Meet Your Managers' Expectations26 Jun, 2013 By: Robert Green
Upper management wants certain things from you as a CAD manager. Do you know what they are?
I recently spoke to a group of CAD managers in Dallas, Texas, and led an impromptu Q&A session where I let the conversation flow wherever it would. Surprisingly, I found a familiar theme from past years kept popping up: How does my management team expect me to get all this stuff done?
In my attempt to answer these concerns, I found myself articulating one of my own beliefs: "Upper management doesn't expect you to solve every single problem yourself, but they do have expectations about how they want you to handle your job!"
In this edition of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll outline the key points from our discussion in the hope that you might find it as useful as we did. Here goes.
Senior managers are continually presented with a wide variety of problems from all sorts of people. Therefore, it stands to reason that they will always appreciate it when the employee reporting to them can communicate in a clear, concise, and unemotional way so they can quickly get back to work fixing all those problems.
Now let's put this in a CAD manager's context with the following communication recommendations:
Write shorter reports: Write in a short, executive-summary style when creating e-mails or printed reports. View your message as a conversation starter that grabs senior management's interest so you can confer with them in detail later. It is better to pique senior management's interest with a quick e-mail than bore them with a long, detail-laden message they'll never finish reading. Limit your reports to one page!
Update your budget: Whether you craft a formal budget or not, make sure you take the time to communicate what you need and to detail any upcoming expenses you suspect aren't being accounted for. It is far better to have told management about a financial need ahead of time — even if they don't listen — than to admit you missed something. If your company uses a spreadsheet or official format for submitting budget items, get acquainted with it and use it. Those who are serious about management pay attention to budgets.
Give great presentations: Whenever you give a talk to a group of managers, make sure you have a few "conversation starter" slides you can use to make key points. Steer clear of long presentations with lots of bullet points; it is better to have fewer slides and make them less specific. Just as shorter written reports lead to conversations, shorter presentations lead to more innovative and meaningful discussions.
When presenting to management you can't tell them what they should think; instead, you have to bring them around to agreeing with you. Make your presentation somewhat open-ended, so attendees can draw their own conclusions.
Review progress regularly: Whether you're reviewing your own performance, other employees, project teams, or how well a new piece of software performs, make sure your management team knows you're reviewing how things are going. When management sees you reviewing how key personnel, systems, and teams are performing, they know you're an integral member of their team!
Avoid jargon: Years ago I received the greatest compliment a CAD manager could ever get from a senior management team. The CEO said, "For a computer guy, you are easy to understand." I was the first computer professional they'd encountered who spoke in a way that business managers could easily comprehend, as opposed to a complex jumble of techno-babble that only a computer geek could decipher.
This experience lead me to one of my most firmly held views on CAD management: When communicating with upper management, don't use technical jargon; describe the problem in business-focused terms. For example, don't say, "The Civil department keeps exploding their title blocks, which makes the block attributes revert to layer 0, thus making our plotting automation employ the wrong linetypes!" Instead, try this approach: "The Civil department isn't following standards, which is costing us 20 man-hours per week in rework."
Expectation: Motivate and Develop Staff
CAD managers are in the position to influence every CAD user in a company on a near-daily basis. And whether or not you are a particular user's boss, you can still make him or her into a better CAD user and employee. Senior management knows this and wants to see you take action. Here are my best tips to help you interact with all staff members, subordinate and otherwise:
Motivate: When you promote new CAD tools and techniques, use phrases such as "we can do this better" or "let's save some time." Motivation is about making the user want to improve, so set the stage by challenging users to become ever more efficient and they will strive to do so.
Train: To the extent that getting users to do CAD better requires training, you'll need to provide it. If this means building a targeted training program, then so be it. If certain users need to be mentored in job-specific techniques, then that's what you'll need to do. Always strive to support users in their quest to be more efficient by supporting user motivation with training.
Note problems: As you interact with your users, note what causes them problems and work to eliminate those problems. When users see you as a CAD advocate who helps them perform better, they'll be more inclined to listen to you.
Keep it rolling: By motivating, training, and removing problems, you'll create the CAD equivalent of a snowball rolling downhill: Your users' efficiency and productivity will become greater and greater. So keep at it — your efforts will pay off!
Expectation: Stay Focused on Business
Does your company employ you because they think CAD is really cool and they want you to play with lots of neat software, or do they want you to make CAD run well so the company can make money?
You know the answer, of course. But it is amazing how many CAD managers never think about the business aspect of what they do.
The best thing you can do to remain business-focused is to use the mindset I advocated above for staff motivation and development. Always strive to make things easier, faster, and more efficient. If you make CAD a time-saving tool, everybody — users and management alike — will see you as a time- and money-saving machine. And that can't be bad!
If you handle your CAD management job using the recommendations I've made above, I promise you that your senior management team will see you as a valuable asset who is helping the company achieve great things. While they may never understand the technical issues you face with print drivers, PDF utilities, DWG exports from Revit, or importing STEP geometry into Solidworks, they will know that you're a communicative, action-oriented manager who's helping get the very best performance from their users.
Do you have any other tips for meeting the expectations of your senior management teams? If so, please e-mail me; I'd love to hear from you. Until next time.
Autodesk Technical Evangelist Lynn Allen guides you through a different AutoCAD feature in every edition of her popular "Circles and Lines" tutorial series. For even more AutoCAD how-to, check out Lynn's quick tips in the Cadalyst Video Gallery. Subscribe to Cadalyst's free Tips & Tools Weekly e-newsletter and we'll notify you every time a new video tip is published. All exclusively from Cadalyst!