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Calculating Return on Effort - How Small updates equal major savings

CAD Managers are called on to do many things.  One area that they constantly need to focus on is productivity.  Small adjustments to your environment can reap big rewards over the course of time.  But we have to weight the benefit against the cost.

Applying productivity tools and tweaks to AutoCAD is always a good idea because the return is spread over a long period of time and with many users.

“… when you are going to tweak an application to improve its throughput, you want an application that will generalize and be of long term value -- fixing an application that will only be used one time, or which is of interest to a very limited audience, reduces the payoff associated with the effort you're putting in.” - Joe St Sauver, Ph.D., Director of User Services and Network Applications at the University of Oregon Computing Center.

These adjustments may be large, like upgrading to the next release of software or buying a new plotter.  Some may come in smaller forms like a new AutoLISP routine, making a refinement in the CAD Standard or just fixing a bad block that is causing problems to multiple files.

Whatever form these adjustments take it most often includes the process of defining the “Return On Effort” (ROE).  I use Return on Effort because most often the CAD Manager does not have to spend money to save money.  So there is no investment in dollars, yen or pesos.  It is just a matter of effort being expended (albeit manhours)

Most of us go through ROE calcs in our lives.  We may use them to justify the effort of getting off the couch and doing some exercise to loose weight.  Is it worth the effort?  There are no dollars involved unless you need equipment. Running is free, unless you need shoes or a tread mill.  Taking a 30 minute walk is usually free.  So the process is determined by calculating your return on effort.  If I need to loose 10lbs. then the effort to get off the couch is worth it.

So let’s say that you are trying to determine the ROE on something as small as defining a layer name for a new object.

Take the amount of time that one task takes now (current level of effort) and what it would take after the new standard is in place (improved LOE).


Creating a new layer that has not been defined before or documented or that the user is unaware of.

Current LOE:

User has to call up other files and look to see what others have used as a layer name.  They may also just ask around by talking to the person next to them or get out of their chair and go see someone or make a phone call.  2-5 minutes (worst case)

Let’s say that they need 2 new layers per drawing.  That would give us 9 minutes total per drawing max, 3 minutes minimum.

Drawings in a set = 150 = 10% of the drawings need new layers = 15 = 135 minutes per project = 2.25 hours times 30 projects a year = 67.5 hours.  Even at the minimum time it takes to find the layer name of 3 minutes would return us 22.5 hours per year.

5 - .5 x 2 x 15 / 60 x 30 = 67.5 hours

If you want to think in dollar amounts then at $25.00 (fill in your own number) per hour would yield $1,687.00 saved per year just by defining layers better. 

So if we can define the layers and educate everyone in the new layer names (or just make them look in the book) (or better yet, program the system to do it for you) we will have had a good return on effort for this task.

New LOE:

The users look in the updated Standards book or better yet use a custom menu - 30 seconds (max)

.5 x 2 x 15 / 60 x 30 = 7.5 hours

A max savings of up to 4.5 minutes per layer needed.  That means that we saved 60 hours per year.

Modification LOE:

We have to calc in the time it takes to make the modification.  Let’s say it took us 10 hours to define the name, update the book, tell everyone it was in the book and get a copy to everyone.  For the time being we will ignore the repro cost of printing the new page for the book.

Now for the ROE calc

67.5 – 7.5 = 60 hours per year saved taking in to account the 10 hours it took to fix it brings us a total of 50 hours saved in the first year.

An ROE of 74% (50 hours saved divided by 67.5 hours spent the old way).  If it were an investment of money, you would jump on it.  Where can I get 74% ROI on my money?  I want to invest in that.

Hopefully you get the idea.  Small time savings add up quick!