Drummond’s Eight Deadly Productivity Sins of Design Departments
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Here are steps that the design room and management can take to help ease the burdens on the design staff. This is a list of sins that many companies are guilty of and that needlessly burden the design staff.
- Poorly trained sales staff is the number one sin of many companies. Far and away, this is the biggest fault that many companies are guilty. Many designers refer to these types of salespeople as “print pigeons.” These salesmen increase the burden on the design staff with incomplete projects on a regular basis. They simply do not have the technical knowledge to make sure the designers have everything they need to complete the project. This ties up an enormous amount of time that management usually overlooks. Normal project schedules are increased by a factor of two or three because of insufficient information that should have been provided up-front.
- Procedures that are not being followed or are non-existent for project completion. If the projects are being processed in a haphazard fashion, needless time is being wasted. Many design rooms have procedures that are poorly thought out or that are simply being ignored. This is something that management can fix in an afternoon. These procedures are more expansive than what the design staff has control of. I am referring to the interaction between the sales and production department and the design department. This includes needless interruptions of the designers while they are working. Who is responsible for what, and how is it being handled? How are questions being answered, and who needs to answer them? How is the paperwork being processed, and is everybody filling in this paperwork properly? Better yet, take another hard look at your paperwork and streamline the whole process.
- Designers doing the bulk of the workload for project processing. Are your designers responsible for gathering all the necessary information to start and complete a project? (This is the salesman’s responsibility.) Is your design staff responsible for processing all the paperwork for production? (This is production’s responsibility.) Why do you place this needless burden on the ones who are in such high demand?
- Designers who are not specialized in designing specific projects. I have witnessed design departments where a single designer who is drawing the house blueprints also designs the floor system, wall panels, and the trusses. I could expect this from a designer who has been in the designing department for fifteen years, but not from every designer in a department. The normal timeline for a very good truss designer to become proficient is four or five years. That is if he only does truss designing. How can anybody expect him to be an expert after just a few years if he also has to learn every code from 36-inch high railings and four-foot openings to the local snow loads and the effects they have on trusses? The designer also has to learn all the different types of software that each aspect of the designing requires. Truss or wall panel design software is not something someone can use occasionally and be considered proficient. The most commonly used excuse for design departments that operate in this fashion is the designer knows the entire project, so nothing is lost. It sounds like these departments have a serious information processing problem.
- Design departments that do not track or properly gauge the workload. If you do not have a database to track the amount of bidding and order processing from each designer, then how can you really know how much work is getting done? The design staff should never allow the sales numbers be the only tracking method of productivity. Every designer should have monthly numbers to justify his/her existence in the design room. Each new project should be logged into a database with a consistent method of judging the amount of time required to complete it. This database should have the estimated time and the actual times for the designer.
- Poor design software that slows design processing. Designers become so loyal to the software they know that they become blind to other possibilities. Is all design software really the same? I have personally witnessed, in more than few companies, where they switched to different software, and as a consequence became two to three times more productive in less than three months. The greater the complexity to the design needed, the greater the gains in productivity. There are huge differences in productivity with design software. Think about this: If you are using panel design software that you have to check every wall panel drawing for design issues, then you are wasting precious design time. If the truss profiles are questionable from the layout program to the engineering program, then why are you using the layout program? Some companies can increase their design department’s productivity if they are willing to embrace a simple software changeover.
- Computer hardware and network systems. Computers are dirt cheap for what they are being used for. More than one study has shown large productivity gains using larger screens. You will reduce eyestrain by purchasing the highest quality and largest size. Having a computer system that will process an engineered truss in less than two seconds should be a no-brainer. If the designer waits for more than two seconds for each design, he will become distracted from his work while waiting for the computer to process the information. This ties directly to the network of a design group. Every computer should tie together in a network, which should never be a bottleneck that prevents greater productivity. I have witnessed a network where each truss drawing took 30 seconds to print because of the poorly set up network! Think about how a common order of 60 different trusses taking 30 minutes just to print would squander valuable time.
- Waiting until the workload reaches critical mass before hiring more designers. Nothing slows down your best designers more than to have to teach a new designer. Why do so many managers wait until the last-minute to hire, and then only make it worse by slowing the design group down by giving them someone they have to train? Do your numbers reflect actual productivity loss because you waited until sales justified a new employee?
There you have the common eight sins that affect a design department’s productivity. How many of these are needlessly affecting your company?
Todd Drummond Consulting, LLC