Avoid Four Common CAD Management Mistakes

11 Sep, 2018 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager Column: You’ve heard plenty of advice about what to do in your role as CAD manager — now, it’s time to learn what not to do.

I’m often asked, “What are the responsibilities of a CAD manager?” or “What should I do to be the most effective CAD manager possible?” Of course, these questions have many answers, and I feel that we’ve thoroughly covered them over the years in the CAD Manager’s Newsletter. But I’ve come to believe that any job can be made much easier by first not making it harder. If that sounds like a riddle, consider that by avoiding the common mistakes that make CAD managers' jobs miserable, you’ll save time and allow yourself to work on higher-value tasks that will truly make your job easier (and your users more productive).

In this edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll share some of the most common mistakes I see CAD managers make, along with suggestions for how to avoid each one. Hopefully you’ll find this “What not to do” list as useful in your day-to-day work as I have over the years. Here goes.


Don’t Enable Laziness

CAD managers have the knack for making software do almost anything, and users know it. But just because you can make the software do amazing things, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Consider the following types of requests:

  • "Can you create a routine to re-path all our xrefs for us?"
  • "Can you fix our civil files on a project to have a different coordination point?"
  • "Can you help us figure out how to capture PDF files from our building information modeling (BIM) projects?"

Of course, you could answer “Yes” to all these requests, then start working another 60-hour week to make it all happen, as you have in the past. But perhaps the better answer to these questions would be, “Seems like you’re not following our established standards and procedures — I think you should fix your own issues and learn from them, rather than expecting me to bail you out yet again.”

The point of this discussion is to focus attention on why problems like these persist. You may find that by always waving your magic wand to fix issues like this, you’ve inadvertently created a culture of standards violations — after all, why should users bother to do things the right way when somebody else can always fix things later?

Here’s how to handle the above questions in a better way:

  • “Let’s go over our procedures for getting xrefs set up properly again.”
  • “Let’s review our procedures for getting all projects coordinated up front.”
  • “Let’s have a quick show-and-tell session demonstrating how we capture and collate PDF file sets.”

You may still have to help fix these problems in a pinch, but at least you’re putting everyone on notice that making the same mistakes over and over isn’t acceptable, and training people in the right way to do things as you go along.

Don’t Be Unreasonably Rigid

This may seem contradictory to the point above, but CAD managers can sometimes be so focused on following a bad standard that they don’t really hear what users are saying. Consider the following hypothetical scenarios:

  • “If I follow our DOT standard template, I’m forced to use super-long layer names that aren’t translating over to MicroStation DGN files for our new client project.”
  • “If I follow our xref pathing standard that uses absolute UNC pathing, I can’t eTransmit the files properly to our new client who needs them to be relatively pathed.”

In both these cases, the user is pointing out an unforeseen flaw in a standard. Please note, these users are following your standards, but the standards simply don’t consider the contractual requirements for DGN translations or electronic submittal of xrefs on client projects.

The overly rigid CAD manager would say, “I don’t care — follow the standard and we’ll deal with this later.” The better answer would be, “Clearly, this is something we haven’t taken into account, so let’s see what we can do that’ll work for all of us and make the client happy as well.”

Don’t Go Rogue

Sometimes there will be project demands that force you to deal with software problems you haven’t foreseen — and you will likely be under time pressure to resolve these problems quickly. When these scenarios present themselves, it is sometimes easy to take an “I’ve got this” attitude and act on your own to respond to the situation. The problem with running ahead on your own is that frequently, you will create more problems than you solve, because you aren’t operating with all the information you need.

When tempted to “go rogue” and take matters into your own hands, first go through the following steps to be sure you’re solving problems instead of making things worse:

  • If there are project managers or department supervisors who understand the new problems, be sure to interview them so you know exactly what the real problems are.
  • Get users to help you test your solution — specifically, the users who will deal with the new software fixes you’ll make.
  • As you roll out your solutions, be sure to touch base with the project/department managers and key users to validate that everything works.
  • Be sure to communicate the solution to other users and make the new solution part of your ongoing standards.

I know this sounds like it’ll take a lot of time, but if the problem is truly urgent, you’ll find that these managers/users want things fixed as badly as you do. Leverage that urgency to be sure everything gets done right the first time, so you don’t have to revisit the issue later!

Don’t Leave Management in the Dark

Amplifying the “Don’t Go Rogue” point above, do not toil away in silence! Senior management should always have an idea of what you’re doing and understand the degree of difficulty involved. I’ve found the easiest ways to keep management in the loop are the following:

  • Send senior management a once-per-week memo of what you’ve been up to and what you’re planning for.
  • Be sure management knows about any new problems that could require hardware or software spending so they won’t be surprised later.
  • If you are dealing with a problem that can affect client satisfaction, be sure to tell management about any support you need to make things work.

By taking these actions, you help ensure that you don’t end up facing a frustrated, surprised, or angry senior management team. In addition, if management understands your challenges and how valuable you are to the organization, they’re much more likely to reward you and support you.

Summing Up

My father always told me the secret to success is to work hard and not do stupid stuff (although his wording was a bit more colorful). As a CAD manager, I know you work hard, but it is my hope that this list of “What not to do” will help you avoid doing the stupid stuff that causes you rework and extra effort. After all, if you don’t do the stupid stuff, you don’t have to fix it — and that’ll only make your job easier! Until next time.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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