I ended the last series on Critical Conversations about CAD with some quick advice on what to do when you fail. I wanted to revisit that topic and provide some additional comments on learning from failure. When failure happens you have to review how you got in that position. How could things have gone so bad? What can we do to avoid this from happening again?
Reevaluate what really happened. Do not just take the surface and obvious items that everyone can see. Look deeper. The obvious things might be key to finding root causes, but some things might lay just under the surface. Uncover more than you may have done in the past. Review the obvious and peel back each step to see if the failure was a gradual decline or a sudden fall. Did each step work as expected? Did the result of each step completely meet expectations? If not – Why not? You have to keep asking “why?” Why did this happen? Why did we not see this? Why did it not work?
Rethink what you might have done. What might you have done at each step that would have improved the outcome? If we applied more resources, what would have happened? If we had more budget would it really have mattered? Throwing money at a problem does not guarantee success. If we had another team member in the mix we could we have made better progress?
Get input from others. Specifically, someone that was not involved with the planning and execution. Some items may be obvious to others and seem hidden from your sight. Others may see it immediately while you may have to look beyond your preconceived perspectives.
Think about what you will do differently next time – then actually do it. Do not only devise or speculate on what you might change in the future… actually change something. Doing things the same way and expecting things to come out differently is pure folly. Manage the change so that you know that what was changed actually impacted the outcome. Too often we change too many things at the same time and never discover which ones had the greatest effect.
Don’t do nothing. Doing nothing only permits anyone to grab at what might have caused the failure and what might turn it into success. There is an inability built into each one of us to see beyond our immediate perception. We need to see beyond our original planning and seek to do better next time through specific modifications in our approach.
Don’t come to a conclusion too quickly. Some may ask “how long do we analyze this failure before we move on?” You should ponder your failures as long as it takes. Seem subjective? it is. Do not move forward until you have at least three actionable reasons for the failure. Don’t move after the first one you find. Don’t move on until you have specific actionable items to work on. Straining to find more than three can stagnate and frustrate. Three items seems like a good start.
CAD Issues that are brought to you must be addressed. CAD problems can corrupt CAD files, cripple progress and ruin projects. This is not a good thing. Issues have to be dealt with when they arise. Better yet – tackle them when they are just concerns before they become failures.
But failures happen. They are often avoidable when issues are caught early and addressed, but can still happen even when you know they are coming. I have seen train wreck projects that continue to cascade down the line toward failure. I have seen countless man-hours chewed up fixing things that were left in a mess. I have seen users do very interesting things that mangle files.
When an issue goes unaddressed it breed failure. Things break and may become irreparable. Then you have to recreate things to get them working. CAD failures impact you as the CAD Manager. They reflect badly on your ability to keep things running smoothly. They may not be something that you could have prevented, but others think you can.
When CAD Failures Happen
Take ownership of the repair. Do whatever you can to get things back on track. Personally take charge of the situation and make adjustments and suggestions as needed.
Speak the truth. Don’t candy coat things. Tell people what the problem is and what you think the fix is. Don’t place blame, but do not let blame land on your shoulders if it is not warranted. Others will try to place it firmly in your hands, so document your findings and tell people what really might have cause the problem. Keep it positive and not a negative attack on anyone, but get your perspective out there.
Address the issues directly with management. Take the conversation as high up the food chain as you can take it. As you move higher, keep the conversation brief unless they ask more questions. Most upper managers do not want a forensic investigation outlined to them in detail. They want a concise explanation of the problem and a definitive plan to correct it.
Follow through on the repairs. If you are doing them, let people know when they are done. If others are doing them, check in often for updates and examine the results to verify that the fix really worked.
You notice something. Then you become concerned. Then it becomes an “Issue”. That is the progression… but how does it move from one to the next?
These are the steps of items evolving beyond annoyance, anomaly or abstraction. These are the items that have others moving beyond concern to very concerned, to an issue. The conversations that others start with you begins with “We have an issue with…” and move quickly from there to possibly even more advanced levels.
How things move from Noticed to a Concern
If you notice something, you keep your eye on it and address it when it first looks to be a concern. Others typically do not bring you things that they notice. They may mention them in conversation, but it is typically not the topic of the discussion. they may concur when you mention something. They may validate your perceptions, but they seldom bring things up that they have noticed.
