Bob McDonald Member Name
Associate, Senior Draftsman
Nearly 20 years ago, a bestselling book titled, “The World is Flat” laid out a compelling vision of a world that would work seamlessly across continents and time zones. Many of the book’s optimistic ideas have not yet come to pass, but over the past decade, Golder has been strategically implementing global delivery of one of the company’s core services: Computer Aided Drafting and Design (CADD). Previously, CADD work was conducted on an office-by-office basis, with each local team being responsible for its own workloads, workflows, and best practices. But in 2011, the company’s global team of CADD Leaders envisioned a new way of working in a collaborative environment. This involved the creation of an enterprise-wide drafting and design standard and accompanying best practices, as well as a system to deliver it to the company’s 1400 users, working across five continents. Those leaders envisioned that this new collaborative strategy would facilitate work sharing among the offices around the world, providing more effective drafting and design services and delivering a more consistent product, leading to better client outcomes.
Looking back, it is sometimes difficult to comprehend how challenging this was, given the business processes of 2011, where work was tackled without today’s constellations of cloud-based storage, software-as-a-service (SaaS) and mobile platforms which were not yet available or in their early infancy. The lessons learned in making this happen may be helpful for any organization that wants to work as a global team, sharing work efficiently across many locations.
A Driving Need for Consistency and Efficiency
When we launched this initiative, there was an increasing need to provide faster, more consistent services to our clients, and a growing suite of tools that would allow those improved services to happen. But we knew it would not be easy – one software vendor warned that most companies that tried to implement work-sharing on a global basis, failed to achieve their goals.
Many of these issues are common throughout workplaces that require highly-skilled technicians.
- Getting the best possible productivity from CADD technicians: The amount of time each technician devotes to actual client projects is what delivers completed projects to clients quickly. So, having a high percentage of hours devoted to client work is a key driver of success.
- Striving for balance — not over-worked or under-worked: Client requests do not always come along in a smooth flow. There are times when a team might be overwhelmed with work, and other times when work is scarce. Workshare and project collaboration allows coordinators to better manage workloads and resources which smooths out the ups and downs and provides a more balanced work environment while maintaining team utilization targets.
- Sharing the workload: One of the barriers to sharing work among offices is economic – there is a natural tendency to keep work within the team in case a future shortage of work comes along. Another barrier is around work processes – there may be a need for painstaking, time-consuming review of work done by another team, to be sure that all of it has been done to the same standards and methods. Further, employees working in one office may not know the abilities or skills of employees in another office, and this unknown may make them reluctant to collaborate on parts of a client’s project.
What has developed over the past decade brings to life some of the vision presented in “The World is Flat.” We call it the Global CADD Delivery System (GCDS). As with any system, it remains a work in progress, but it has made a positive impact in our operations. In the slightly paraphrased words of one of our team leaders based in Michigan, USA:
I am very grateful for GCDS because it makes producing quality deliverables for our clients much easier. A key characteristic of a quality drawing set is its ability to effectively communicate information. Uniform and consistent drawing layouts and formatting within a drawing set are key to achieving this. The GCDS makes it is possible for many drafters to work on the same drawing set, at the same time, and develop a seamless set.
Sometimes, a last-minute design change is needed, and I can have multiple people from many offices work on the same deliverable to meet a deadline, with much improved efficiencies. When I review a drawing set, I can now focus more on the design communicated and much less on the formatting. The result of the GCDS has been much better outcomes for our clients.
Another recent example of the system’s impact: Golder’s global CADD team was able to do work on three landfill properties owned by a global resources company, located in various parts of the world. This amount of work would have overwhelmed the staff at any single office, but we were able to parcel the work out to three senior designers and about 20 drafters across North America, who worked together over a two-week period to produce all the figures that were needed. Before the Global CADD Delivery System was available, this would have involved rigorous checking of each part of the project to be sure that it was all done on a consistent basis. With the system in place, the time involved to complete this scale of project was about a quarter of what it would have been before.
Five Key Success Factors
Here are five lessons learned from our ten-year journey to reach where we are today, that may be useful for other environments with highly skilled workers.
1. Share project ownership
One of the first priorities for the CADD practice back in 2011 was to change the culture to promote work sharing. At the time, one of the leaders acknowledged that this system would work only if team members were willing to leave their ego at the door and share a sense of ownership of a project, entrusting part of it to people they might not have worked with before. When that trust is rewarded through the project’s success, cooperation is easier the next time.
Action step: Focus on getting that first win – a project in which many teams share ownership – and then promote that story via multiple channels within the company, to encourage others to join forces. Consider sharing work as one of the metrics in the employee evaluation process.
2. Share knowledge
Previously, training CADD employees on new tools and software functionality had to be performed face-to-face. This meant instructors had to travel to each office and team members interested in training had to be pulled away from their work. But as communication technology and IT (Information Technology) infrastructure improved, virtual training and technical communities became more effective methods of training and sharing knowledge with all employees globally. The result is a highly trained and productive team that can effectively share work across time zones to meet client requirements.
Shared training has helped many of our team members see that there are opportunities for them to grow. After interactions with colleagues in other parts of the company, team members realize that while they thought they had mastered a particular software tool, they had only tapped into a small percentage of what the tool had to offer. As a result, their skills improved. Other organizations implementing shared work may find the same.
Action step: Use a formal Learning Management System (LMS) within the organization to help teach existing employees and new hires all that they need to succeed in work sharing. This can include videos, “cheat sheets,” user guides and other resources via a cloud-based platform and indexed for easy access.
3. Instill common standards and workflows
With a common training platform, it is easier to develop global drafting and design standards and best practices. This has been a huge asset to Golder’s program across its 1400+ GCDS users worldwide because projects are managed with greater consistency, higher quality and completed more efficiently.
Action step: Listen widely to find out the current best practices in doing the work, and then implement the most effective procedures globally for everyone’s benefit.
4. Invest in technology that makes work sharing easy
While many might think that technology is the most important part of a work-sharing strategy, the truth is that without the previous three elements in place, technology alone would not have resolved our challenges. Still, having the right systems in place was essential to meeting the business’s overall objective.
The main technology that made efficient work share possible was the implementation of a cloud computing and storage environment. This system allowed employees to work remotely from anywhere in the world, using the same tools and processes and accessing project data from one central location.
Action step: Before investing in technology, get a clear idea of the workflow, how projects get done, and where they are being held up. Then, find what technological solutions that will help deal with those roadblocks.
5. Celebrate successes
Creating and maintaining such a significant cultural shift can only be done with significant effort, and there is always the risk of sliding back to the old ways of working. One way to mitigate this is to celebrate successes.
Action step: Build a network of staff, from the communications or marketing team, to listen for and highlight success stories. Provide incentives to colleagues and give them a chance to tell their story on your organization’s internal communications network or to win awards at organizational meetings and conferences.
Developing a system like this requires vision and patience. Little did we know when we launched the Global CADD Delivery System (GCDS) that it would become the backbone of our emergency response for surviving – and working – during the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, our CADD-related team-building success is being replicated across other functions within the organization.