Outsourcing Drafting Work

Contracting outside your company for CAD drawings creates a management challenge. Here's a discussion of how to handle the complications. December 14, 2009

We're occasionally backed up and I am considering outsourcing shop drawings on some jobs. Has anyone had experience with that? What about those offshore outfits?

Forum Responses
(CAD Forum)
From contributor A:
If you are backed up, and do not have enough time, then you need to outsource.

From contributor B:
I've had mixed results. Sometimes the work was ok and other times it was not. You have to clearly outline your expectations, materials, format, how you build, scope, specifications, etc., and make sure they understand what you want. You also have to clearly define that if you check it and it's not the way you lined it out to them, that they will redraw it as part of the original deal, not added on by the hour unless it was your fault for not lining it out properly in the first place. You have to define changes (CCD's, CO's) during the process. Who pays for that?

It also depends on the skill set of the person actually assigned to draw your job. If it's complicated millwork, do they know how to do it or are they better at casework? If he/she has the skills, things might go well. When the shop drawings are complete, you have to check to make sure they covered the scope, details, materials, etc. Then, when the redlines are returned, whomever releases it to the shop has to go over it, familiarize himself with the job and make sure everything is right, so there is a new learning curve there. Our draftsmen complain about having to fix someone else's drawings because it's not exactly like they would have drawn it. The bottom line is, if you take all that time to line everything out beforehand and check it when it's done, you've got so much time invested it's almost easier to do it in house. We'd rather pay the overtime, because that way we don't have anyone to blame but ourselves when things are wrong.

From contributor C:
I'm interested in this from the subcontractor point of view. I would think that some type of format/checklist could be created to ensure things were handled the same as they would be in-house. Also, a phone conversation and hand sketches from the project manager detailing how to handle certain areas should be in order I would think. It'd sure make it faster to draw, and a better product starting with the first plot.

From contributor D:
I had no problems on a 150k school job. I received an interview sheet and a couple of follow up calls. It was pretty painless. I would choose carefully, as it is a potential nightmare if not done correctly.

From contributor A:
Communication is very important. I work with many different cabinet shops, and communication level with them is different. Sometimes I try to get clarification on something, hardware, materials, fields, or something else and there is no response for entire day. Emails are never answered and/or acknowledged, phone calls never returned. When deadline comes close, they call and ask how I'm doing. Success of a project greatly depends on communication level between shop person (PM) and draftsman assigned to that job.

On my website I have personal sub webs (FTP) for each of my customers. It is password protected and I'm updating it on almost daily basis. This way, they can visit it any time, download files, check them and let me know if anything is not as they want it. All the corrections can be made before the job is complete, which is much easier than doing it after completion. Once again, to achieve great results, you must communicate with your outsource, almost immediately answer emails, return phone calls and check in on how he/she is doing every day. Supply all necessary information he/she may need. It also depends to whom you outsource your project. If you are a high-end shop, you can’t outsource it to those who are specialized on case work as they will never meet your expectations. On the contrary, if you are a commercial-casework shop, do not outsource it to a high-end drafter, as he will overdo it and it will cost you much more time and money. Check samples of work they have done. If it reflects what you need, then see how good are they on answering phone calls and returning your emails. Look at the proposal/contract they provide. How descriptive is it? Does it cover all aspects of work? Do not fall for just an “affordable” price. “You will get what you pay for” is a good saying. Outsourcing is not bad idea, if properly managed and communicated.

From contributor B:
Sometimes the outsourced millwork drawings were satisfactory, other times not. It depended on the firm I outsourced it to. If the people who it was assigned to were highly experienced I had ok results. If they weren't, I didn't. When we handed a job off to the outsource company, we sat down with the owner of the firm and went over the drawings, scope, changes and details. It wasn't given to "John Doe." Now, he might assign it to a "John Doe" on his staff and therein lies the problem.

The original question was what people's experience was with outsourced drawings. I have six draftsmen and several engineers working on complex drawings for multimillion dollar projects every day. Project managers want to pick who does their drawings. They have their favorites, and that's human nature. I have field people who lobby to work with certain PM's because they get along better.

