Back-to-Basics Boot Camp: Communication Techniques9 Feb, 2022 By: Robert Green
CAD Manager's Column: Develop elevator pitches to help you get what your CAD department needs.
Sometimes we CAD managers get so far into the weeds of specific projects that we forget to tend to the basic skills that we must use as CAD managers in the first place. And, sometimes I’m guilty of not clarifying what some of those basic skills are for readers who aren’t yet experienced CAD managers. Well, no more!
This edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter will begin our Back-to-Basics Boot Camp series that will focus on the key skills and strategies that every CAD manager needs to function at maximum efficiency. The text will be written to serve all CAD managers — from novices to experienced veterans. In this edition, we’ll focus on communication techniques. Here goes.
Image source: Niall/stock.adobe.com.
Communicate via the Elevator Pitch
Do you use elevator pitches? You should.
The elevator pitch is a very brief explanation of an otherwise complex concept in the simplest terms possible with the sole goal of getting the other person interested in hearing more. The reason it is called an elevator pitch is that it should be conveyed in the span of time of a typical elevator ride.
Now, I already know many of you are thinking, “That’s sounds like a sales pitch and I’m not a salesperson, I’m a CAD manager!”
To this I reply, “Well, when you ask for new workstations, plotters, software tools, training budgets, or procedural authority, aren’t you really making a sales pitch to your boss?” When you think of it this way, you’ll realize that clearly and briefly conveying your concepts to your boss — so they’ll be interested in learning more — is the best way to communicate.
Below I’ll examine some classic CAD management topics by giving you example elevator pitch and follow-up scripts in hopes that you’ll see how powerful this technique really is.
As I’ve stated often though the years, I don’t care what software you manage or what type of projects you work on, you must have CAD standards to maintain consistency and sanity. Yet, we all experience users and project managers who deviate from — or simply ignore — standards. So, how should we handle this issue before it blows up into a bigger problem?
The answer is to have proactive conversations with senior management.
|Suggested elevator pitch. “You know, CAD standards really aren't about me trying control or dominate user behavior. They are simply an attempt to create consistency so our projects will move forward faster and cost us less in rework time later.”|
|Follow-up script. “While it may seem like the CAD manager is trying to dominate the conversation, the reality is we just want consistency so we can make projects run predictably and lower our rate of error. What the standard is isn’t as important as the fact that everybody observes a consistent standard. I'm more than willing to work with anybody who has better ideas about how to standardize our workflows. Please understand my only motivation is to make our projects flow better and more profitable. Please help me by making it clear that you support standard work procedures.”|
Conclusion. By framing the standards problem in terms of efficiency and savings, you’ve turned a technical issue into something financial — making it more interesting and important for your boss. Your challenge now is to keep the conversation going and provide examples where lack of standards has cost time so your boss will support standardization.
The Training Problem
Unless you manage users who immediately understand all new software functions and features, you must have some sort of training program, right? But, when management sees training as something that costs money and contributes to non-billable time, how can you get approval? This is the age-old problem that CAD managers have in implementing training.
A strategy I’ve used with great success is to tie the standards problem (see above) with the argument for training. In fact, you may want to have this conversation at the same time.
|Suggested elevator pitch. “We've invested a lot of time and effort into CAD tools and standards to make our projects profitable, but if we don't train people on how to use the tools properly, how can we expect users to do what we want?”|
|Follow-up script. “If one hour of training per person on project standards and start up logistics saves us an hour of rework later, then the training pays for itself. In reality, I have observed that the time to fix these errors far exceeds the amount of time we would spend training, which means training gives us a great return on our investment. Please understand that I’m not training people just to say we have training — I’m training people to achieve better project execution. Not training users isn’t saving us anything; it is simply inviting error and inconsistency.”|
Conclusion. By framing the training discussion in terms of time savings, you appeal to senior management, project managers, and users alike. After all, everyone wants to save time, right? Your challenge now is to implement a bare bones training strategy that delivers time savings and reduced project rework.
The Hardware Problem
No matter what industry you work in, CAD tools run on computer hardware. The problem I often see is that many IT departments don’t consult with the CAD manager, which leads them to purchase hardware that is inadequate for running high-end CAD/BIM tools. Compounding this problem is that CAD/BIM models seem to grow exponentially, so this year’s inadequate hardware purchase will become even more inadequate next year. So, if you don’t want your users to struggle and waste time with inadequate hardware, then you must become involved in the hardware specification, budgeting, and purchasing process. But, how can you do that?
I’ve found that going directly to senior management to articulate that more robust hardware requirements are needed to run CAD/BIM is the best first step. Be aware that you must do this in a way that stresses project timelines and financial sense, rather than using “bits, bytes, and babble.”
|Suggested elevator pitch. “When workstations run slow, so do our projects. When computers crash, we lose even more time rebooting and reloading. In our effort to ‘save money on workstations,’ we’re actually costing ourselves a lot more than we save.”|
Follow-up statement. “Every time a clash detection, rendering, or energy analysis program crashes, we must reload everything and start again. When this happens, we are wasting an expensive engineer’s or designer’s time. Are we really willing to pay a $70/hour engineer to spend several hours restarting an analysis because a $3,000 workstation is too expensive?”
At $70 per hour, if we save one hour per week in crashes, a $3,000 workstation will pay for itself in 43 weeks ($3,000/$70 per week = 42.86 weeks) and return $10,080 during its three-year lifecycle — assuming 48 work weeks per year. Based on my observations of power users struggling with our old computers, we waste at least one hour per week per user dealing with crashes and slow performance. Why are we restricting our power CAD users with old, outdated computers? Using cheap computers is not saving us, it is actually costing us time — and in the end, time is money.”
Conclusion. By changing the way you talk about hardware you’ll open your management’s eyes to considering hardware as an efficiency generator rather than an expense they’d rather not have. Your challenge will now be to provide specific examples of inadequate hardware that causes loss of work-hours. If you provide real-world examples, management is much more likely to believe your line of reasoning because time really is money!
The Budget Conundrum
After you ask for training time and new computers, the topic of budgeting is likely to come up. CAD managers often have the reputation of asking for expensive products and “wanting a lot” for their users. I’ve encountered this bias from my bosses in the past and hear the complaint at client sites all the time. So, how can you make sure you’re seen as being reasonable in your requests?
|Suggested elevator pitch. “I realize that when I submit budget items it seems like I want a lot. I also understand that my hardware and training requests aren’t cheap. But, please know that I will never ask for anything unless it will make us more efficient.”|
Follow-up statement. I’m happy to provide you with sample ROI/savings calculations and data that is based on actual project experience. I’m not making this stuff up and I don’t expect you to approve my requests without showing you why. What are your questions? What data would you like to see to prove my budget requests are reasonable? I’m open to cross examination and welcome your feedback. My only goal here is to make us better. I’m not asking for luxury items, I’m asking for practical tools.”
Conclusion. By reemphasizing that you only ask for budget items that save time you’ll be seen as business-minded and proactive. Your challenge will be to keep sending this message, month after month, year after year, as you submit budget requests, so your management will come to trust your judgment.
Dealing with complexities day in and day out is what CAD managers do, but we must all strive to remember that interacting with others who don’t understand those complexities determines how successful we are. After all, if your boss doesn’t understand what you need, then how can they provide it?
My hope is you’ll use the elevator pitch and follow-up method examples I’ve outlined to discuss issues with your senior management team. I’ve found that the time I’ve spent learning to pitch my ideas and requests in brief elevator pitch style has made me a better CAD manager and consultant, so I’m confident it will help you as well.