Steer Your CAD Management Career

25 Sep, 2013 By: Robert Green

The better you understand your strengths — and how they can help your company — the more effective and valued you will be.

In recent years, I've noticed the CAD/BIM (building information modeling) manager's job description is evolving — and not for the better. It seems expectations are ever increasing, employers are becoming more demanding, and there is less time to get the job done. And I've noticed an unsettling trend among senior management teams who view CAD/BIM management as something that takes billable hours away from an otherwise billable occupation such as architect, engineer, or designer.

As these changes have taken root, I've heard more CAD managers complain of lower job satisfaction, with many asking the question, "Should I even be doing CAD management at all?" I can't tell you how much hearing this question saddens me because, like you, I have a passion for CAD management and I understand how much CAD managers can help their companies.

Before you consider leaving CAD management, please try implementing some strategies for raising your worth in the eyes of senior management. In this issue of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll pass along career advice and action items that are based on my own experiences. They can help you advance your career while you go about your day-to-day CAD management activities. Here goes.

Analysis: What Got You the Job?

Before we talk about how to better manage your career, let's take a step back and examine how you got the job in the first place. In almost all conversations with CAD managers I've had over the years, the following factors hold true:

We are technologists (engineers, architects, designers, etc.) We are comfortable with software (in fact, understanding it is easy for us) We are seen as the answer man or woman (people ask us questions) We are the fix-it man or woman (things stop working when we're gone).

The picture that emerges is of a competent, take-charge person who figures things out, makes things work, explains difficult concepts to users, and generally keeps production on track. In short, CAD managers are invaluable to the companies they support, even if that fact isn't understood by everyone around them (more on that later).

CAD managers have a skill set that makes them invaluable to their companies — and that's a message you have to share with your upper management teams.

Action item: Make sure that users and senior managers alike understand your skills and problem-solving abilities, and realize how critical your support of production goals is. If you don't advertise yourself, nobody else will.

Analysis: What Are Your Core Skills?

It amazes me how often I ask CAD managers what their best skills are and they can't really answer the question. The possible answers are many, and include the following:

  • I'm a great architect who happens to understand BIM
  • I'm a mechanical engineer who really understands manufacturing software
  • I excel at teaching users new skills
  • I enable our field personnel to get things done
  • I efficiently implement new software tools and work methods
  • I'm a skilled technical troubleshooter who keeps things running.

In each of these cases, the CAD manager understands what his or her core value and skill is and how it helps the company gets things done.

When CAD managers can't define their own core skills, it tells me they don't really know what they should be working on or how valuable they are to the company. And believe me when I say that if you don't understand your value to the company, your boss doesn't either.

Action item: Determine your strengths and start emphasizing them to highlight your value to the company.


Analysis: Are You in the Right Company?

One thing I've always believed about my own career is that my background in mechanical engineering and manufacturing makes me a much better CAD manager in those types of companies. Sure, I can install and manage Autodesk Revit software and keep architectural projects on track, but I'll never be as good a BIM manager as someone who has designed and constructed buildings.

CAD managers who work in an industry they're familiar with have a much greater chance of advancement than those who don't. In fact, I would expect that an architect attempting CAD management in a bearing factory will struggle, whereas a mechanical engineer would likely excel in that environment.

So the question becomes, Are you setting yourself up to succeed by working in the right company, or setting yourself up to fail in the wrong one? If you're already in the right place, great; if not, you'll either have to do a lot of learning (more on that in the next section) or you'll need to move on to a company whose business allows you to apply your core education, skills, and experience.

Action item: Do a self-assessment to determine whether your education and skill set will allow you to be successful at your current company. If you find the answer to be no, perhaps now is the time to consider a career move.

Homework: Continuous Improvement

Once you've determined that you're in the right company environment to achieve success, the next step is to start optimizing your operation in that environment. The good news is you can do this every day, simply by keeping your eyes and ears open and asking questions as you go along. In fact, CAD managers enjoy great learning opportunities which they often overlook.

For your "homework," focus on these opportunities:

  • Learn how your company executes projects (to better support them)
  • Learn how different departments work (to create better standards)
  • Learn where your company's inefficiencies are (so you can help fix them)
  • Find out how you can make CAD software support or improve workflows to achieve greater productivity (by asking users how you can help them).

In other words, don't just learn software — learn where your company needs help and ask how you can make CAD/BIM software a solution to those problems. If users see you as a problem solver who helps them save time, you'll be a hero to your users and management will get the message.

Action item: Focus on these homework items a little every day, and eventually you'll morph from a CAD support technician to a true productivity-enhancing CAD manager. That's how I did it, and also how most successful CAD managers I know made the leap.

The Future: What Will Move You Forward?

It always pays to think about career advancement. So as a CAD/BIM manager, we have to ask ourselves what we can do to build our skill sets to gain maximum upward mobility for our careers, yet be effective at the same time.

While there's no one way to advance your career, I've seen a general pattern evolve over the years (that seems to still hold true) based on the concepts I've outlined above. To summarize:

Promote your value. Don't be afraid to let users and management alike know what you can do and how you can help. They won't know if you don't tell them.

Win the users' trust. Make the CAD tools in your office work well and users will praise you. After a while that user praise becomes a reputation that senior management takes to heart. Fostering user appreciation is a good way to guarantee you'll be around in the future.

Know how your company ticks. Use your education, work experience, and CAD expertise to find glitches/inefficiencies and fix them. Make the company work better, make the users faster, save man-hours — and management will notice.

Never stop learning and questioning. If you think everything at your company is working perfectly, you're simply not asking the right questions. Great CAD managers are always looking for the next thing they can fix, standardize, optimize, or maximize. The good news is you just have to keep your eyes open and talk to your users — they'll tell you where the problems lie.

Summing Up

As I've progressed through my career I've had the benefit of seeing many technological changes and employment trends, but there's one thing I've never seen change: Companies are always looking for smart people to step up. As a CAD/BIM manager you're in an excellent position to advance your personal career by finding creative ways to keep your company moving forward using the software tools you already work with.

All that's required is for you to think of CAD tools as a way to make things run better, and to cast yourself as the change agent who pushes for that improvement. These strategies have worked for me throughout my entire career, and I think you'll find them effective as well. Until next time.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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Re: Steer Your CAD Management Career
by: Waltspar
September 25, 2013 - 12:24pm
Great Article! All well said and all so true! WES
Re: Steer Your CAD Management Career
by: mikepo
September 26, 2013 - 3:11pm
Excellent article! Most of this has went through my head at one time or another. We have to make ourselves invaluable, no one else will do it for us.
Re: Steer Your CAD Management Career
by: JimUSA
September 27, 2013 - 8:22am
Good article! Something else to consider is whether CAD management is the right job at all. A forward-thinking production technique crusader might do better as a front-line project manager than as a CAD manager. Even if you are a skilled trainer, a people person, an expert at the line of business, and a CAD configuration top gun - CAD management might not be the right job. Core CAD manager skills truly valued at most companies in my experience: * Integrate tomorrow's tools into yesterday's workflows * Enable yesterday's tools to function in today's environment * Minimize change and learning required from users * Maximize production speed regardless of workflow efficiency * Advocate standards, but focus on supporting deviation * Serve users, ahead of clients or projects, without damaging budgets If doing those things is not rewarding, it might be better to be a star at managing production instead.
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