Management

CAD Manager-Open Letter to Management

1 Feb, 2006 By: Robert Green

How to get the most from your CAD managers.


Over The Years I've received a lot of feedback from CAD managers outlining all the things they wish they could tell senior management. As a CAD management consultant, I've worked with many senior managers struggling to understand the value of CAD management. As a public service to both sides, I'll facilitate some communication with upper management via this open letter. Where the conversation leads is up to both of you!

CAD Management's Unique Value

If you're a member of senior management and you're reading this, it's likely because your CAD manager has brought it to your attention. I'd like to take this opportunity to say that I think the CAD manager is one of the most overlooked and underused positions in engineering, architecture and manufacturing fields today. My message to senior management is: You've got a gold mine of knowledge and technical skill in your CAD manager that you should be taking advantage of.

The CAD manager is a hands-on technical person who can communicate with people, juggle multiple priorities, implement organizational and technological change and somehow keep everything running at the same time. This is no easy set of tasks, so if you're blessed with a great CAD manager, you should be thinking about how best use him or her. Here are some ideas about how you can do just that.

Lower Overhead or False Economy?

As industrial productivity has gone up and cost cutting has become the norm, CAD managers are pressed to have more billable hours and abandon activities that are seen to cost money. The problem is that the tasks being cut include things such as setting up project standards, training users, providing support and rolling out new software—these are thought of as overhead activities that CAD managers should avoid rather than as the productivity-enhancing activities they actually are.

If setting up project standards and training users on them were done religiously at the start of every new job, wouldn't there be reduced reworking and overall CAD time during the lifecycle of a project? When CAD management is performed correctly at the start of projects, everyone benefits as projects run better, standards are followed and errors are reduced.

Advice for management: With your CAD manager, define mutually worthwhile tasks like proper project standards formulation, job kickoff training and job support as non-overhead so CAD management tasks are paid for from project budgets.

More Software = More Pressure

During the last five or so years CAD software has become more specialized and more complex. Where a CAD manager used to just worry about a 2D CAD tool (usually AutoCAD or MicroStation), it's now common to manage specialized 3D design tools for building modeling, civil topography or part modeling/assembly tasks and more. In a very real sense, CAD management is harder now than it was before, simply because there's more to manage. When CAD managers complain that their job is getting tougher, they very likely mean they're at their wits' end supporting so many different software tools.

Advice for management: Understand that your CAD manager is being pulled in more directions than ever as your company employs new software technologies to get the job done. Know that your CAD manager is the conduit who facilitates the implementation of these new technologies and so needs training to stay on top of the ever-changing technology. If at all possible, include a training budget and time for your CAD manager to truly understand the software that must be managed. Not doing so will only diminish the return you can get from all that expensive design software you've purchased.

Involvement with Hardware, Software and Budgets

In recent years CAD managers haven't had much to do with hardware, operating systems and networking as corporate IT (information technology) departments have taken over the purchase and deployment of CAD workstations. The efficiency of this practice is understandable, but it leads to artificially low estimates for the cost of CAD hardware and results in the purchase of equipment that isn't optimized for CAD use.

There's no way to say it other than this: CAD workstations require more power, more RAM, bigger disks, faster network interfaces, better graphics and bigger monitors than regular computers, and so they cost a lot more. Even though your CAD manager may not buy the computers or deploy them any more, make sure he or she is involved in the specification of and budgeting for new computer hardware. After all, you wouldn't let architects tell civil engineers what tools they need to do their job, so don't let your IT department hamstring your CAD users by under-buying hardware.

A special note on computer hardware for the coming year is the impending release of Microsoft's Vista operating system. This new operating system is going to redefine CAD hardware by introducing GPUs (graphical processing units) and multiple-monitor support that CAD applications and users will really be able to take advantage of. If your IT department doesn't see a reason to move all users to Vista, that doesn't mean your CAD users shouldn't!

