Drafting and Project Management

Are drafting and project management separate responsibilities, or is it more efficient to have one skilled person do both? June 8, 2008

We are a 1.8 M company, with 20 people on the shop floor and 7 in the office. The office crew is as follows:
1-senior PM/MV guy (me)
1-PM/field dimension guy (co-owner)

I'm convinced as we gear up for growth that this isn't working. In my mind, drafting and MV is a separate skill set than project management. I think we need to make the move to separate these positions and let the drafters become experts in MV and ACAD, and the project managers become experts in managing all phases of the jobs. I want to help set up the right foundation now, so that we're not stumbling when we reach 3 mil. I'm interested in hearing what anyone else has experienced in larger companies.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor D:
I don't really have any opinion on your question; your numbers caught my eye. 1.8 million with 27 people is $67,000 per employee per year. I believe that to be the lowest I've ever seen. As an example, we will do about 1.8 million this year with 3 office and 6 production. What type of product are you building with those kinds of numbers?

From contributor K:
I worked in the industry for twenty years before starting my own business two years ago. Some of the shops that I worked at also thought that drafting and project management were two separate positions. I strongly disagreed for several reasons. First of all, the project managers that I worked with did not have the time necessary to follow through on the projects and to get all of the information required by drafting and production. Secondly, I thought that it was redundant for a project manager to have to relay information from the customer to the drafting department. (Cut out the middleman.) Third, the project managers that I worked with had little or no drafting or cabinetmaking experience, which led to delays in working out the details of the projects and getting the information from the customer to production. You are right in thinking that everybody should be an expert at what they do, however a project manager should first be an expert at all phases of the projects that he is managing. Drafters should manage projects because of the in-depth knowledge required to generate drawings and because it is more efficient for them to get the information when they need it rather than waiting for the project manager to get them the information.

I also think your numbers are very low. My numbers are more in line with contributor D's.

From contributor R:
I have tried various combinations in my business. When we were at $500,000 I did the estimating, drafting and project management myself. As we grew we added drafting and engineering and I continued to do estimating and PM. Then we had a PM who did drafting, then two and then three PMs doing their own drafting and engineering. Then we evolved into teams of one PM, one or two drafter/engineers with overlapping responsibility. At about the $6 million level, when we had 3 PMs and 6 drafting engineering, we reconfigured into a separate engineering department with an engineering manager.

One of the major problems we were having was a lack of standards. Each team did their own thing and the shop never knew how the information was going to be presented next. We ran as a separate drafting/engineering department for two years and it worked very well in terms of getting a standardized work package and approach, but the PMs hated it because they had no control over the progress of their projects. About a year and a half ago we reorganized again back into teams. We are doing about $10 million with 5 teams - one PM and 2 drafting/engineers each team. (And we have been using Microvellum all this time. We have kept the engineering manager position to train and expand our MV capabilities as well as engineer some of the highly technical and difficult parts of projects.) This is fairly top heavy by comparison to some shops but it has been necessary and has worked for us, partly due to the very engineering heavy approach we take to the work. What we are now evolving into is a more flexible team system in which the basic teams are set but everyone approaches the work in the same way so that we can move resources around. A PM who has half a dozen jobs that need engineering can borrow an engineer or two or three from PMs with major projects in the installation phase and none in production, etc.

This is what works in my company so far. The reason that they are separate positions is that the PMs have more skills and inclination in the part of the job that involves negotiation and customer contact and the drafter/engineers seem to prefer the world behind their computer screens. But all of my PMs can do the drafting/engineering work, and any of the drafter/engineers can pick up project management tasks when needed.

For the record, my total payroll is between 90 and 100 including 14 installers, so I'm in the $100k per man per year range. I'm in a best practices group with 8 other shops around the country and I'm in the lower third in this particular category - I'm in the top 10th in productivity per square foot of plant and right in the middle for net profit. Your per man numbers do sound low, but maybe your profitability is very high. The bottom line is the only number that really matters, and if it's good, then all the other numbers have less significance. If it's not good, then your productivity is one good place to start looking for reasons. But as I've mentioned elsewhere, it's more likely that low profitability will start at the upper level of management, rather than in the middle or on the shop floor.

From the original questioner:
I really like the concept of the teams approach. I really only have three people to utilize, including myself. If we get a better handle on leaning out our own process in the office, I think we could be miles ahead. (About the numbers above, the office is the constraint in this company, which puts us constantly under pressure.) I'm trying to start some drafting/MV standards to make things faster and more consistent. I can see this as key, and having people willing to follow a good system. At best my ratio would be 1 PM to 1 drafter. And we do strictly commercial work - reception desks, curved walls, AWI certified cabinetry, etc.

From contributor L:
A lot will depend on what kind of work you do and how repetitive it is. Your per man production does seem quite low. I've been working hard to develop and enforce standards in all aspects of the business. Too much reinventing of the wheel has gone on. It does not provide value to the customer and therefore should be eliminated. We are a custom shop (no standard product) but that doesn't mean we should operate without standards. 2 full time CAD/MV, 2 PM that do some CAD work, 3/4 time purchasing man, PT accounting girl Friday, me - everything that no one else will do, 14 to 16 in the shop. So that works out to about $120K per man. Too low I think. Profit before taxes is typically in the 11 to 14% range but had been less several years ago. I'd like to think my efforts at eliminating waste and pecking away at getting standards instilled in all were helping. Better material handling and flow has helped, fully conveyorized panel area, vacuum lifts, hydraulic assembly benches, more lumber racks and keeping things in order and clean have all added their bit to the pile in the corner. There is always more that can be done; it's easy to see waste, so I just try to constantly improve the operation.