Building a CAD Committee

No sleep til’ Christmas!  Last week it was Autodesk University in Las Vegas, this week marks the start of our Layer Standard implementation.  Getting to this milestone is incredibly exciting, as this implementation is the culmination of about a year of planning.  You may be wandering – what took so long?  After all it’s just a layer standard.

Our approach has been one coined by my co-worker Eric Chappell; Evolution not Revolution.  Just to shed some light onto my firm.  We are full-service civil engineering & GIS technology firm with about 350 professionals throughout 10 offices.  Among our strengths as a firm is the fact we offer a diverse array of services in-house; transportation, utilities, site development, residential, environmental, survey, etc.  At the start of our standardization initiative, this very strength posed itself as an innate challenge.  The challenge wasn’t that our CAD users we not following a standard, it was the fact each department, and even office had their own standard.  These numerous standards were not necessarily the result of renegade users, but rather a series of custom tailored solutions directed towards the review agencies each group submitted plans to.  Right out of the gate, it seemed like an impossible task to somehow combine all of these standards into a single company standard.  So how did we do it?

The short answer is time, patience, and persistence.  Working through the needs of so many departments, and so many review agencies will undoubtedly take time.  To fast track this process is much like filling an airplanes tank halfway, and hoping you will be able to land before you run out of gas.  Fill your tanks now, it’s going to be a long ride!

Establish a Committee

Let’s face it, calling 350 people into a single meeting and having any expectations of any real progress is a pipe dream.  You need to reduce that number to a core group of individuals.  While it may be tempting, this group shouldn’t be a group of project managers.  A project managers value is established in how well they can assemble a staff to meet deadlines, solve problems, and be the point person for both the client and review agencies.  While some project managers will likely use CAD to some extent, their main purpose in life is not to be drafters.  For that reason you want to select drafters, designers, and even project engineers who spend the vast majority of their time in CAD.  These are going to be the individuals who know how hard it is to share drawings between departments, or how they can never seem to find the latest version of a projects layout drawing.

Many firms choose to call this group their CAD Committee.  In all likelihood, the topics discussed in your meetings will extend beyond the breath of AutoCAD, and into topics such as where to save MS Excel files.  For this reason we have chosen a name we feel is more descriptive of who we are, and what we do; Design Systems Peer Group (DSPG).  If it has to do with the way we design a project, we talk about it.  Additionally, we chose “Peer Group” as to avoid the stigma of a committee structure where you have many members and one leader.  We wanted to promote an environment where all members had equal say in the decisions made.

Meeting Structure

Our DSPG meetings have been intentionally structured very democratically.  Decisions during our DSPG meetings are made by our DSPG members, not my boss and I as CAD Managers.  Our purpose is to facilitate constructive discussion and debate between our DSPG members.  We establish the framework, our DSPG members paint the picture.

We spent our first DSPG meeting determining the topics we would discuss in establishing our CAD Standard.  This started as a brainstorming session, simply identifying topics.  With a series of topics established, we organized them into groups, and finally prioritized the order in which we would discuss each topic.  The important thing to not is the fact this list is a living list.

Since then we have started each meeting asking if anyone has any additions for the list.  Admittedly, very few additions have been made in this part of our meetings, but there have been some.  Most of the additions have stemmed from discussions about other topics.  As CAD Managers, if the group starts getting off topic, we propose adding a topic to our list.  This keeps a rigid but flexible structure to our meetings.  The great idea established by a conversational tangent isn’t forgotten, just tabled for another day.

Role of the CAD Manager

First and foremost, your job as a CAD Manager is not to dictate decisions, but rather facilitate them.  Admittedly our DSPG meeting discussions get rather intense at times.  This intensity is a healthy thing as it most often spawns constructive debate between group members. You establish the framework, let your group paint the picture.

While I am certainly opinionated about the way I feel our standards should be, I try to suppress those opinions.  Rarely do I ever make statements, but rather ask questions.  In other words I wouldn’t state, “the LTSCALE should always equal the drawing scale”.  Instead I would ask the group something like, “how do you prefer to set the LTSCALE variable?”.  This approach affords each group member to state the way he/she sets LTSCALE for their drawings, and then allows the group to discuss the pro’s and con’s to each approach.

Of course sometimes your group will likely start going in a direction you know just won’t work.  Some such topics are incredibly easy to identify, others not-so-much.  As CAD Manager you should make it your business to not only know the software you support, but also establish an intimate knowledge about the firm you’re working in.  This knowledge will allow you to not only pick up on the obvious pitfalls, but also identify many others well before you have wasted a meeting talking about something that won’t work.

The importance of asking questions cannot be stated enough.  In the world of CAD Management, perception is reality.  Most CAD Managers are incredibly passionate about what they do.  This comes from the fact that just about every CAD Manager out there was a CAD user before they became a manager.  Even so, all it takes is your users to perceive you as a barbarian dictator. To avoid that personal pitfall, asking questions will allow your users to see how passionate you are about doing the right thing.  Remember, more can be accomplished when you are perceived as a peer than that of a manager.

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