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Get Going — Get Billable

CAD Manager’s Column: A CAD manager’s job CAN be “billable.” Find out how to set expectations and limits so that you can successfully manage your team.

The sun comes up, the sun goes down, IT problems vex you, work teams are dispersed, and your boss wants you to be billable — these are the things that never change for CAD managers. Yet from the very first time I heard the phrase, “You can do this CAD management stuff in your spare time,” I somehow knew that being billable was going to be my number one priority. Now, we all know that if we don’t do the “CAD management stuff,” mistakes will be made, projects will be delayed, and rework will only cost our company more money. And, we also all know we can’t do all this in our spare time. So, the big question becomes: How can I be an effective CAD manager while remaining billable?

In this edition of The CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll share the approach that has allowed me to perform CAD management over the years solely based on making users more efficient and getting jobs done — the ultimate expression of being billable. You may find that if you frame the argument correctly, you can bill far more CAD management tasks than you ever thought! Here goes.


Image source:  Jane/stock.adobe.com.

CAD Management = Production Support

In fact, supporting production is the most important and most billable activity a CAD manager does. Don’t believe me? Let’s explore.

First, start thinking about CAD management as a production task and not a technical task. But, you say, “Everything I do is technical, so how can that be?” The answer to this question is: You’re only doing those technical things to enable project completion more quickly without error and rework cost. So, it turns out that you are a production facilitator that saves money — you are not overhead that costs money. Try using this line of reasoning and see if your boss gets it.

Once you think about CAD management from this frame of reference, it becomes clear that CAD management should be almost entirely billable. Why? Because if you didn’t do this job, the company’s projects would run more slowly and cost more.


Prioritize Your Workload

I’m sure everyone reading has thought, “I can’t get all this work done!” And, the reality is you probably can’t. So, the real task is not getting everything done, but prioritizing in such a way that the most valuable tasks are completed while not worrying about tasks that don’t add value. Of course, everyone wants you to work on their task first because that is the most important priority for them, so you need a set of rules by which to prioritize to keep everything fair.

If we consider that Job 1 is to be more supportive of production — and thus more billable — it stands to reason that prioritizing your workload should reflect that sensibility. Here’s the priority check list I always use:

  1. Is this task really an IT problem?
  2. Does this task support production deadline requirements?
  3. Is this task a result of errors that should not have happened?
  4. Can this task be postponed without impacting production deadlines?

As you go through your task list place the number 1, 2, 3, or 4 next to each item and sort your list accordingly. Congratulations, because you’re halfway home. Your new list will be sorted in the exact order that you should use to complete your tasks.


Dig Into the List

Now, let’s get to work!

I can already hear some of you disagreeing with my prioritization order, so let me walk you through my justifications:

Is this task really an IT problem? What if setting up a user account or establishing project permissions is blocking work on a project? This a case where an IT issue is impacting production, not a CAD issue. My strategy here is to identify the problem, document it, and offload to IT for resolution rather than waiting. I push to get these tasks done quickly and move on to the next thing to minimize my time and speed production while avoiding tasks that I can’t bill on — such as IT.

Does this task support production deadline requirements? If it does, then it needs to be worked on. But, what if you have many items on your list that meet these criteria? Then, prioritize them in order of production deadlines using the logic that the sooner the deadline comes, the sooner the task should be completed. This keeps my projects on track and reduces the number of people bugging me about deadlines. To top it off, all these tasks are billable.

Is this task a result of errors that should not have happened? Items in this category tend to be violated standards, lack of proper job kickoffs, etc. Use the same prioritization logic as above, but be aware that it may take extra time to fix the problems in an already progressing job. Because of this, these items may become urgent. I fix these problems so that projects can go out, but I also use it as a chance to preach the core principle of CAD management: If the team had followed the standards, we wouldn’t be in this mess!

Can this task be postponed without impacting production deadlines? Items in this category tend to be examining new software, working on documentation, organizing files, attending meetings, etc. If a task does not correlate to a production goal, then place it at the bottom of your list for now and work on it later — if it does become project related. I’m simply acknowledging the reality that I can’t do everything, but at least I know which tasks aren’t urgent and can be safely put off.

You should now have a pretty good idea of what order to perform all your work tasks in, right? So, what could possibly go wrong with such a logical approach? I mean who could argue with this? Let’s explore those questions.


Enforcing Your Priorities

The biggest problem I’ve experienced with prioritizing my task load to support production — and thus be more billable — is that my priorities aren’t the same as other people’s priorities. Simply put, I must explain to people why I’m doing what must get done instead of what they want me to do in as tactful a manner as I can. For example:

A project manager (PM hereafter) says to me: “Why don’t you have those new electrical symbols done for my instrumentation guys yet?”

Here’s how I answer:

I (CM hereafter) feel your pain but I’ve been told to make myself more billable and not work on tasks that don’t directly support production projects with near term deadlines. Since I don’t know what — if any — projects these symbols are required for I’m forced to prioritize them lower than other tasks.

PM: Well, I need those new tool palettes to start on the XYZ job in four weeks with a delivery timeframe in another 6 months or so. Getting the job started correctly will help us standardize and avoid rework.

CM: I didn’t know that before. I’ll tell you what, please email me — and cc my boss — with a project number I can bill. I’m sure if I am project billable that my boss will be OK with me working on this and we can get it done.


Now Watch Everything Change

The PM example above illustrates a few key principles that took me far too long to discover. Those being:

  1. It’s all about production. Note that I framed the discussion in terms of supporting production scheduling and have forced the PM to make me billable to work on their project(s).
  2. The value proposition is clear. I’ve set things up so the PM has to explain to my boss that my CAD management activities — like creating catalogs of symbols — are required to support projects and are therefore project billable.
  3. Saying no is now based on comparative value. If a given CAD management activity doesn’t support production enough to bill it to a project, then it simply isn’t a high priority task. Or, put another way, I need a charge number to work on a job.
  4. I’ve created a backup plan just in case. Should the PM become upset about my response, my boss will understand the difficult position I’ve been placed in and will have to defend me.
  5. I’m now marketing myself as a project resource. As the projects I work on get done faster and more profitable, word will get around, PM’s love me, and I’m fully billable.

This approach is measured, reasonable, and logical. I used this approach early in my career as a direct employee and continue to use these metrics as a consultant with great success. And, by the way, I’ve only had three PM’s ever get mad at me for using this approach. But, they were the ones who wanted people to work on their projects for free, so they’d get a bigger bonus.


Summing Up

If you start using the strategies I’ve outlined, you’ll see your frustration level drop, you’ll remain highly billable, and there will be no confusion about what tasks to work on and in what order. In short, I’m able to do the CAD management work I enjoy without all the stress and worry.

Of course, this is not Einstein-level thinking, but it does take discipline on your part to acquire these work methods and stick to them. But if you do, I promise things will get better. 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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