Overhead Bad — Billable Good

22 Jun, 2022 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager's Column: As the economy slows, being seen as an “overhead” expense can put your job at risk. Find out how to explain to upper management why the CAD manager is an active “billable” role and that you’re integral to getting work out the door quickly and profitably.

Over the years that I’ve written The CAD Manager’s Newsletter, one thing has remained constant — the argument from some senior management teams that CAD management is “overhead” that can be eliminated. And, now, as the global economy has started to slow, and businesses becoming more cost sensitive, it is no surprise that I’m seeing more about CAD management labeled as “overhead” in my Facebook CAD Manager’s Unite group lately.

In this issue of The CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll tackle the issue of considering CAD management “overhead” from a career point of view and advocate that you should be considered a “billable” CAD manager, not as an “overhead” CAD manager. Here goes.


CAD Manager's Column: Overhead Bad — Billable Good

Image source: iQoncept/


Overhead = Non-Billable

One thing that’s the same as ever is that CAD managers working as overhead are non-billable and are thus perceived as being expendable and are more prone to layoff. CAD managers who are billable are perceived as being valuable to the company and its success and tend to NOT get laid off. So, what kind of CAD manager would you rather be in an economy that is slowing?

Without hesitation, the answer is “the billable CAD manager.”


How to be Billable

Being billable as a CAD manager is a matter of adapting the tasks you perform to be job-specific and therefore of high value to project teams. Or, more specifically, to become an integral part of getting jobs out the door quickly and profitably.

Here are a few examples:

CAD standards. Rather than striving to create an all-encompassing “unicorn” set of standards that will work on all projects — which is almost impossible to do — strive to optimize standards for ongoing jobs so that you can cut labor time.

Training. Rather than training new software features or theoretical concepts, train users on specific job workflows that will speed job completion.

Customization. If you create customized programs, macros, blocks, families, or other content, be sure that they save time on existing projects right away.

Now that you’ve tethered all your CAD management tasks to faster, more profitable job completion, doesn’t it seem reasonable that the time you spent doing so would be billable to projects? I can tell you that I’ve been successful — and highly billable — doing this throughout my career. Let’s explore how.


Get Authorization to Bill to Projects

CAD managers need to work with their project management teams to make sure that project managers see CAD management as something that helps their projects run more smoothly. I’ve always advocated making things run faster and cheaper, and this is exactly what project managers want as well. Thus, project management and CAD management should overlap in a very symbiotic way. Are you communicating with your project managers like this?

If the CAD manager performs their tasks in a way that provides time/labor savings on the job, then the project manager should be willing to absorb CAD management as a job-related cost. After all, you’ll be saving them more time than you’re costing them.

So, to keep CAD management billable, I’ll offer the following action items for starting conversations with project managers:

CAD standards. Will the new project you’re starting require revisions or additions to CAD standards in order to make the job run better? If so, go to your project management team and show them the required changes so they understand their project will run better and require less rework if they allow you to be involved. At this point it is perfectly reasonable to ask for your time to be billed to the project because the CAD standards work you’re doing is helping the project.

Training. Will the CAD users in your company be more efficient on a given project if you conduct project kickoff or standards training? Will the rate of errors drop if you conduct this type of training? If so, hold training sessions that use actual project standards (title frames, default parts/families, real filing standards, etc.) for the project. If training is project-specific, you’ll enhance productivity enough to make a difference in the financial performance of the project, which should certainly be project-billable.

Customization. Do CAD users often complain about specific repetitive problems or do you see the same errors popping up again and again? If so, perhaps an investment in some CAD management time will eliminate the errors, thus cutting rework and speeding project completion.


The Value Proposition

Note that everything I’ve advocated above is firmly grounded in CAD management providing value to projects. So, simply put, the value proposition for a billable CAD manager should be this:

“If you let me get involved with our projects from the start as a billable member of the team I will provide CAD management leadership that speeds project execution, cuts rework, raises profit levels, and makes everyone more efficient.”

What management team wouldn’t love this? In my experience, they all love it — they just haven’t heard their CAD manager explain it this way.


Is CAD Management Expendable?

I often hear comments from senior management such as, “CAD management is just overhead and is therefore expendable,” or “I don’t understand what our CAD manager does, so maybe we don’t need the position.” Have you ever heard the project managers at your company talk this way? If so, what are you doing to change their minds?

My experience has been that companies that treat CAD management as being expendable often wind up having big problems down the road precisely because nothing is managed. If you don’t want your management to view you as expendable, then you need to start using the value proposition outlined above right away to start changing the perception of your job.


CAD Manager as Motivator

I’ve always viewed part of my job as CAD manager as being a cheerleader for greater efficiency. I’m always trying to motivate users to improve, find better workflows, and to do things faster and better. Consequently, I’ve motivated many users to learn more and build their CAD skill sets.

The really good CAD managers I know sell the value of standards and procedures to all users by explaining that everyone’s life will be easier if everyone can quickly plot, reliably find their files, and have their software correctly configured. Anyone who has ever worked in a company with 20 CAD users working on a project in 20 different ways has seen firsthand that CAD management can actually raise employee morale and productivity — not discourage it.

And, isn’t a CAD manager who’s making users faster, better, and more efficient contributing to the profitability of every project? Yep. And, that is a great argument for making the CAD manager more involved with projects as a billable team member.


Summing Up

I hope this look at CAD management from an overhead vs. billable point of view has served as a wake-up call for those of you who aren’t billable and a refresher course for those are. It is up to all CAD managers to make sure the work teams we support understand the value of CAD management in keeping them productive and working to their fullest potential. If you’re not selling the value of CAD management, you might be viewed as “expendable overhead” and that’s not a good place to be in a slowing economy.

Now go tout your worth, pitch your value, get involved, and be billable. Until next time.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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