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Keys to Navigating Better Project Execution

I’ve never run a perfectly smooth project. It’s always a question I didn’t ask.

There are many stories to share about projects that didn’t go well, from an excessive amount of re-work to something as simple as using the wrong paper.

To ensure that a project doesn’t go way off the rails, there are a number of things CAD managers can do.

Recently, Robert Green, a recognized leader in CAD management, moderated the CAD Manager Summit, a roundtable of experts at Autodesk headquarters in San Francisco, where they addressed challenges and opportunities, as well as their perspective on the changing landscape. Participants included Frank Mayfield, CAD administrator at Leidos Engineering; R.K. McSwain, CAD manager at LJA Engineering; Jürgen Galba, co-founder of InventorWizard; Michael Viscetto, CAD manager at Bastien and Associates; and Shaun Bryant, director at CADFM consultants. Here are insights these experienced CAD managers shared on navigating better project execution.

Planning, Planning, and More Planning.

Every project is different, and having the CAD manager involved in pre-planning can increase efficiency and productivity, decrease iterations, and save money.

For Bryant, the first step is having a representative for everyone involved in the project at the kickoff meeting to define what happens next. This enables you to skip wishing you had done things differently. He uses a template to walk through the Building Information Modeling (BIM)execution plan.

“It’s literally just having a bullet list of everything that should be there, and you go through it and tick it off if you want it, you delete it if you don’t want it,” Bryant said.
Sometimes it is the little things that are done up front that make a huge difference at the end of
the project.

“If you are going to be working with any consultants or subs, what kinds of drawings or files will you need to exchange with them?” McSwain asked. “It’s better to know this up front, rather than deal with it halfway through the project where it could create a mess. We’ve dealt with some consultants, and the problem was they would send us their drawings at the end and we won’t have their plot styles and stuff. We finally said ‘Just send us a PDF.’ That solved the problem right there. They send us PDFs now; it is part of our set up.”

Looking at Project Training in a Different way.

Another part of planning is project training, which includes documentation on what standards will be used, where it sits on the server, where pallets are located, and folder structure.

“I’m a big fan of video recording,” Green said. “You find people come in and out of project teams. Or somebody goes out to a job site for two months, they come back and now they are going to do CAD. They are good people, but they don’t remember what I told them two months ago.  

Showing Your Value.

Education may also extend to upper management in terms of why CAD managers need to beinvolved in up front planning. Building a business case to show them your value is key. Green suggested one way to do this is by working with accounting to track re-work effort to figure out why some projects took more time and where you could save time and money.

“The CAD manager who presents this to senior management is not only viewed as being technically competent, but they start to view you as a business person. They start to respectyou on that level. They start to enable you, as well. For me, that was the real wake-up when Istarted talking to my boss in my boss’ language. All of the sudden I got somewhere.”

Controlling Software Versions.

When kicking off a project, one thing to think about is what software versions are needed andwhen to make upgrades. This may not be as much of a consideration with AutoCAD; however, with a product like Revit or a third-party app, it would be a major factor in planning. With these tools you can’t go back and they may only work with certain versions of other products. In this case, you would hold off and wait to upgrade until after certain projects were completed.

“If I went ahead and installed the latest and greatest version of the software that people need to use, and if they open it up in the lower version, it would corrupt things,” Mayfield said. “So, in the near future, as soon as a couple of projects get done come Monday morning [I tell my team], ‘You guys have to use the higher level software and you will not use the lower level software.’ ”

When upgrading software, things to think about include emailing everyone internally and externally so they know when the upgrade is taking place and what files they should be using going forward; and setting up simple naming conventions for the files so everyone can identify the new files and old files.

Working in the Cloud.

Planning is also a factor when working on a large project with people in multiple sites. Depending on your environment using A360, Google Drive, or Dropbox might be an option for your company. As expected, our experts had mixed views on using these tools.

Bryant used Google Drive and Dropbox for the Royal Albert Dock project on the Thames River in London. Every second Friday of the month everyone on the project would put their files on Google Drive and the BIM consultant would drop this all into Navisworks. They would have a conference call and everyone was looking at the files at the same time.

“It was so big and we couldn’t manage it in-house,” Bryant said. “We were lucky that weweren’t locked down by things like Official Secrets Act, or whatever. There are contractual items where you are tied down; you can’t do certain things. We utilized the cloud for the first time. We didn’t have to worry about file size. We didn’t have to worry about where everything was. We knew it was in this particular Google Drive.

While using the cloud has worked for Bryant, he also had this comment: “At the end of the day you have your files sitting on someone else’s server.” This is only one of the risks involved.

“[When] sharing data, your own intellectual property of your designs online, you need to be aware you are giving it away, as well,” Galba said

“In working with architects, that was one of their primary concerns,” Viscetto added. “You are giving it away. We do use Dropboxit’s very convenient when you have design development packages. You send the link to the consultant. It works very well; however, security is an issue. You need to trust your consultants. You need to make sure there are contractual items in place so it just doesn’t disappear.”

others, virtual desktops might be an option. Mayfield’s company is slowly moving to a virtual desktop environment to run all the CAD and BIM software.“I really do think virtual desktop is in the future for everyone. It would bring all offices togetherwe could work, collaborate, and do everything we need to do.”