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Creating Productivity Standards Made Easy

CAD Manager’s Column:  Follow these clear guidelines to bring efficiency to your CAD standards and training at the same time.

I often receive questions about CAD standards. Mostly the questions focus on the best way to standardize a solution to a certain problem and are thus specific in nature. As I answer these questions, I like to stress that there is a process to generating standards that starts with an idea and ends with implementation. I’d like to review this process in this edition of The CAD Manager’s Newsletter.

I’ll present the process chronologically and give you a few tips along the way that I use with my clients to identify the right standards to work on and manage those standards, in hopes you’ll find them as useful as I do. Here goes.


CAD Manager's Column: Creating Productivity Standards Made Easy
Image source: Mathias Rosenthal/stock.adobe.com.


What is a Good Standard?

One that boosts productivity and is easy to follow.

A good standard is simply a way to use software to get a desired result with the lowest number of clicks and picks possible. The other characteristic of a good standard is that it makes errors and rework much less likely because getting the right result is made so easy that users actually want to use the standard. Whether it is standard layers in AutoCAD, naming protocols in SOLIDWORKS assemblies, using correct families in Revit, or how to capture PDF construction documents, a good standard makes it easy for a user to get good results.

And, another thing that good standards do is to make training much easier. When a standard is well thought out and easy to use, then creating a training document for that standard is simple because the hard work is already done. More on this in a moment.


Capturing your Standards

So, if users need to be trained on a standard, it makes sense to view each standard as a best practice training tool. If you create a training document for each standard as you create the standard, you’ll get two jobs done at once.

I tackle this process differently than most CAD managers I’ve talked to, so let me give you an overview of how I create standards and training materials at the same time in detail.

  1. Create an outline: Let’s say you want users to insert Xref files at the right point, scaled correctly, with visibility set correctly, and pathing set for easy archiving of the project later. Start by writing down the list of steps that is required in the standard procedure. 

  2. Expand the outline: Take the rough outline and note any system parameters that must be set, network folders where XRefs are located, any template files used, etc. This step simply makes sure that all the technical details you’ll need to track are in the same order as the parameters you’re trying to control. The key here is to not miss anything and to get the steps in the right order, so you’ll want to run through everything on a test machine as many times as needed to get every step listed.

  3. Imagine a training class: Now imagine what you’d do for a training class to show people how to follow the standard procedures you want to document. Take the time to make some example files that will illustrate all the standard parameters, using actual files in their correct network locations. Now practice the procedure and note the order in which you do everything. Do this until the steps become smooth and you’re almost done.

  4. Record, record, record: I use Camtasia Studio to record my training session practice runs so I can review the steps and be confident that I’ve captured everything. An added benefit to this is listening to myself on recordings has made me much more aware of how I speak and sound so I can become a better presenter.

  5. Write the standard: Now, using your expanded outline as the starting point, you can write down all the steps in the standard in the exact order that your practice training class used. The benefits to this approach are that you’ll never miss anything, you’ll get the topics in the right order, and you’ll automatically check the standard for accuracy as you run through the training practice

    Bonus: I can always listen to my practice recordings to verify proper wording. If I can’t remember exactly what I said, I just listen to the recording. Simple.

  6. Turn the standard into a training guide: Take the standard document you wrote in the step above and add screen captures taken from your training practice and you’ll have a high-quality training document that users can use to learn the standard. If your power users understand the standard they won’t need the training guide, but other users may need it.

  7. Record again: Run through your training exercise and capture a final version of it via screen/audio capture and you’ll have a training video that users can watch.


Attack Problems in Order

Now that you have a method to create standards and standards training documentation, it’s time to create the files and documents. But, which standards should you work on first, second, and last?

I always focus my efforts using the following filters:

  • What problems cause the greatest amount of rework?

  • What problems affect the greatest number of users?

  • What problems cost us the most money on projects?

So, if capturing correctly formatted and collated sets of PDF documents is a problem shared by many and costs the company substantial money and rework, then we should tackle that first. If recoloring a North arrow symbol on civil document sets affects only a handful of users and takes only a few minutes to correct, then that is a standards problem you can put off.

This prioritization effort requires some thinking on the CAD manager’s part, but the good news is you can probably already think of some of the main problems you need to fix, right? Now, you simply continue to capture and revise standards until you’ve covered the tough stuff. I think you’ll find this approach cuts down the total time you’ll spend on standards and training.


Handling the Simple Stuff

For simple things like folder/file names, layers, symbols, I don’t bother with training or detailed procedures. My rule of thumb is that if I can put the information in a “cheat sheet” format that anyone can look at and understand, then no formal standard is really required. I make small, laminated cheat sheets that are easy to tape to the side of the users’ monitors and let that be my training guide.


Wrapping Up

Now that you’ve got a way to capture standards and document them, why not start doing so? Once you learn the process, it becomes natural and you’ll be able to crank out a detailed standard procedure in only a few hours. But the time you’ll save by avoiding needless errors and increasing efficiency will pay you back many times over.

In the next edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, we’ll continue to look at standards from the perspective of automation and deployment so your standards become ever easier to manage. Until then.



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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