course you want upgraded software and new machines, plotters, and monitors, but you can't get any of these when your company has no money.

Companies can’t put off these purchases forever without falling behind technically, but in the short term, isn’t it better to get by with what you have than to not have a job?

Summing Up

In this column, I’ve outlined what any CAD manager can do with no funding, no software upgrades, and no new hardware — and it's probably more than you imagined. If you are operating in an environment where business is bad and your budget iszero — or if you face this in the future — you now have a game plan for improving your CAD environment.

And believe me when I say that senior management teams in a financial bind will appreciate your willingness to increase efficiency without a budget. In fact, they’ll think so highly of your capabilities that you’ll secure your position and be ready to roll when the work comes back.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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