After investigating things you notice, if they are bigger than you think or have greater impact, they move to concerns. You can move them ahead on this progression of awareness. When things that you notice move to things that cause concern, that is when you go talk to others. It has moved from being noticed and is now a concern.
But when do people come and talk to you about troubling items? People mostly bring things to your attention when they have moved from being noticed to being a concern. This is when you hear about things that you have not noticed. It happens when it becomes a concern to someone else. They come and talk to you about it. This is the same progression that happened like your own advancement from noting to concern. The awareness just happened to someone else.
How things move from Concern to Issue
Moving from concern to issue happens when something along the pathway of correction fails to work. It happens when corrective measures are not started. There are a few ways that this happens.
Things get to the issue level by being ignored. Face it, sometimes things just fall through the cracks. They get pushed to the back of the list when they should have been “noticed” and move to the front. They get bumped behind something that seemed more urgent when they should have been seen as a “concern”. They should have been fixed sooner than this.
Things get to an issue level when you are not made aware of them. You may not even know that people have noticed some area of trouble, or when they have identified it as a concern. They come to you when they are already broken. No one makes you aware of the concern until it is too late for you to head off the problem.
Things get to an issue level when your corrective measures are not enough. You may have seen it coming and started repairing the files or projects effected, but it is not enough to get out ahead of the problem. The impact has started and you are not able to contain the effects.
Next up… When Issues Descend into Failure
When CAD concerns continue without being addressed they become CAD “Issues”.
Issues should be fairly easy to identify because someone should let you know about it. That does not always happen and we will discuss that in the next post. For now, let’s just identify the Issues.
Issues are trouble spots that have impacted workflow and endanger deliverables, dollars or deadlines. These are the big “3Ds” that when put in danger… people notice. I mean they become concerned. Actually – it is an Issue.
What are the things that people consider issue worthy?
Things that cause delays. Things are slowing down or not moving fast enough. Troubles have impacted files and people are not able to get things done. Things that used to work are no longer working. Things that used to be easy are now hard.
Things that cause client comments. Things may be humming along fine from your perspective, but the client does not. Client comments cause major issues with most project managers.
Things that others want to blame on you. There – I said it. There are a lot of times when CAD is too easy to pick on. Everyone can just blame the CAD guy or the CAD file or the CAD Manager. You know it happens. You know that the project was tanking way before there were any “CAD Problems”. The trouble is that these comments are hard to deflect. Other than having perfect CAD files, which is really tough to do in a large environment (two or more users – lol), there may be little to do that can ward off blame issues.
Issues are things that others just want to go away. They want you to fix them and fix them now. They expect them to be addressed and corrected. They are a call to action. Acting fast.
You should not have any trouble identifying an Issue – others will let you know exactly what the issue is.
Up next Evolution of Awareness
Last time I talked about things that you might “notice”. Now we turn to the things that you have noticed that have become a “concern”.
When you “notice” something, you are just perceiving repetitions that might have a pattern. You are piecing together disparate items that may link to a common thread. They might not have anything in common and never move past something that you just happened to notice. This can happen a lot. I have noticed many things that have nothing to do with any underlying problems. They are just anomalies. Unconnected bits of information that can be filed away (but keep them handy in your mind, just in case something comes up later).
I tend to notice things like my car making funny noises. I hear things that do not sound right or that do not sound the same. The AC might sound different. The transmission might howl a little. I used to have a Volkswagen Bug and it made strange noises all the time. They tended to come and go. I would make a mental note when I heard something strange and then wait to see if it would go away. The noises usually went away. It was just a noisy old car.
Unlike the noises my car might start and then stop making, the things you notice in CAD usually do not go away. It is really a matter of how far and what impact these items might have. When they move from one file to another. When they pop up from one user to the next. When you see them bridging one project and into another… that is when they become “concerns”.
When things you “notice” become things that cause “concern” you need to address them. It has gone beyond a random flareup of individual items. It has now moved in to a repeating sore spot. It is happening on a regular basis and seems to be spreading. It is not getting better. It might even be repeatable – you can make it happen. It has not been enough just to raise awareness via a “I noticed something” conversation. It is now time to gather the troops.
The first point of addressing them might be a critical conversation. Here is how that conversation might go.
