Improve CAD Production Quality by Annoying Your Users, Part 1

9 Jan, 2013 By: Robert Green

If the "carrot" of reward doesn't elicit the response you're looking for, carefully chosen annoyances can serve as the "stick" that improves employee behavior.

Have you ever been annoyed by quality problems in your CAD processes? I'm talking about such issues as people not following standards, files stored in the wrong directories, users shirking their training sessions, project managers who choose to ignore processes in the name of productivity, and the like. Would you like to be rid of these annoyances?

In this installment of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll start giving you some strategies for doing just that, using an approach that uses annoyance itself to help you end the annoyance of quality problems. Talk about turning lemons into lemonade! Here goes.

Shift the Problem to the Perpetrator

During the holiday break, I read a very interesting article in the Wall Street Journal by Ray Fisman and Tim Sullivan that advocates the use of annoyance as a management strategy to help employees focus their efforts and improve quality (here's a related blog post). Although the article isn't CAD-specific, it did make me think about what a profound motivator annoyance can be, and how it could be used to bring standards violators and other CAD troublemakers into line.

Fisman and Sullivan recommend that managers channel the consequences of workplace errors to the person who caused the error, rather than dealing with the problem themselves. One example they cited was the travel web site Kayak's use of annoyance to improve the usability of their site. The site lists the phone number of the web development team as the technical support contact. So when a user encounters a problem with the web site, who gets the call? The people who program the site! Rather than having annoyed customers unloading on a tech support agent who then tries to communicate the concern to the web development team, the programmers themselves get to hear directly from those who are experiencing the problem. The customers' annoyance becomes the web development team's annoyance!

Brilliant, right? But how, I wondered, can we apply this concept to CAD management? As in the Kayak case above, I wanted to make the people who cause the CAD problems deal with fixing the problem. I came up with a way to do just that, by using a variety of diagnostic and management tools — and I dubbed it annoyance transfer.

Catalog Those Annoying Problems

Most CAD managers know exactly where they experience quality problems in their day-to-day duties, and I bet you're no exception. The next step is to create a list of these problems, while identifying a cause for each. As you catalog each problem, determine whether it's due to abandoned standards, departmental barriers, user carelessness, or some other cause; we'll be using that information later.

As I've performed this exercise for clients, I've noticed most quality problems are caused by people in the organization choosing (consciously or not) to avoid using standard methods that they perceive as annoying. Here are a few examples:

  • Your users ignore standards so they don't have to read them.
  • Users refuse to adopt new standards because they finish their work more quickly using older methods.
  • Departments ignore communication with each other because it is a pain to make their information conform to other departments' standards.
  • Users put files into wrong directories because they don't like your standard directory structure.
  • Project managers ignore standards because they perceive them as a waste of time.

Intervention Points and Contacts

Now that you know where the problems are and who is causing them, you can start to map out your intervention points — the exact moments in your work process where quality problems are discovered. The intervention contact is simply the person who discovers the problem. Here's an example:

Situation: User A ignores AutoCAD layering and plot style standards, then passes drawing files to User B for plotting.

Intervention point: The moment User B discovers that the drawing won't plot correctly.

Intervention contact: User B

Don't think that finding all this information is easy; as I've found, it takes a good bit of detective work to pin down all your intervention points and contacts.

Your Homework Assignment

It's only once you know what your quality problems are, where they come from, why they happen, and where your intervention points and contacts are that you can start to formulate an annoyance transfer plan. So before we go any further, you'll need to make your lists and truly understand the quality problems you actually experience. Believe me when I say there is no shortcut to this process.

Summing Up

I hope this first installment has piqued your curiosity and motivated you to tackle your CAD quality problems head-on. In our next installment, I'll give you some management techniques you can use to transfer the annoyance of your current problems to the people who cause them — and gain the support of your upper management as you do so. Until then.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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Re: Improve CAD Production Quality by Annoying Your Us...
by: Dan Jurado
January 9, 2013 - 5:28pm
Robert, Wouldn't the Intervention contact be User A as he is the one that created the situation? I would think that User B should ask for the file to be corrected by User A before giving it back to User B to try to plot again. - or maybe I'm reading it wrong. Great idea though... Thanks, Dan
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