Standards Schmanderds

Standards have been a part of a drafter’s life since the dawn of technical drawing. Standards have always played an important role in project delivery. When drafting meant rooms of ink-stained men hunched over rows of slanted tables, standards were the only way that drawing sets could look like it came from the same person. Fast forward a century – The same principles still apply.

Drafters moan, Managers cringe, Principals run in the other direction and the Clients are often disappointed when the conversation about standards are mentioned. There has always been a struggle within A/E firms when it comes to standardization. Personally, I have heard everything from “There is no Budget currently to update the standard” to “Standards are a waste of time, Our drafters produce the best drawing sets without using standards all the time”. I call bullshit (pardon my french). If we were to analyze how much time we all spend reworking drawings for graphic standards, datum consistency and proper annotation, I would bet that we could easily find the largest source of wasted profit for an entire project. Why are standards such a big deal? Why is it common that management either downplays or ignores the importance of standards? The answer for both boils down to cost.

When starting a new project, most CADD or BIM managers tend to start planning. Either meticulously crafting project procedures, execution plans and/or cheat sheets or mentally planning the location, structure and appearance of the drawing sets, it doesn’t matter; we plan. The problem is that no matter how much we plan, the Achilles heel is: People. People by nature will only exert as little energy as possible to complete a task. It’s the reason that we have remote controls, microwaves, Segways and countless other inventions that optimize the calories burned to do just about anything. Well, drafting and modeling are no different. If a drafter can find the icon for a line faster than find the icon for polyline, or save to a desktop instead of finding the proper location on the network, they will. Why? It’s human nature. I joke often that I am “a very lazy drafter”, and I don’t mean it as an insult. What I mean instead is that I tend to find the fastest, most efficient way to complete my drafting exercise. The thing that I have found that sets the exceptional apart from average drafters is not laziness but the boundaries they set. While it is common to hear: “Lines are easier to use than Poly lines”, I remind them that in the long run, it is easier and faster to modify a polyline than to modify several instances of lines and arcs. My boundary condition? the life of the line. I don’t just think about how fast I can place the line, I think about how long it will take to modify the line in the future. How many times have you honestly placed a line and never had to modify it? It’s a rare occasion. In the end, It would have taken a significantly more amount of time to modify those line segments than it would have to use a polyline in the first place. This is a quick example of exactly why standards are important. Standards put boundary conditions on laziness and these boundaries can save money over the life of a project. A line; who would have thought it could cost the project money?

As to not be polarizing, I will now put on my manager hat. Standards cost money. They take a lot of time to develop. They take even more time to refine. In a single discipline firm (Think: Architecture Firm) this development is short sided an often only see the impact their standards have on their scope of the project. Multi-discipline firms have it much harder, standards not only have to work for each discipline but they need to work inter-discipline. If any of you have ever sat in a coordination meeting or a OAC meeting, you know that disciplines rarely see eye-to-eye. This is still the case for standards. They rarely work seamless across all disciplines and to optimize cross-discipline standards costs even more money. Standards are also a long, boring read that is more often than not a mandatory read for new hires. This too costs money. Printing costs money. I think you get the point. So from a management perspective, where is the ROI on this investment? It’s not always very tangible. The ROI is normally calculated by the ratio of:

Return On Investment (ROI)

From a standards perspective, it is the gain that is hard to quantify. Over the life of a CAD or BIM standard, it will need to be revised many times to stay current with client needs, software upgrades, infrastructure changes to name a few. To make an agnostic standard, or a software independent standard is convoluted and rarely gets the point across. On top of all of that, Standards are often complex, wordy, technically driven paperweights that are next to impossible to read and digest. Oh. and as a manager, I am never going to read it and if my project is running close to budget or dare say over budget, I am going to suggest to all my drafters to ignore the standard to meet deadline. So why bother having them?

I’m going to go out on a limb here. As a former automotive fabricator, I can build a car. It takes a long time and a lot of rework to do a one of a kind vehicle. I know this. My hands know this. I watch documentaries about cars and how they are built. Something clicked while watching a documentary about Automotive factories. The assembly line has parallels in the drafting world. See, when building cars, I spent a lot of time measuring, cutting, grinding, measuring etc. It took a long time to get the smallest detail just right. Time equals money; So in essence I spent a lot of money getting it right. I also spent a lot of money buying tools and trying to make them work for what I needed. Most of the time, I wasted money on fancy tools that really didn’t make my work any faster. It was inefficient but it was necessary to test and develop a methodology that worked. Now, think of a factory. You see a lot of automated movement, workers that know their exact task, robots that aid in difficult or dangerous tasks. Its orchestrated, methodical and efficient. This is obvious and known. Here is what struck me: the planning. Every task, every robotic movement, it is all planned. There are teams of engineers that design each step, each task on the assembly line to take the unknown out of building a product. This is what clicked for me. A standard for CADD / BIM or really any A/E process should be a clear, digestible procedure that allows a drafter to know EXACTLY what it is they should be doing each step of the way. I know, you are probably saying,”Well.Duh” but I challenge you. Read your standard. Does it do that? If so, Great. Send it to me. Id like to read it.