Back-to-Basics Boot Camp: Don’t Make These Mistakes

27 Apr, 2022 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager's Column: If you avoid these pitfalls, you will make your own job easier, help CAD users be more efficient, and get more work done.

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 which I’ve attempted to cover during our Back-to-Basics series. But perhaps one of the biggest responsibilities we have is actually to ourselves: Don’t make your own job harder by reinforcing errors that users make. Sometimes knowing what not to do can be the biggest time saver of all.

In this final edition of Back-to-Basics Boot Camp, I’ll share some of the most common mistakes I see CAD managers make and I’ll offer suggestions for how to avoid each of them. Hopefully you’ll find this list as useful in your day-to-day work as I have over the years. Here goes.


Back-to-Basics Boot Camp: Don’t Make These Mistakes

Image source: 22091967/


Don’t Accept Laziness

CAD managers have a knack for making software do almost anything and users know it. But just because you can fix errors and make your CAD/BIM software do great things doesn’t mean you always should. Consider the following types of requests:

  • Can you create a routine to re-path all our XREFs for us?
  • Can you figure out why all the files in our ongoing site project aren’t aligned to the same coordinate system?
  • Can you help us figure out how to capture PDF files from our BIM projects?


Of course, you could answer, “Yes,” to all of these requests and then start working 60-hour weeks to make it all happen. But, perhaps the better answer to these questions would be, “It seems like you’re not following our established standards, procedures, and project kickoff instructions. I think you should fix your own issues and learn why the mistakes were made, rather than expecting me to save you.”

Why? Because you want them to focus attention on why problems like these persist. If you always wave your magic wand to fix issues, you inadvertently create a culture of standards violations — after all why do things the right way when somebody else can always fix things later, right?

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

  • Let’s go over our procedures for getting XREFs setup properly again.
  • Let’s review our procedures for getting all projects coordinated up front.
  • Let’s have a quick show and tell review session on how we capture/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 you are training people to do things the right way 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 the user is saying. Consider the following hypothetical scenarios:

  • If I follow our DOT standard template, I’m forced to use super long layer names that don’t translate to the MicroStation DGN files that our contract forces us to deliver for our new clients.
  • 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 of these cases, the user is pointing out an unforeseen flaw in a standard that is impeding their ability to deliver work product to a client. 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 everybody in-house and make the client happy as well.”

This approach solves the short-term problem and creates a better standard that’ll pay you back on future projects. Win-win.


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 “I’ve got this” is that you will many times create more problems than you solved because you aren’t operating with all the information you need.

When tempted to go rogue and resolve issues on your own, take 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 talk to them so you know exactly what the real problem is.
  • Get the users who will deal with the new software fixes you’ll make to help you test your solution.
  • 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 again later!


Don’t Operate without Informing Management

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 assure that you don’t end up facing a frustrated, surprised, or angry senior management team. And, the other benefit is that if your management understands your challenges and value to the organization, they’re much more likely to reward you and support you.


Don’t Forget Deadlines

CAD managers operate in an environment of never-ending requests and problems and the reality is that you can’t solve all of them immediately. So, the question becomes how to prioritize so your company meets deadlines. Remember — your company hires you to help users get work done on projects!

To stay focused on deadlines, do the following:

  • Know the deadlines for all the major projects your CAD users have (ask them and they’ll tell you).
  • Tie every request you receive to a project deadline and schedule tasks based on those deadlines.
  • If someone complains about your schedule, tell them how you schedule tasks and invite them to talk to the project managers inside your firm and negotiate with them for scheduling.
  • If someone asks you to work on something that isn’t tied to project, then add that task goes to the bottom of your list or fit it into gaps between projects.

By keeping your schedule aligned with project deadlines you’ll work on the right tasks in the right order and never get yelled at for missing a deadline.


Summing Up

My Dad always said, “The secret to success is to work hard and not do stupid stuff.” (Well, OK, he didn’t say stuff.) As CAD managers, we all work hard but it is my hope that this list of avoidable mistakes helps keep you from 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, right? Until next time.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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