Support Better Workflows with CAD Standards 3.0

13 May, 2020 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager Column: CAD managers who get bogged down in bits and bytes without seeing the larger workflow picture will always struggle. To achieve the best project outcomes as efficiently as possible, you must standardize workflows.

In the previous edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, we continued our discussion of CAD standards in the age of CAD Management 3.0 by refocusing on the most basic standards there are: filing standards. After all, if you can’t secure and store the design files your users produce, then what’s the point of standards at all? But what about moving beyond these basic standards into a more advanced discussion — and how might we approach that from a communications and psychology standpoint?

This time around, I’ll provide some strategies for building your standards program by talking about workflows rather than just CAD standards. As we go along, I think you’ll see how this simple shift in how to approach standards can greatly increase your chance of success. Here goes.

What Are Workflows?

The definition of a workflow seems to vary, but for our purposes, let’s define a workflow as a process by which work moves, or flows, into or out of an office/department. Pretty generic, right? Well, yes, but we’ll make it CAD-specific by considering how CAD tools are used to receive, process, and send out design content.

So given this definition, let’s consider the following questions:

  • How do we receive CAD work from customers, vendors, and other departments?
  • How do we keep track of everything we receive?
  • How do we manipulate/edit the work to document our designs?
  • How do we send out this information?
  • How do we keep track of what has gone out?

As you can already imagine, there are CAD standards lurking in the answers to these questions. For example, “How do we receive CAD work?” can involve software products, versions, file types, and transmission methods.

Better Workflows Inform Standards

Now consider your workflows from the standpoint of what could be better, and what is broken in your current environment. For example, you can think of the first question,

How do we receive CAD work from customers, vendors, other departments?


How can we best receive CAD work?


What causes the most problems with receiving CAD work today?

Now you’re starting to think about making your workflows better by critically examining what’s broken (so you can fix it), and what can be done better (so you can optimize it). This critical thought process will lead to better workflows and will transform how you approach standards.

Why? Because you’re now thinking about standards in the right way: as small parts of workflows that make it simpler, easier, and cheaper to get work done. Now you’ve made the creative leap into what standards should really be about! Now you’re thinking about workflow standards.

Not Just Standards — Workflow Standards

The goal of creating any workflow is to get things done optimally, right? So doesn’t it stand to reason that anything you do to define a workflow should result in processes that use the fewest steps, least labor, and lowest possible rate of error to achieve a work outcome?

Does this whole concept sound a lot like standards? Yes it does! So why not just call it standards then? Several reasons:

  • A single workflow can contain many standards. A workflow for designing a building in a building information modeling (BIM) tool, for example, could contain standards for wall compositions, plumbing components, windows, doors, etc. CAD standards tend to only define a narrow band of parameters for each part of the workflow.
  • A single workflow can aggregate many work disciplines. Designing a building in BIM requires architects, tradesmen, estimators, etc. to all work in concert. CAD standards do little or nothing to control how these disciplines interact.
  • A workflow is all about sequencing. Designing a building in BIM requires activities to be completed in a phased order; CAD standards, in contrast, define how to perform a specific task without considering when it happens.

Think about how your job is really to manage CAD workflows, and how CAD standards are a part of that process. CAD managers who realize that they need to standardize workflows to achieve the best project outcomes as efficiently as possible are on the right track. CAD managers who get bogged down in bits and bytes without seeing the larger workflow picture will always struggle.

Which Standards Matter?

Given that we want to slant our standards toward supporting better workflows, how can you decide which ones will help you with that goal? This is a good question, which leads us to a mental checklist I use to validate anything I want to standardize. Here’s how I think through the benefits and drawbacks of any standard:

Do adopt standards that:

  • Save time on a given task
  • Format CAD information so it is easier to use downstream
  • Automate repetitive tasks
  • Are so easy to use that they feel automated
  • Seem to enhance the overall workflow
  • Can be validated via user testing.

Don’t adopt standards that:

  • Feel bureaucratic or arbitrary
  • Are hard to learn and/or use
  • Break the natural progression of the workflow
  • Can’t be validated via user testing.

What Now?

Now it’s time to examine your existing workflows to see where they are broken, clunky, or less than optimal so you can start applying CAD standards in ways that fix and optimize the workflows. Sounds simple, right? But you and I both know it will take some work to accomplish, and examining all your CAD/BIM workflows will certainly take time. Therefore, you’ll need to plan the work first, then work the plan.

Consider this approach:

Use project managers to your advantage. When project managers come to a CAD manager with complaints, they are almost always workflow driven. After all, if the project CAD workflows were optimal, there would be no problems for them to complain about.

Fix bad standards. When anyone complains about a CAD problem, they’re usually telling you where a standard was messed up, not followed, or simply not present — and that lack of standards caused the workflow to fail.

List the complaints you receive and prioritize them. As you work a complaint, don’t just “fix it and forget it”; use the “fix, remember, standardize” method instead. Never let a problem pass through your hands without learning from it and using standards to fix it for good.

Complaints set the priorities. Whichever complaints you receive most frequently are the ones you should fix first. This prioritization of fixes will dictate which standards you work on, and will provide the greatest workflow benefit to the greatest number of users.

Summing Up

The more I’ve worked with standards over the years, the more I’ve come to think that most CAD managers don’t approach them properly — and that’s why they struggle. I hope you can use the methods outlined above to consider standards as a single piece of the CAD management puzzle, and realize that your real job is creating better CAD workflows.

Why not take a little time to think about how you can focus on workflow optimization, and see how it informs your approach to standards? Until next time.


About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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