Drafting Service Files: Dangerous Assumptions and Key Responsibilities when Outsourcing your Shop Drawings

So you’ve decided to outsource the shop drawings for your next glazing project. Great! All that’s left to do is hand over the architectural drawings and in a week or two you’ll have finished drawings, right?

Not so fast. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.

Of course, hiring a drafting firm can save you a lot of time and money, especially if you don’t have an internal drafting team or if your drafting team doesn’t have experience with glass and glazing projects. But the reality is you (as the project manager) are responsible for working closely with your chosen drafting firm to make sure they have all the information they need. This upfront investment of your time will pay off down the road when your project goes just as planned — and doesn’t get derailed by inaccurate drawings and a botched fabrication process.

As a drafting firm that works with over 100 different clients a year, we’ve worked with many project managers who assumed we would just take care of everything, without them having to provide much input. This is one of many dangerous assumptions. But luckily these assumptions are easy to dispel: all it takes is good communication. Keep reading to learn about more dangerous assumptions and the project manager’s critical role in the drafting process.

Before we jump in: I just want to emphasize that it’s so important for project managers to understand what a glazing project looks like from a drafting firm’s perspective. Please keep an open mind when working with an external drafting resource and start every project with open lines of communication. You’ll find that the process goes much more smoothly when you’re willing to communicate up front.

Your drafting firm’s role in “designing the project”

New customers often assume their drafting firm is going to review every project the same way that they (via the project manager) would. A related assumption is that the drafter has the capability and the capacity to actively review all the details and framing for constructability and installability. Some project managers even assume drafters will catch all issues and propose fixes.

While any experienced drafter will be able to catch obvious problems and bring them to the contractor’s attention, drafters typically don’t have the installation or project management experience to spot problems that the project manager or field foreman would catch when reviewing drawings. While all our drafters do their best to spot any issues before they become a problem, we have to rely on our customers to review and double-check drawings for any errors.

Turning architectural drawings into shop drawings is a team effort. Always talk to your drafting firm to understand the background and experience level of the drafter(s) working on and reviewing your project. It’s also critical to review the project yourself to identify trouble areas and communicate these potential problems to the drafting firm.

Providing project information

Here’s a question we get all the time: “Why do I have to fill out a kick-off form if I’ve already sent you information about the project?”

It’s not because we’re disorganized. It’s simply because we work with so many different customers building various types of projects with various products and materials, that we inevitably receive information in dozens of different ways. The purpose of the kick-off form is to create a consistent process that will make every project move forward more efficiently.

Providing clear and concise information in the format your drafting firm prefers helps drafters work through your project faster and with fewer mistakes. If our drafters have to review various emails, dropbox links, sketches drawn by hand, and photos before even beginning to work on your drawings, that will almost certainly increase the time required to complete the project and the probability of inaccuracies making it through the drafting process.

For example, it’s not enough to simply tell us what system you’re using. If you told us that you’re installing a CW400 6” curtainwall by Tubelite, several questions about the system would need to be answered, such as: Do you want open back heads and sills? A perimeter pressure plate? Rollover horizontals? That system and most others come with many other options, so never assume your drafters know what specific parts and pieces to use with your system.

Lead times

Drafting firms and glazing contractors are often in conflict when it comes to lead times. Naturally, drafting firms prefer to provide a range of dates to allow for unforeseen circumstances. And, of course, glazing contractors prefer to have the shop drawings ASAP.

Realistic expectations are essential. For example, if we provide a lead time of three to four weeks, a glazing contractor might assume we’ll deliver completed drawings in three weeks and relay that information to the general contractor. Then, if the drawings actually take four weeks to produce, the project manager will be in hot water without enough time to properly review the drawings.

Again, communication at the start of the project is key. You need to tell your drafting firm when you need completed shop drawings — especially if you have a hard deadline. A trustworthy drafting company will be realistic with you and tell you whether it’s achievable so you can review your options.

It’s important to realize that turning architectural drawings into shop drawings is not an exact science. Everyone involved in the process does their best to accurately estimate the time it will take to produce finished drawings, but sometimes unforeseen problems arise and life happens: people get sick, go on vacation, have to take care of family issues, etc., all of which can turn the finish date into a moving target. That’s why it’s important to set aside enough time to review drawings and have your drafter revise them, and also allot some extra time for unplanned HR issues.

Finally, if you know beforehand that a job is upcoming, feel free to reach out to us and we’ll reserve a spot for your project on our schedule. That way, once the project is ready to begin, we’ll already have all the resources ready to go.

Reviewing shop drawings

Pop quiz: whose responsibility is it to check the drawings for accuracy?

  1. The drafting company
  2. The project manager
  3. The government

Many project managers don’t realize that it is in fact their responsibility. Too often, they assume — given that their company is paying for a service — it’s the drafting firm’s responsibility to review the drawings. Some project managers even assume the drawings will be perfect after the first draft. But even the most experienced drafters can’t produce perfect drawings every time.

In fact, most drafting firms, including us, include in their terms and conditions that the final responsibility for reviewing drawings belongs with the glazing contractor. Interestingly, 95% of the time, new glazing contractors we work with do not include similar responsibilities in their terms and conditions, and we therefore have to make sure we’re on the same page before starting the project.

This is never a fun topic to discuss with new clients. But it’s a topic that, when discussed in earnest, can create a meaningful and productive relationship between drafting firms and glazing contractors that lasts over many projects.

Conclusion

To sum up, remember that glazing contractors and drafting firms need to work together to make sure all the various sources of information, including project documents, bulletins, addendums, system options, installation methods, and more, are shared upfront and without inconsistencies. And please consider that even if you provide all the information drafters need, it’s unreasonable to assume the shop drawings will be 100% right the first time around.

A good drafting firm will have a formal review process in place. And this process must include a review by the glazing contractor’s project manager.

It’s all about teamwork

Creating high-quality shop drawings for glazing projects is truly a team effort. When project managers are willing to work in concert with drafters, the stage is set for a successful project.

Find out how an experienced and reliable drafting firm operates. Contact us today to discuss your next project.