Advice for management: Get your CAD manager's unique input on the future of hardware and software platforms early this year and make sure to involve him or her in the budgeting and buying process to avoid costly IT surprises. CAD computing platforms are going to change a lot this year, so it will pay to take a CAD-centric look at the market.

Process Changes

Most management teams I know would agree that business improves by delivering better designs and products faster and cheaper than before. Most management teams would also agree that new software technology, when properly implemented, can assist in facilitating these goals, but that changing the processes within the company is more important than changing the software.

What most management teams I've talked to don't see clearly is that the CAD manager is in a unique position to assist in making the process changes required to gain better efficiency. CAD managers know which processes work, which ones don't and how to make things work better. They typically don't have business or accounting degrees, but they can tell you where the inefficiencies are in your operation and how to begin fixing them. Don't believe me? Ask you CAD manager!

Advice for management: Instead of viewing your CAD manager as a techno-speaking software jock, view him or her as an efficiency consultant who can point out inefficiencies. If you view your CAD manager as a managerial resource, you begin to see the real potential they have to help you improve your business.

Connect Your Departments

CAD used to be the exclusive domain of engineers and architects, but now we see CAD files used in field operations, prototyping, estimating, supplier integration and many other areas. Ten years ago, if you asked how many companies were using CAD systems to output bills of materials, interface with the manufacturing floor or drive custom design and manufacturing of configurable products, you'd have found very few companies who even believed in the concept. If you ask the same question now, there is general acceptance that CAD can be the hub of engineering or architectural information exchange.

So if CAD files are becoming more useful around your entire company, what does that say about the CAD manager? At minimum you should be on the lookout for ways that your CAD manager can help bring departments together. You should view your CAD manager as an invaluable resource who can translate CAD jargon and technology to the departments in your company that can make great productivity strides by more fully understanding the technology that they can apply.

Advice for management: Bring your CAD manager into project team kickoff meetings and quality and improvement initiatives. You'll find that your CAD manager can function as a technological common denominator to help you avoid mistakes and maximize company efficiency simply by being involved early on in the process.

Worthy of Your Time

If your CAD manager has the potential to provide so many productivity-enhancing functions to your company, what can you do to maximize this resource? Here are a few suggestions:

Talk with your CAD manager regularly and offer career advice because CAD managers get very little mentoring. Many times your CAD manager would love to have some guidance, but may feel that you're too busy to ask.

Bring the CAD manager into processes such as budgeting and process changes to experience more of the managerial aspects of the job. In fact, give your CAD manager some managerial responsibility and you may be surprised how willing he or she is to participate in the process.

Help the CAD manager enforce CAD standards. CAD managers try to make things better by creating CAD standards so all users will be on the same page, yet they have little to no power to enforce those standards. Help them enforce standards so your business runs more efficiently.

Build business savvy by teaching your CAD manager about your company's ROI (return on investment) methodologies and staffing philosophies. When you show your CAD manager how to use CAD to justify monetary investments and work within your staffing plans, you'll be teaching how he or she can best help your company achieve its goals.

Break down the technical barrier. Speak to your CAD manager in terms of your business expectations and then listen to what your CAD manager is telling you about your software and hardware platforms. If neither of you understands the other, then explain yourselves again using plain language. Remember that business language can be just as confusing to the CAD manager as computer technobabble can be to senior management. By striving to understand each other, you'll both gain a better total understanding of your company.

The Value of CAD Management

I realize that this open letter to management can be taken as an advertisement for the value of CAD management and CAD managers in general, and this enthusiasm is fully intended. As I talk with companies all over the world, I've learned that the CAD manager is the secret weapon in implementing technology change simply because the CAD manager is the person who actually makes the rubber meet the road.

Without CAD managers teaching, pushing, persuading and facilitating technological change in our workplaces, we'd still be on the drafting board. To reiterate my core message to senior management: Use and involve your CAD manager in making your business better. You'll be well rewarded.

Robert Green performs CAD programming and consulting throughout the United States and Canada. Reach him at rrgreen@greenconsulting.com.


About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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