The Psychology of CAD Standards

23 May, 2017 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager Column: With these strategies — and a better understanding of how to reach your users — you’ll be on your way toward a more consistent, more efficient CAD project environment.

I had the opportunity to speak to a large group of CAD managers recently, and I was a bit surprised by how many questions I received about standards. What’s worth noting is that the questions had nothing to do with what standards are or how to establish them, but instead focused on how to get people to use standards. If a company has standards but nobody follows them, this must indicate that the psychology of using standards is the real problem, right?

In this edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll share a variety of standards strategies I’ve found useful. Once you realize that standards obstacles are more about psychology than technology, the whole process becomes easier. Here goes.

Use Problems to Provide Perspective

How many problems do you have to fix that are simply a result of users not following standards? The lack of consistent work methods could result in AutoCAD geometry on incorrect layers, SOLIDWORKS assemblies that don’t use standard parts, derivative families in Revit, or even something as mundane as nonstandard directory structures. These inconsistences mean it takes longer to find files, fix models, create plots, or build bills of materials, just to name a few possible problems.

Whenever you’re forced to fix one of these problems for your users, don’t just fix it and suffer in silence. Instead, pose the following question to the person whose disregard for standards caused the problem:

Why not use our standards so you won’t have these problems in the first place?

Then take the argument to the next level by asking this:

Why not forgo your personal work methods and follow the standards so we can all work in a consistent manner and get our work done more quickly and easily?

You’ve now identified the problem, you’ve determined that the cause is ignoring standards, and you’ve appealed to your users to think beyond themselves and embrace work methods that benefit everyone. It is very hard for anybody to argue with standards when you frame the discussion in this manner!

Psychology tip: Present standards as the smart, efficient way to work.

Automate Your Standards

I’m a firm believer that the best standard is the one you don’t know you’re using. But how can you make standards “invisible”? You make them automatic! Here are a few ideas:

  • Keep all standard blocks, parts, and families in a central network location, and have all application paths set to those locations by default.
  • Use toolbars/palettes or keystroke shortcuts to initiate commands for things like new file creation so that pathing and file naming are automated. Not all CAD tools are customizable in this manner, but AutoCAD and many others are, so take advantage of these features.
  • Whenever possible, use graphical interfaces such as toolbars or ribbons so that users don’t have to know which commands they are using.
  • Create a location on your network where any standards documents or videos can be easily found.

Your goal is to have everybody reference the same version of the truth, while enjoying productivity-boosting ease of use.

Psychology tip: Set up your systems to make standards the default, and people won’t have to think about them.

Audit and Clean

To find standards violators, perform periodic audits of files and confront those in violation promptly. The more aware people are that you’re watching, the less likely they are to violate the standard, and the earlier you’ll find the problem so you can deal with it.

And should you find any directories full of alternative standards, incorrect blocks, or hacked families of objects or parts, back them up and delete them. Once people realize you’re deleting junk, they’ll be less likely to create junk in the first place. (You’ll have the backups, so there’s no real danger in deleting the files.)

Psychology tip: If you don’t enforce standards, users are emboldened to rebel, so be sure everyone knows you’re serious.

Involve Power Users

Don’t just create what you think is a great standard; validate it by allowing your best power users to try it out, and listen to them if they have suggestions. The benefits of having power users to help craft standards include:

  • They may find errors you overlooked. Just like my editors proofread my articles, you should have your power users double-check your standards.
  • They can spot ways to optimize the standard that you might never have thought of. Be sure to ask them if they have any ideas for making your standard even better.
  • They become standards advocates. If they help test and create the standard, they’re more likely to use it and promote its use to others.
  • They become efficient role models. As your power users breeze through tasks in far less time than their standards-resistant colleagues, project managers will start to take notice. You’ll begin to hear statements like, “If you’d use the standards like Joe and Monica do, you’d already be finished with this project.”

Psychology tip: By getting your power users involved, you’ll build credibility with users as they see their peers using standards.

Teach People the Standards — Quickly

Once your standards are developed, tested, and bulletproof, you’re still not done. You can’t skip training! After all, how can you expect people to use your standards if they aren’t aware of their existence and educated in their proper use?

You may choose to have hands-on training, you may train via a webinar-type presentation, or you may even make your own video segments; these are all valid ways of approaching training. Whichever method you decide on, always keep the session as short and focused as possible. You’ll never have anybody complain that a training session was concise and to the point!

Psychology tip: Training allows you to make the case for standards by showing how well they work, rather than dictating that they should be followed just because you say so.

Summing Up

I hope you’ll find some of these tips helpful in your quest to have everyone follow your standards. Take some time to think about your standards strategies, then create a plan for changing the psychology of standards around your office. And if you have any hints or strategies you’d like to share, please send them to Until next time.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

Add comment


Re: The Psychology of CAD Standards
by: jmaeding
May 24, 2017 - 2:06pm
Hi Robert, Standards is a word that can cover everything - both final product and how it was made. That is why the topic never ends, and is the same as talking about training. My thing is to define what office standards are critical, and teach new employees those the first day. After that, it is years of mentorship to get them to "do things the right way" whatever that is at the moment. So anyone thinking direct ongoing mentorship should be minimized can also expect their profit margin to be minimized.
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