From contributor E:
A lot depends on the difficulty of the drawing but communication is very important. If you need only a picture it is easy, but if you need a cutlist, it all depends on how you build your cabinets. The software can be set up in different ways.

From contributor F:
Speaking of affordability, what is a fair price for a highly detailed set of millwork drawings? These would include a 3D model, plan, elevations, and section views, material/spec schedule and full cutlist? Is 10-12% of the bid unreasonable?

From contributor E:
A fair price depends on complexity of the job. 3D alone is pricey, and then highly detailed 2D aspects of it. Don't even mention BOM. I charge hourly, it is simple.

From contributor G:
Outsourcing can be a great asset when it is done right, just like everybody else mentioned above. To have the best results you need to go with someone who knows the industry you are in, such as commercial or high end residential. Also, it is better for you to go with a company where the owner is the one who does the drawings. The owner of the business has the biggest responsibility and concern of doing the best job he can do. After all, in this industry, it is all about returning clients.

From contributor H:
I have been in the custom architectural mill work business for a little over 35 years. All of that time has been spent behind the drafting board/computer screen. I learned the business from the drafting department. Some may scoff at this but I pride myself on communicating with the people who do the work in the shop and in the field to make sure that I help them succeed at their jobs.

At the last company I worked at, I ran the drafting department for the last 10 years. At times we had as many as 7 draftsmen and as few as 3. When the company took a turn for the worse, I decided to venture out on my own and start a contract drafting service, which I have been running successfully for the last 3 years.

Now I'm going to tell you something you may find weird. While I was in charge of that drafting department I was against subcontracting any of my drafting to outsource companies. Why? Basically, because I believed that if you do that you not only outsource the drawings but you also outsource the knowledge of the job. As I stated above, sometimes we had as few as 3 draftsmen in my department so outsourcing was, at times, unavoidable. If I had to outsource drawings I tried to assemble a team in-house to work on the job and included the outsource company as part of that team. The off-site draftsman had an in-house contact working on the same job and it was their responsibility to coordinate all details and information. That is a best case scenario. Sometime the in-house team consisted of just me and a project manager, but the off-site draftsman had to have somebody available at all times to answer questions and review their progress. I required progress drawings on a daily basis which is how I run my company. I send progress drawings to the customer on a daily basis whether they ask for them or not.

Communication is the key to a successful project and is your best friend. Do not just send a set of architectural drawings to someone and expect a set of drawings that look like they were done in house. Someone in-house has to take ownership for the outsourced work. Don't fall into the trap of creating drawings "For Approval". If you do that you will find that you will have to use in-house resources to get the drawings ready for the shop and will have gained very little by outsourcing. Have your drawings prepared for production from the very beginning. That is how you get ahead.

From contributor I:
I accomplish that by working in the businesses that hire my services from time to time. I call this a horizontal relationship and yes, other drafters do a variety of editing on my work. I pencil drew my first kitchen in 1976 on graph paper in my stepfathers kitchen at the age of 17. He didn't like it. No big deal. I listened to what he wanted changed and changed it. No arguing. The kitchen is still in that home in Vista,California, a Hightower home.

From contributor E:

Most companies have turned to the right idea of outsourcing. However, most have had bad experiences or found it not effective. As a project manager, the problem that I have experienced is that many companies turn to overseas outsourcing companies that lack industry standards knowledge, and worse, have no connection to the shop, as they work for many clients at the same time. Their specialty is to mass-produce drawings. Even though using them seems inexpensive and helps you with fast first drawing submissions, in the case of a specialized, one-of-a-kind project, they are not effective. What seemed inexpensive may actually turn out quite expensive to the point that it is almost worthless to outsource.

Yes, outsourcing can be good and actually, very profitable, yet it needs to be done right. The best situation is to find a freelancer who has many years in the industry working for other millwork companies and start a relationship with this person. This is exactly what I do with my few clients.

From contributor J:
As a freelancer, I will not engage in doing any work with a company without developing a relationship with the person I am going to be working with. You need to have that trust on both sides. When I communicate with a person, I am interviewing him just like he is interviewing me.