When you finally get a project out of the door, it’s a great feeling. As a CAD manager in the past, I have experienced that euphoric sense of relief. No more 5 p.m. rushes when the architect moved a window position, which in turn affected the position of the structural steelwork, which then needed a services check before the drawings went to site.

Yep, a great feeling of satisfaction, but here’s the kicker: You need to be on the lookout for the next job, plus you need to do the necessary admin needed to keep your project team ship-shape! So, what do you do when you have project downtime?

1. Consider Software Leasing/Renting. Did you know that you can rent software? Not just from the software developer, either. Sure, Autodesk offers software rental plans based on its subscription model, but there are companies out there that can tailor renting/leasing packages based on a cost per workstation, per month, per annum, etc. You rent or lease a whole new workstation with the software you need on it. I used this a lot as a CAD manager, as the projects I worked on varied in size and number of CAD Jedis needed. It is a great flexible solution.

It’s also a great way of using only what you need per project; making the associated costs an operating expense, rather than a capital expense, which can be beneficial from a taxation perspective as well. So this could be a valuable consideration when using downtime to plan the next incoming project. Plus, you can cut down on rental licenses when you don’t need them later on.

For more details, check out Dusty DiMercurio’s great article on software renting and leasing.

2. Upgrade Software. This can be a real can of worms, especially when you have software rental/leasing now also available. Do you stick with what you know and what you are used to, or do you upgrade? If you are on subscription, that decision is already made for you, as you will have the latest version of your Autodesk software sent to you as part of that subscription. But upgrading is not just a case of installing the new software.

Look at Revit, for example. If you upgrade, all of your projects will open in that new version and do a one-time upgrade that cannot be reversed. Obviously, you will have backups for that older version and the Revit projects, but then you have to think about upgrading all your custom Revit families—and the list goes on. Upgrading software is a big undertaking, and if you are a big organization or company, it will need serious thought. As a CAD consultant, I often get involved in upgrades, which sometimes take only a few weeks, but some have taken up to a year to complete.

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Consider the following before upgrading:

  • Do you really need to upgrade right now? If you do, get planning! Maybe consider bringing in a consultant (like myself—shameless self promo, I know), or perhaps ask your reseller if they can do this as a package for you. The bigger the CAD outfit, the longer it will take. I could write books on the subject (maybe I should?).
  • Do you have the budget to upgrade? Depending on whether you lease, are on subscription, or your software is a capital expenditure item, you will still need to consider budget for both capital and operational expenditure when upgrading. It that budget there? Can you talk to the powers that be and raise that all-important business argument to upgrade? They, after all, control the purse strings. On the other hand, as a smaller business enterprise owner, is the money there? Have you enough profit margin to think about upgrading? Something I always suggest here is to build the upgrade into the cost of a new project. Sometimes, a client might request that all teams working on a project run the same software version—that’s a perfect time to upgrade and train, knowing that it will be paid for by the next job you work on.

3. Get Your Training Schedule Sorted. I mentioned training above. Sure, if you are upgrading, get that training out of the way when the CAD team is quiet, when the diary is a bit less tight. I don’t just mean CAD training either. CAD standards often change nowadays. Get your CAD team up to speed on the standards by getting team members on a course. If you have a deputy CAD manager, consider spending a day together going through your duties and working out contingencies for illness, holidays, etc. These might seem like small potatoes, but trust me, they get real big when you are trying to relax with the family, hundreds of miles away, and the office is having a meltdown. You need to be sure that your team can function without you there for a week or so.

Training can also be done in the office. Have you considered using video training? There are some great video training companies out there who have great authors. Check out Infinite Skills. The company doesn’t just do Autodesk training titles—it also has Adobe, Microsoft, you name it. Using video training is sometimes very beneficial after classroom, instructor-led training, as it provides proof-of-concept and allows for instant “refresher” learning.

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4. Get Your Financials in Check. As a small business owner myself, you can often not see the forest for the trees when it comes to money. You are so busy, you forget to chase invoices, and cash flow suddenly dries up. Don’t take all this on yourself—you have enough to do. Hire an accountant or virtual assistant. Think about it. You charge yourself out to a client for a daily rate. Does that rate tally with paper pushing, number crunching, and phone calls? You should be using project downtime effectively and, also, profitably. So, for the cost of an accountant for a day or so, you will probably save money by getting them to do the hard work. Sure, meet with them during the downtime, but only once they have done all of the bean counting for you and earned their fee!

You are then free to look at operational requirements while the accountant concentrates on the financials. Yes, the finances are very important, but employ someone who knows this stuff rather than sit there scratching your head about what you owe the tax man. Additionally, they are sometimes worth their weight in gold, especially when they tell you they have saved you a shedload of money by just doing their job and letting you do yours!

I am pretty sure that a number of you already use an accountant, right? So spend some downtime with them. Make sure you have some days in the diary booked with them to go through the day-to-day profit and loss, but also to bounce ideas off them. Ask if software rental/leasing is a good option. Would it benefit the business? Would it save money from the bottom line? These are things they should know and be able to assist you with, if they are worth their fee.

5. Perform General Admin Duties. When I ran my CAD office, we had a whiteboard up on the wall, showing each member of the team and the week, broken down in days. It was each team member’s responsibility to make sure that they marked the whiteboard to show if they were in or out of the office, at lunch, at the doctor’s office, and so on. This was our daily diary, and I was none too impressed if anyone forgot. The CAD office was a team effort, and that was our team on the wall. On bigger projects, I just upgraded to a bigger whiteboard!

Nowadays, there is the Internet. We have superb apps like Google Calendar, which can be shared electronically. Team members can update from their smartphone if necessary. There are tools out there now that can really make your team efficient. Spend a day or two checking out apps like Google Calendar. Consider Google Docs, too.

From an archiving perspective (which I will address in another article in much more detail), check out cloud storage, portable hard drive storage, and your backup policy. These are things that can also be set up during your downtime, making sure that things are secure and backed up regularly when you are focusing on the current project at hand.

Use your project downtime wisely. Don’t just chill out. Make sure you take time out to make the next project function more efficiently than the last one. Set up some team meetings to go through what could be done better and smarter. Involve the whole team with these meetings—it creates a value ethic where the team feels valued.

Always use downtime to become better. While I have given you some pointers here, there are many more ways to work quicker, smarter, and more efficient. And remember, those efficiencies hit the bottom line: profit. The better you are, the more profitable you become.

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