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Chaos Prevention Tips

CAD Management July 12, 2023

CAD Manager's Column: Look for warning signs of problems and solve them before they cause serious issues.

In the last installment of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, we began an examination of what happens when a company allows their CAD management protocols to lapse and descends from order into chaos.

In this edition, I’ll conclude my examination by pointing out more warning signs, corrective actions, and management communication tips you can use in your company in hopes that you can either prevent these problems from happening or halt them before they get worse. Here goes.

Image source:  carballo/stock.adobe.com.

Root Causes

In the last edition, I made the case that the symptoms of chaos setting in usually include the following:

  • “Just get it done” trumps “do it right.”
  • Basic file management problems.
  • Standards no longer followed.
  • Software configurations devolving.
  • “Just get to work” with no pre-project coordination or planning.
  • Output plots, PDF’s, etc., become harder to generate.
  • Things that used to just “work” no longer do.

The first three issues usually surface first and are the root causes of chaos I see in the companies I work with while the remaining issues are outgrowths of the first three issues and generally take longer to become apparent.

If you’re seeing the first three issues, then you have a problem that can still be fixed with some targeted corrections. But, if you already see the remaining issues, then chaos has taken root and a radical intervention is usually required. Simply knowing the signs is a huge advantage or as Miguel de Cervantes famously stated, “Forewarned is forearmed; to be prepared is half the victory.”


Software Configurations Devolve

As users are encouraged to “just get it done” they no longer feel bound by standards and will thus start to customize their CAD software via use of untested utilities, shortcuts, custom libraries of details/parts/components/families, etc. I also see way too many users create their own plotting standards that bear little to no resemblance to how other users work. In short, users set things up in a way that makes sense to them, consume a lot of time doing so, and create incompatibilities that adversely affect other users later. I’ve found this problem to be much more common after the COVID remote work paradigm became more normal which made monitoring software configurations much harder for CAD managers.

If you’ve ever been in the position of receiving a vendor DWG file with non-standard layers, a sub-contractor’s mechanical assembly with a non-standard coordinate system setup or an architect’s BIM project that isn’t coordinated you’ve spent countless hours trying to rectify those files so you can work with them, right? Now think about what happens when this level of chaos permeates your internal workgroups so that your departments can’t even communicate with each other? The mental picture that emerges isn’t pretty.

And, from a technical support point of view, it becomes almost impossible for the CAD manager to assist with software configuration because each machine is constantly devolving to an unknown state of disrepair. Simply put, it is very hard to work on user’s workstations when you have no clue how their CAD applications are setup.

To quantify these types of issues ask yourself these questions:

  • What does it cost the company to deal with non-standard software use between users? Between departments? Between clients and suppliers?
  • What type of project delays and errors might we anticipate as non-standard software configurations cause issues that “slip through the cracks” through the lifecycle of a project?
  • What does it cost the company in CAD support to keep all these dissimilar workstations debugged and working properly given the lack of standard configurations — particularly on remote workstations.

Have you seen these types of problems at your company? If so, you have deeply rooted chaos that needs to be challenged and uprooted ASAP. Try this tip:

Tip: Every time you fix one of these problems, record it on your timesheet using my NS (needless support) coding system. I used codes NS-P (plotting), NS-C (configuration), NS-S (standards), etc. When I submitted my time sheet, my boss always asked me about the codes and I’d reply, “The NS-S hours are because I had to rework 20 sheets because the CAD designer simply didn’t follow standards and the NS-P hours are the work I had to do to get PDF files captured properly.” I would then explain further that, “This isn’t overhead time — I have to do this work to get jobs out on time because the user refused to follow the rules. I just want you to understand how needless it all is.”

Key: The key thing you must communicate is that chaos costs time and time is money. If management sees how much time is truly wasted on these types of issues, they will start to see things your way. Use the Needless Support (NS) system to make your case and watch things change.


No Pre-Project Coordination

Once the “just get it done” psychology is allowed to take root, the next casualty will be project kickoff and coordination. After all, why would we ever spend time getting organized at the beginning of a job when we should all be working, right? CAD managers see the fallacy in this line of reasoning but it is surprising how many project managers don’t.

So, how can you fight this trend? Try this tip:

Tip: Get your star CAD users, who understand the value of CAD standards, to form an alliance and communicate with each other as new projects begin. While this level of communication is less formal than a proper project startup, it is far better than no communication. Publish your proposed project standards to everyone in the company and make the case that everyone will be better served by using them. Get everyone in the alliance to talk about project standards with project managers. And, as the members of your alliance get great results, be sure to compliment them on how well they are moving projects along!

Key: The key is to win project managers over by showing them that “just getting it done” often leads to “now we have to rework” and all that that implies. You can use metaphors like “keeping everyone on the same page” or “we should all sing from the same sheet of music” so the idea of project coordination remains conceptual and clear. Do not descend into CAD babble! Be managerial and talk at a level so everyone understands.


Outputs, Plots, PDF’s Become Harder to Create

As a rule, everything that gets CAD-ed or BIM-ed must eventually be constructed, fabricated, or installed and that means prints will be involved. Be those prints are paper as-builts or PDFs on a tablet, they must be created and that means plotting standards. But since we’re all about “just getting it done,” we’ll have ignored standards and will now have messed up drawings that are harder to plot, right? Of course, by the time you notice that project plotting isn’t working, it is already too late. Your only recourse will be to fix your drawings/models so you can get the plots done and complete your project.

If you’ve ever experienced this problem and are now fighting through the frustration of fixing problems you know could have been prevented, try this tip:

Tip: Say “I told you so” in a nice way to project managers, users, and anyone else who complains about how laborious the plotting process has become. If you’ve alerted your management team to all the warning signs as recommended, I see no reason why you should not point out how right you’ve been and how wrongheaded the “just get it done” approach is. It is very helpful to have your warning admonitions in writing/email when you arrive at this point, by the way.

Key: The key in saying, “I told you so,” is not to make it personal but rather to express a sense of regret that the process wasn’t handled better and that CAD management could have made things so much more productive.


Things That Used to Work, Now Don’t

As CAD management, standards, and procedures go out the window, a chaotic work process emerges and you’ll find that formerly automated processes will stop functioning. A few examples I’ve seen:

  • Plotting scripts stop working because drawings/models are non-standard.
  • Customers start to reject drawings/models as they receive more and more files that no longer conform to their previously specified CAD data standards.
  • Standard libraries of details/parts/families are no longer standard as users create their own rogue copies.
  • Project documentation gets out of sync as users copy files to their own C drives and revision control is lost.

The list could go on, but you get the point. Standardization and file management are the glue that makes all your automated CAD routines work, so the absence of that glue foretells the collapse into chaos.


Summing Up

As with most problems, the key to chaos avoidance is to see it coming early and take corrective action before it takes root. My hope is that by using the strategies and tips I’ve provided you can regain control before the chaos becomes total. Until next time.

Read more about CAD Management on our  CAD Management Resource Page


Robert Green

Robert Green performs CAD programming, standardization, and consulting services globally. He is the author of Expert CAD Management: The Complete Guide. Reach him via his website (greenconsulting.com/).

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