The Peer-to-Peer CAD Manager8 Jan, 2014 By: Robert Green
Even if you lack the official title, you can still positively influence your workplace if you make the most of interacting with your users.
One of the most frequent conversations I have with CAD managers revolves around serving as a CAD manager in an unofficial capacity. That means facing all the day-to-day challenges of CAD management, but without the benefits of the title — or the authority to do the job.
To help those who are caught in this predicament, I've been thinking about strategies for CAD management conducted solely via peer interactions. In this edition of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll pass along some ideas for "peer-to-peer CAD managers" that I've used personally. Here goes.
Be the Go-To Resource
There's an old saying that people only go to a well where there's water. The CAD management analogue to this saying is: Users only to go a CAD manager who knows how to solve their problems. Establishing your technical credibility by making sure your peers understand your expertise is the number-one way to achieve CAD management success, be it peer-driven or not.
Remember, your upper management team will not advertise your skills, so it's entirely up to you to do so. And since they also aren't empowering you with a formal CAD management role, you'll need to do your advertising in a way that requires no authority (and very likely, no budget). Let's take the plunge by exploring some possible methodologies.
Wouldn't it be great if you could share tips, ideas, and time-saving work methods with other power users in your company? Furthermore, wouldn't it be great if you could do so in an unofficial way, without time pressures? Of course it would! But how can you pull it off? By creating a user group, that's how.
Start your user group meetings as a potluck lunch break once a month, and ask attendees to come prepared to share their best tips and tricks. Don't feel pressured to do anything other than organize the meeting and encourage people to come share their knowledge. Even if it doesn't seem like anything much comes from these meetings, you will have brought users closer together and helped them become more efficient in their work.
Start a Suggestion Box
As a peer-to-peer CAD manager, you may not have the power to impose new standards or procedures on everyone else, but you can still ask those around you for better ways to do things.
As part of your user group exercise, create a CAD suggestion box so any CAD user in the company can propose process improvements — and watch the ideas roll in. You can then volunteer to sort through the suggestions and see which ones should be considered by the company. Using this method, you'll get other users to think about doing CAD/building information modeling (BIM) better, and you'll be viewed as their trusted sounding board.
By the way, I recommend that all CAD managers use the suggestion box methodology, simply because you can never have too many good ideas!
Make Troubleshooting Work for You
From time to time, software problems will arise that require expert troubleshooting to resolve. Chances are you find yourself in the middle of these situations already, but are you turning the experience to your advantage by building your peer group respect? If not, you should be.
When something needs to be fixed, always consider these possibilities:
Will you need to talk to other departments or user communities? If so, you have a chance to gain technical credibility with others you normally wouldn't work with.
Will any project managers be involved? If so, you have a chance to make them see how valuable your CAD expertise is and how much they want you on their projects. After all, it never hurts to have project managers on your side!
Will you be able to fix longer-term problems? Put simply, are there any lessons to be learned from troubleshooting a problem that will lead to fewer problems down the road? If so, why not make that part of the conversation with peers and project managers alike?
I was able to use these techniques early in my career to become a trusted resource in various departments throughout the company. This in turn helped me to become the logical choice when a full-time CAD manager position eventually became available. You're going to be involved in fixing the problems at your company anyway, so why not build peer and managerial respect as you do so?
Do you have users in your company that want to learn more — much more — about CAD or BIM? Do they look to you for advice and skill building? If so, you're in a great position to build peer relationships and achieve some extra productivity as you do so. Here's how:
Offer to teach specific skills. Make sure these skills help the company achieve actual project goals, so that worker productivity will increase.
Establish a trade. If you spend time teaching someone else a skill, then isn't it reasonable to ask them to help you as well? For example, you could say, "I'd be happy to show you how to create a linked Excel table if you'd watch over the plotter supplies and maintenance next week when my big project is due."
For peer-to-peer CAD managers, the equation is simple: I'll help you become a better CAD user if you help me keep the CAD infrastructure running. With this strategy, CAD users will become smarter, more independent, and more productive — and you'll finally have some help!
I'm not telling you to be a troublemaker, but I am urging you to advocate for more efficient processes. Somebody has to be the squeaky wheel that calls attention to opportunities for improvement, so why not you? As long as you're pointing out how things can be done better to save time and money and improve quality, who can complain?
I find that all the approaches I've outlined above can be used to focus attention on constructively solving problems via collective input from your company's user community. And as a peer-to-peer CAD manager, there's no way to change how your company does CAD without involving users — and sharing the credit with them when you improve things. Think of yourself as the catalyst that helps bring it all to fruition, and you'll establish great peer relationships with users.
In my experience, peer-to-peer CAD managers can only achieve success when everyone across the company trusts them and views them as a credible resource. In other words, you can lead only when people want to follow you! It is my hope that you find the approaches I've outlined to be a good starting point for building the relationships you need to become a more effective CAD manager.
In a future edition of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll delve a little more deeply into peer-to-peer CAD management and offer some ways that CAD managers who do have authority can use the approach to their advantage as well. Until next time!
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