Back-to-Basics Boot Camp: Meeting Management Expectations

23 Mar, 2022 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager’s Column: Learn how to speak to upper management in a way that they understand your needs and, in turn, you’ll get what you want.

In prior installments of the Back-to-Basics Boot Camp series, we’ve discussed the importance of communication techniques and the art of implementing standards combined with running a solid training program. And, while all these objectives are crucial to your success as a CAD manager, none of it really matters if you don’t know what your senior management team expects of you, right? 

So, in this installment of the Back-to-Basics Boot Camp series we’ll focus on how to proactively deal with management expectations so you can go on the offensive rather than playing defense. Here goes.


Back-to-Basics Boot Camp: Meeting Management Expectations
Image source: gustavofrazao/


Expectations Cause Frustration

Roughly 20 years ago, I presented a round table session at Autodesk University focused on how CAD managers could meet management expectations. I came into the session thinking all CAD managers would be willing to have a dialog regarding the expectations from management — only that wasn’t the case at all. What I heard was frustration and lack of understanding via comments like these:

  • “They have no clue what I do!”
  • “How do they think I can get all this done?”
  • “These guys know nothing about CAD/BIM and just expect me to have all the answers.”
  • “Management has no comprehension what a mess our CAD/BIM standards are in and how little control I have over the situation.”

As the years have gone by, I continue to find these sentiments expressed at almost every CAD manager round table I present. Sadly, things haven’t gotten better and understanding management expectations continues to be a problem for many CAD managers.

So, how to get started? Let’s explore.


Initial Expectation: Communicate Well (and Often)!

Senior managers are presented with a wide variety of problems from all sorts of people, right? So, it stands to reason that they will appreciate it when the person reporting to them can communicate in a quick, unemotional, and easy to comprehend way, so they can get to work fixing the problems. 

Now, let’s put this in a CAD manager’s context by making the following communication recommendations:

Inform via short reports. Write in a short, executive summary style when creating emails or printed reports. View your writing as a “conversation starter” that grabs senior management’s interests so you can confer with them in detail later. It is better to pique senior management’s interest with a quick email than bore them with a long, detail laden message that they’ll never finish reading. 

Bottom line: KISS — Keep it simple and send one written page max! 

Why: Because they don’t know what you’re doing, unless you tell them.

Update your budget. Whether you do a formal budget or not, make sure you take the time to communicate what you need and any upcoming expenses you feel aren’t being accounted for. It is far better to have told management about a financial need ahead of time (even if they don’t listen) than to admit you never even asked. If there is a spreadsheet or official format for submitting budget requests, take time to get acquainted with it and use it. 

Bottom line: Those who pay attention to budgets are serious about management.

Why: To get the budget you want, you must properly follow protocol when you ask.

Give great presentations. Whenever you give a talk to a group of managers, make sure you have a few “conversation starter” slides you can use to make key points. Steer clear of long presentations with lots of bullet points — it’s better to have fewer, less specific slides. Just like shorter written reports lead to conversations, shorter presentations lead to more innovative and meaningful conversations. 

Bottom line: When presenting to management you can’t tell them what they should think, you must bring them around to agreeing with you. 

Why: Because you want to have an ongoing conversation.

Review progress regularly. Whether you’re reviewing your own performance, other employees, project teams, or how well a new piece of software performs, make sure your management team knows you’re reviewing how things are going. 

Bottom line: When management sees you review the performance of key personnel, systems, and teams, they are reminded that you’re a manager and are more likely to support your needs. 

Why: Because the more often you talk with management, the better your level of understanding becomes, and vice-versa.


Expectation: Ungeek Your Speak!

When I first became a CAD manager, I received perhaps the greatest compliment a CAD manager could ever receive from a senior management team. The Engineering Manager said to me, “For a computer guy, you speak English.” What he meant was that I was the first computer professional he’d encountered who spoke in a way that business managers could comprehend as opposed to an overly complex jumble of techno babble that nobody but a computer geek would understand.

This experience led me to one of my most firmly held views on CAD management: When communicating to upper management, don’t use technical jargon but, rather, describe the problem in a business-focused way.

Don’t say: “The Civil department keeps exploding their title blocks which makes the block attributes revert to layer 0 and thus makes our plotting automation employ the wrong linetypes!”

Do say: “The Civil department isn’t following standards which is costing us 20 man-hours per week in rework.”

Bottom line: Management is focused on dollars and business acumen.

Why: By taking the bits and bytes out and putting hours of rework into the conversation, you show the real reason why senior management should listen to you!


Expectation: Motivate and Develop Staff

CAD managers may not be the boss of many, but they are in the position to influence every CAD user on an almost daily basis. And, whether you are a user’s boss or not, you can still make them a better CAD user and employee. Senior management knows this and wants to see you act. Here are my best tips to help you interact with staff members whether you are their boss or not:

Motivate. Always preach, “We can do this better,” or “Let me save you time,” as you advocate using new tools and techniques. Motivation is about making the user want to do better, so set the stage by challenging users to become ever more efficient and help them strive to do so.

Standardize and Train. To the extent that getting users to do CAD better requires training you’ll need to provide it. Chances are this means building a targeted standards and training program. Always strive to support users in their quest to be more efficient by supporting user’s motivation with best practices (standards) and training.

Note problems. As you interact with your users, note what causes them problems and work to eliminate those problems. When users see you as a CAD advocate who helps them perform better, they’ll listen to you more.

Keep it rolling. By motivating, training, and solving problems, you’ll create a CAD equivalent of a snowball rolling downhill that gains speed and size as it goes! So, when you see your attempts at motivation, training, and problem solving starting to pay off, keep the momentum growing and do more!


Expectation: Business Focus

Does your company employ you because they think CAD is really cool and they want you to play with lots of neat software or do they want you to make CAD run well so the company can make money?

You know the answer, don’t you? But, it is amazing how many CAD managers never think about the business aspect of what they do.

The best thing you can do to remain business-focused is to use the mindset I advocated for staff motivation and development. Always strive to make things easier, faster, higher quality, and to save people time. If you make CAD a time savings tool, everybody — users and management alike — will see you as a time- and money-saving advocate. And, that can’t be bad, can it?


Summing Up

Try using the tips I’ve outlined to develop your communication with management and so they can see what you’re doing. You may be surprised to see a bond form between you and your management as you come to understand each other better.

And, while management will likely never fully understand the technical issues you face with print drivers, PDF utilities, DWG exports from Revit, coordination issues, or importing STEP geometry into SOLIDWORKS, they will know that you’re a communicative, action-oriented manager who’s helping get the very best performance from their users. And, that is the best way to meet management’s expectations.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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