“Hey Bob, I see that you are having troubles with plotting. I noticed that with others and I am becoming concerned. Can you tell me a little more about your troubles?” “Stacy, I am concerned that I may not have communicated the standard for layer names” – this would follow you noticing that Stacy has not been exactly consistent in layer naming. “Dave, have you noticed that the High Rise project is having trouble with file transfer? This is happening more and more and I am concerned that the files may be corrupt on some level.”
After the above intro, all of the conversations about concerns notify the person that something needs to happen. It may call for deeper, formal investigations around the problem, or it may be a call to action focused on avoiding the trouble spreading. This critical conversation – at the “concern” level – is calling for action. It is not just that you are noting something. You are stating that the problem now needs to be addressed. It may no longer be a suggestion. By addressing the problems that have risen to concern level, you salvage the files and project before they become issues that can have severe negative impact. You catch the problems and solve them – usually within the flow of normal work.
Once you have this level of conversation, things should happen. Someone, maybe you, will move toward resolving or uncovering the deeper problem. The project staff may need to have a meeting to see how pervasive the problem is. You may have to dig into some files to see what is happening. You (or someone) will have to expend time to define the problem and try to get it taken care of. This level of conversation usually does the trick. People do not like hearing the word “concern”. When they do, they seek to alleviate the concerns being discussed.
The only level higher than a ‘concern” will be discussed next. Identifying an Issue.
We discussed what to watch for and who to talk to. Now we move on to how to talk when you have to have a critical conversation.
There are three levels that I usually try to frame my discussions with people when something comes up that I have to address. I frame them under the lead off words I might use when starting the conversation.
- I noticed that…
- I am concerned about…
- We have an issue…
Let’s cover the first one. What you notice are the things that appear to be gathering into patterns. They may appear random at first, but their appears to be a coalescing theme coming into the light. You notice that several drawing are not plotting out right. You notice that people have come to you asking for help finding where project blocks are located. You hear someone having a conversation over the cubicle wall telling a coworker about replacing blocks in a file. There is a pattern coming out of these random observations. See the linkage… bad blocks???
Now is the time to step in. It may be nothing or it may be the start of something very bad. Time for a critical conversation. Here is how it might go…
Hey Steve, I notice that you had some problems getting a file to plot. What project was that? Hey Julie, I noticed that you asked about where the blocks were stored. Did you need those for a project? which one? Tom, did I notice you say that there were some blocks that needed to be replaced on a file the other day? what project was that?
All of these questions were not accusative nor divulging any specifics about possible concerns. You are just gathering information. You are looking a little deeper into a possible pattern. You are trying to uncover what might be impacting the workflow. It is a process that is a few steps back from the actual impact zone. You are not looking to get in people faces. That may cause them to stop providing information because they might think you are accusing or looking for someone to blame.
By taking a low key approach, you will gather little pieces of the overall puzzle. Putting together that puzzle may take you to step two in your critical conversations. Uncovering a Concern.
We have discussed what might trigger a critical conversation and now we move to who might be involved.
When a CAD Manager uncovers a pattern of deviation that might impair the progress of a CAD project, they need to bring it up to someone. There needs to be a conversation related to what they have found so that it can bee addressed and alleviated. But who do you talk to? Who is the best person to approach with the information you discovered?
Here is a plan for who you might have a chat with:
The first place to go is to the person that you think is making the errors or may misunderstand the standards required. by going to the person that is working on the file or model, you may make any corrections needed at the root of the problem.
If you do not have any idea who may have been involved in the errant processes, then go to the work team. Talk to multiple people and you may uncover what might have happened and who may have been involved. Talking to the team may allow them to adjust their work approach to manage the area of concern. The point of these discussion is not to place blame, but to define a remedy. Without placing blame, you may get the corrective efforts started.
If the corrective efforts cannot be initiated with a critical conversation with the person thought responsible or the team, then it may need to be escalated to the next level. If it is a person who was identified as the source of the concern, then that would be the persons supervisor. Most of the time this will not have to happen, especially with the persons supervisor. Unless there is denial of the obvious facts or refusal to make amends, the person who is identified and agreed upon as making the problem, then that person will most likely assist in the correction of the problem.
