Standardizing Your Company – Part 7: Getting Started on the Right Track

In last week’s post we discussed how to build a good committee.  Now that you’ve got your best folks together, how do you ensure that progress is actually made at your meetings?  Find out after the jump.

If you’re reading this you’ve probably experienced the dreaded CAD committee meeting.  Hours of grueling discussion about a multitude of seemingly insignificant topics and no apparent progress.  What went wrong?  You had such good intentions going in and now everyone’s frustrated, disappointed, and not looking forward to the next meeting.

Realize that what you’ve chosen to undertake is a monumental task.  More than likely you’re going to try to uproot years of deeply seated practices (habits) that involve some very detailed aspects of CAD.  You’re going to try to standardize the use of one of the most complex computer programs in the world to do one of the most complex tasks in the world.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, as the saying goes, and you can bet that Rome wouldn’t have been built at all without some organization and structure incorporated into the construction.

Before you get into your first debate over the color of the dimension layer, your committee has to answer two question, and answer them very specifically:

  1. What are we going to talk about?
  2. How are we going to talk abut it?

Possibly my most effective discovery that I’ve ever made in this long journey of figuring out how to standardize companies is what I call “The List”.  It’s a very simple concept and it goes like this.

  1. In your first committee meeting, simply list out all of the aspects of your company standards that you would like to develop.  These are major headings like “Layers”, “Linetypes”, “Plotting”, etc.
  2. Arrange these items in order of importance.
  3. Break each item down into smaller and smaller parts until you end up with an outline derived from your list.  Subheadings of “Layers” could be “Names”, “Colors”, “Linetypes”.  You want each individual item to be something manageable that you can knock out in a few meetings.

Now the important part:  Once your list is complete have everyone in the room stand up, put their hand across their hearts, and recite the following:

“I solemnly swear to work through the List items in order and talk about ONLY the List item we’re currently working on.”

OK, the sworn statement is a bit much, but you get the idea.  Get your group to commit to always staying on track and keeping each other on track.  That includes not getting upset when someone calls you out for venturing out of bounds.  Work through each individual list item in order…religiously!  Make sure each item is a small enough bite, in fact make your first item incredibly small…you’ll be surprised every time at how long it takes to talk about such a seemingly small topic.

If there’s one thing that will make or break your committee, it’s focus.  You can’t expect to get anything done if you’re bouncing from layers to plotting to symbols within a 5-minute period.  And I can tell you from experience that this is exactly what happens.

You’ve got a room full of people with tons of great insight and ideas bouncing around in their heads…an incredible force.  Think of yourself as the magnifying glass focusing that energy on one list item at a time, burning each one away.

The List is a great vehicle for mapping out how you intend to proceed with this huge task.  It also is an excellent visual indicator of progress which is the fuel that drives your committee.  People stay engaged and keep coming back if they feel progress is being made.  Bring up the list on your projector screen at the open of every meeting.  Change the completed items to green right there in front of them as a little celebration of accomplishment.

Also, keep in mind that The List can and should change as the process unfolds.  Items may suddenly become more important and may need to move up in the order.  Topics may need to be broken into smaller parts when you realize that they are more involved than originally thought.  New items will be added as new ideas come up or new needs arise.  Include updating The List at the open of each meeting as well.

So this means you’re not going to pick a single layer color, standard symbol, or text style for your entire first meeting?  Yes.  Isn’t this “List” approach going to make this process take much longer?  Yes.  Are you going to get things done and make progress at EVERY meeting?  YES.  If you were expecting to standardize your company in a few months, I’m sorry to disappoint you.  I will tell you that an attempt to do it all in a few months will fail so you might as well take those few months and get 10% of your standard 100% complete.  The alternative is 100% of your standard 0% complete.

Next week we’ll talk about meeting frequency and how to get it all done despite the fact that your committee only has limited time together.


  1. Dustin Manning says:

    This is good to hear. Okay maybe not good to hear but it sounds realistic. I had a meeting with our CAD users about starting this process and I was taken back at the excitement and the massive amount of questions and confusion that came about while giving an overview of what will need to happen to implement Civil 3D. Consequently they are all taking the Core Concepts class and I’m sure that will only start a snowball effect of constant emails and phone calls to me. But at least I know I am more prepared with the information Engineered Efficiency has given me. Thanks for this blog series Eric.

  2. Christian Barrett says:

    This post points out exactly how those meetings go!
    I think I’ve hated everyone I every attended, as they seldom accomplished anything, other than more questions.
    I feel that having one person that can make some decisions without the group or can settle disagreements is also very helpful.

  3. Absolutely agree, Christian. There has to be a facilitator to guide the group to resolution when there is a disagreement. Someone definitely needs to take the lead in the meetings, but be careful that it doesn’t become a dictatorship. The whole group decides where to camp, the leader just gets them there.

  4. […] Standardizing Your Company – Part 7: Getting Started on the Right Track […]

  5. […] Standardizing Your Company – Part 7: Getting Started on the Right Track […]