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S-MAN Standards Management Prepares You for the Next Boom Time

Barrie Mathews, Softco Engineering Systems
April 1, 2003

For firms who have put their AutoCAD systems development on the back burner, wouldn't it be great to prepare your firm to work smarter and provide better service once the economy rebounds? Slack times present an opportunity for you to retain extra staff to keep the current workload going and free up personnel who can manage your long overdue systems upgrade. Softco's S-MAN Standards Manager guides you through the starting gates and fulfills this objective smoothly in one quarter of the time. Here's how.

Upgrading Your Processes for New Technology

When a CAD user has invested time in developing a process that works for him or her, it is difficult for that person to see any other way. This applies equally to a technical manager who has invested too much time prescribing a system for others to use. The vested interests are too strong for a constructive exchange of ideas that will lead to a meeting of the minds on standardizing. That is, standardizing that will allow anyone on the team to work on someone else's drawing without the terrible loss of time and mistakes that arise from inferior and inconsistent practices. How S-MAN helps you here is by walking you through the requirements without bias. It provides you with a common model upon which your staff can make assessments on the pros and cons of their existing practices, and offers recommended practices as a fully integrated system. For the CAD manager, S-MAN provides all the background information to guide your staff toward consensus based upon educated decisions. When you are all speaking the same language, you will build upon your combined knowledge and create a very valuable asset applying your own variations of the common model. The classification of requirements using the S-MAN conventions and documentation gives you granularity, flexibility and scalability.

Getting and Documenting the "Why" Questions

The S-MAN documentation provides the "Why" answers for the prototype standards provided. This helps you to test the quality of your own logic when you are developing your systems upgrade. Using the formatted documentation provided with S-MAN, you can add in, delete from, and make a draft copy of your own system documentation. In so doing, you are encouraged to explain your own logic in writing to be sure it is sound. You often have to revisit your earlier decisions. When you do, you will know clearly why they were made, and whether the reasons are still relevant in view of later decisions. So for maintenance and future upgrading of the system, S-MAN makes that job easy.

Round 2 - Assessing the System as a Whole

Once your decisions have gone through the first round, you will revise the S-MAN documentation as Draft 1. At this stage you can lead your staff members into round 2. From your draft documentation, you identify problems and then make your 2nd round of revisions after seeing how things interact as a whole. It is here that you should address these kind of questions:

a) Should the standard setups be narrowed to a lower, more specific level to accommodate more flexibility for exceptional circumstances? Is the system too high level (and more powerful) than it needs to be, or can derivative setups be determined for those exceptional cases? S-MAN provides you with naming conventions to help you ensure that the user can instantly identify the intended use of your setups.

b) Now that you have agreed upon some fundamental standards, are there some new opportunities? This is the time to look at further power that can be built into the system.

Implementing a Pilot Project

After the 2nd round of deliberation has been completed, it is time to designate 2 of your most enthusiastic participants to see how the Round 2 draft system works in practice. It is best to start clean with a new project since you don't want the confusion of having to work on drawings done half in the old system and half in the new. It must be a clean slate for your 2 pilots. They need your complete set of draft documentation with them so they can mark it up, noting any problems or suggestions for improvement. From this stage onward, Round 2 is the beginning of your on-going CAD management. As new technology becomes available, there will be a Round 3, 4, 5, ..., for you and your staff to co-operatively improve your performance each time.

Implementing Yardsticks to Measure Performance

It is important to develop tools to help you manage the system and to demonstrate your progress to management.

1. Keep your systems documentation up to date at all times.

2. Develop a performance chart or report format to measure and evaluate your current state of progress. Do this by keeping your own time log on tasks that can be measured to some degree of accuracy. Daily time sheets that include a task key is another source of getting this kind of data.

One of your measurable tasks should be the total hours spent per sheet for each project from start to finish, including revisions. Classify this by common types of jobs. The unit of measure should be a medium that you establish as "Journeyman hours", so that staff with varying ability can be rated to it. Start off by basing the rating on the salary differential. For example, if a normal journeyman's rate of pay is $20 per hour and a student's pay at $12, the factor for journeyman hours is 0.60 (12/20) for the student. Later on, you will be able to use this performance data the other way around. By comparing the current data to past performance, you can use the comparison to determine your compensation plan, chargeouts, and scheduling of work. Applying this concept to a team environment is a terrific incentive for co-operation. The pay scale rewards the members of the team with percentage salary increases based on the performance of the team. Keep the awarding of pay under your own discretion, but make it known that this is how salaries are determined. Let it be known that 50% of the benefit goes to salary increases, and the remainder goes to the company.

On your chart or report, also include a category for specifying unique project requirements, plus and minus factors that would have affected the outcome. This is necessary for evaluation of the report in its proper perspective. At the end of it, you can include your estimated weighted average after correcting for the plus and minus factors.

Explain the Case to Management

A CAD management system is a necessary and on-going requirement once your firm has more than 2 to 3 CAD users, but it is difficult for senior managers to understand the case for this if they don't use the software themselves. Some of them view CAD implementation as a one-way interaction where the software provides a user manual and users learn how to use it. Try explaining the case to them like this. If CAD software were custom designed for your company and its users, then it might be as simplistic as that. But rather, it is a set of tools with capabilities the user can apply, and invariably, each user has learned to apply the tools differently. When process is developed individually and applied piecemeal without the benefit of the full experience, the power of the software is not utilized and it blocks the implementation of new and greater capabilities. Your company's goal is to be able to mutually adapt the processes employed by your staff with the current capabilities of the CAD software in a manner that meets the business objectives.

S-MAN has been specifically designed to help you draw upon the combined strength of your staff's know-how, and then keep your system up to date with new technology as it comes available. It's really that simple when you have the fully integrated S-MAN system to guide you.

About the Author

Barrie Mathews is president and manager of product design and engineering at Softco Engineering Systems Inc., developers of the S-MAN AutoCAD Standards Manager.

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