If it was a team problem, then a meeting with the project manager may be in order. This is what usually happens. The PM is notified that there is a problem and corrective action is either taking place or is needed. The conversation with the PM is needed because they have bottom line responsibility with meeting the project deadlines. Again – you are not looking to place blame on any individual. You are focused on getting the project back in line and moving forward.
Last time we discussed why some detrimental items in CAD may go unnoticed, avoided, uncorrected and worst of all seen by the client. We encouraged CAD Managers to have these critical conversations with those on the production team and higher.
Topics that Might Trigger Critical Conversation
You might ask, “What areas should you be looking at that might cause troubles and that might generate a critical conversation?”
Anything can trigger a conversation about CAD, but what might trigger the critical discussions that can keep a project moving and avoid troubled waters. You should be having general conversations about CAD topics with everyone on your team. Just the casual style chatter that surrounds CAD work… you know, things like “what layer are you using for this? When do you update the backgrounds? who needs to know about this change and approve it?” These short talks can keep things moving and are not critical in nature until something does go wrong.
But there are some areas that keep you up at night. The ones that you see happening again and again. The ones that infect a project and destroy any standards that you may be trying to maintain. Here is my short list of things that should be watched.
Violations of the CAD Standard – this is a big area, but a few quick checks on a set of project files can turn up areas of concern. I have listed the essential areas to look at, but they always deserve a review. Here they are again.
- Standard Folders – names, locations, relationships, contents
- Project Names – numbering, names
- File Names – correct and consistent
- Layer Names, Line styles, Pen Weights
- Pen Tables – CTB, STB
- Lettering Fonts and Sizes – fonts, style names
- Dimension Styles – exact names, consistent use
- Drafting Symbols – your basic symbology is always used
- Xref Usage – naming, content, attachment method
- Layout tabs – names, format, page setup
Beyond the CAD standard you might pay attention to:
- Consistent Presentation
- Detail Sheet Layout and presentation
- Level of Detail that is used
- Title Block text, abbreviations and wording
- Graphic element locations (Key map, North Arrow, Graphic Scale)
- Dates and Names (like client names – I have seen them misspelled)
- Title of the Submittal (Plan Check, Client Review)
- Cross Reference numbers are correct
- Legibility of the drawings
- Nomenclature – callouts
- Project Title Block presentation and layout
When you see problems in these areas that are a pattern and not just random errors, you may want to consider having a critical conversation with someone. Again – this is when you see a pattern… Repeating, recurring, over and over, etc.
Next post… Who to Talk To
When things happen in CAD that need to be addressed and discussed, there is always a good and a bad time to have the conversation surrounding the situation. There are violations of CAD Standards, shoddy work, flawed processes, off track procedures and so much more that can derail a good CAD project.
How do you get these things back in line? Who and when do you talk to people about it? Does the PM need to know? Can you insert yourself in the CAD flow and talk to those doing the design work? Is what you are bringing up going to knock the project off its timeline? Is it really that big a deal?
Over the next few post I will look at these and more items centered around when you might have what I call Critical Conversations about CAD. As I do, I will suggest why, when and how and also provide a framework for words to use and escalation steps – when to take it to a higher level.
First let’s discuss why you should be having critical conversations about CAD.
- It is your job as CAD or BIM Managers to stick your nose in. Your world revolves around CAD process, quality and productivity. These three can make or break a firms ability to convey a design to others who have to approve, price, and build what your team has conceived. Here is a post from way back about sticking your nose in.
- Members of the CAD production team may not want to discuss CAD issues. They may be unwilling to have these kinds of conversations. Items that can impact your firm negatively can be overlooked, missed, avoided, swept under the rug, passed on from one person to the next, not corrected when uncovered or inadvertently left behind in files. They may think that you are trying to point the finger of blame at them.
- Leadership may not see them. Not many program managers or project managers are hands on with CAD or BIM since they have larger roles to play. This arms length association with the file and model production may allow unseen items to creep in to the work flow and product.
- You do not want the client pointing them out. If a problem file makes it to a client and they uncover the issue, this could have a major negative reflection on your firm. They could be thinking, “If they cannot get the CAD files right, what else do they not have right?” If the critical CAD conversations are happening between your client and your leadership, the impact will cascade down to you and the team.
So since other may not see the problems or be motivated to discuss them, I think it is incumbent upon the CAD or BIM Manager to speak up.
Next post… What might trigger a critical conversation?