CAD Management 3.0 Calls for Quadrilingual Translation Skills

25 Feb, 2020 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager Column: As a CAD manager, you likely wear a lot of hats — and now, being an effective communicator requires that you speak a lot of “languages” as well.

Editor’s note: Click here to read the first and second parts of this series on CAD Management 3.0.

One of the greatest compliments I have ever received as a CAD manager was my gruff old boss Kurt saying, “For a computer guy, you speak English!” Though I didn’t realize how great a compliment it was at that moment, I came to realize that one of my key functions was explaining computer stuff to a senior management staff that had no interest in understanding it. Soon after Kurt made his statement, I started calling myself a technology translator — a description I use to this day.

In this edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll share my belief that in the age of CAD Management 3.0, we’re becoming quadrilingual technology translators. I’ll strive to explain the four languages we must speak, and give you some practical communication tips for each as we go along. Here goes.

The Languages Defined

To be effective in today’s CAD management environment, I’ve found myself needing speak the following four languages:

  1. CAD workflow — discussing how the software works to support your particular environment.
  2. CAD budget — explaining why things cost what they do.
  3. IT — relating the complexity of getting things working on networks and the cloud.
  4. Return on investment (ROI) — defining why certain decisions make sense financially.

You might read this list and think, “’Languages?’ Really?” Well, yes. It’s all about speaking the native language of the person you’re talking to. Talk about CAD with another CAD person, and you’ll speak in CAD language; talk to an accountant about CAD, and you’ll speak either CAD budget or ROI; talk CAD to an IT staffer, and you’ll speak IT. In each case, using a language the other person can clearly understand is essential for a productive conversation — otherwise, the two of you may as well be speaking Swahili and Spanish, or Finnish and French.

Complicating things further is that I must translate all these concepts up the ladder to people like CFOs, engineering managers, and project managers. So if I need to tell an accountant why I need more budget for a cloud software product, I had better convert the IT language to budget language first. See what I mean?

Hopefully you’re starting to buy into this idea, because next we will define communication tips and strategies for each language.

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CAD Workflow Language

I find that speaking CAD workflow is the best way to communicate with power users and those few managers who really understand CAD tools. This language is a higher-level dialect of the CAD technical language family, as we don’t just talk about how a given command works, but also about the best circumstances in which to use the command — particularly to save time.

By speaking CAD workflow, you’ll find conversations move toward actions, standards, and best practices almost automatically. I mean, if you’re talking about the best way to use CAD tools, it stands to reason you’re going to discover better CAD workflows and want to make those workflows standard.

And the best part of speaking CAD workflow is that you never have to say, “Use the CAD tools this way because I say so!” Instead, you’re having a consensus-based conversation around the most efficient way to use CAD tools. Along the way, you’ll surely find that time savings (which translate into cost savings) can be obtained simply by using better workflows, and word savings will be magic when we get to the ROI section a bit later.

Bonus: Speaking CAD workflow is especially useful for CAD managers who must standardize their environments via consensus rather than absolute authority.

CAD Budget Language

Speaking CAD budget is something that comes in very handy when dealing with management and IT staffs, and most any time I need to create a spreadsheet. The CAD budget language is all about finance, so any time you feel a conversation moving toward money and spending, it really pays to slip into CAD budget language, both spoken and in its written form: the Excel file.

By speaking CAD budget, you insulate yourself from surprises associated with software and cloud service cost hikes. Have these types of conversations with your management team (or send spreadsheets to them) often — not just when your annual budget is due. You’ll find that by communicating more about how much CAD software, hardware, and network services really cost, you’ll be taken more seriously as a manager. You’ll also find that IT will take you more seriously when you ask for workstation and network budgets. Always remember that if you don’t ask for something in your budget, you’ll never get it! Speaking CAD budget is the way.

Bonus: Any time you get notification of a software price increase or change in terms, update your budget spreadsheet immediately and send it to your management teams right away — using your best CAD budget language, of course.

IT Language

Perhaps the most difficult of the four languages we must speak is IT, because of its reliance on acronyms and gobbledygook. I sometimes think IT language is made unnecessarily complex just to make those who speak it sound smart. What other reason could there be for obscuring a simple concept like “these files open really slowly” with a phrase like “we’re experiencing the cumulative effect of high-latency access to a remote node in the domain”? Yet this complexity brings with it a unique opportunity: Be the one who can explain how IT affects CAD operations to your senior management, and you’ll be the go-to expert on the subject — which means you’ll have their ear.

Whenever you hear a conversation between senior management and IT management, look for opportunities to translate. Turn a statement like “We’re now being forced into a named-user, cloud-validated licensing scheme” into the easy-to-grasp version — “Our software vendor is forcing us to the cloud so they can charge us more” — and watch your stock rise. Also be aware that many IT technology changes, such as cloud license validation and per-user licensing models, profoundly affect how CAD tools are installed, licensed, and deployed, so you must understand what’s happening and translate it to your boss as soon as you know how your budget and workflows might change.

In the age of CAD Management 3.0, I’ve found the use of IT language has increased dramatically for me, because the CAD tools I manage are more and more driven by IT concerns.

Bonus: Translating IT into English is a talent that eludes most, even in the IT world. If you can perform this translating function, you’ll find you get along better with senior management — even IT management.

Return on Investment (ROI) Language

Here’s where everything comes together around the financial concept of achieving a return on any action/investment you make. If you can go to your senior management team and tell them how you need to use CAD tools to get the best cost savings, how much you need to budget to make it happen, and what type of IT challenges you’ll need to deal with, you’ll have everything required to make smart business decisions. Consider these examples:

If you can change workflows in a way that eliminates the need for a software package you’ve been using in the past, your budget will decrease, related IT issues will be avoided, and pure savings will result, thus giving you a great return on your investment in changing workflows.

Conversely, if changing a workflow requires buying expensive new software, shelling out for training, and making extensive IT changes, then it is highly unlikely a positive return on investment can be obtained.

As you can surmise, using ROI language automatically makes you more managerial, because it makes you more finances- and results-oriented. In all my time as a CAD manager, I’ve always found myself speaking ROI to senior management teams. Rather than giving management a bunch of technical data and hoping they’ll see the light, I give them my data and show them how they can save money, then let them ask me questions. Try it!

Bonus: Consider ROI language as the unified field theory of CAD management: a way to combine workflow, budget, and IT considerations into a single decision that maximizes financial results.

Summing Up

You’ve probably noticed that all four of the languages we speak come together to define a well-rounded CAD manager’s vocabulary. By knowing these languages I can speak to users, accountants, IT professionals, and senior management teams, and I always have a good idea of what’s going on.

The trick I’ve found is to switch in and out of these languages effortlessly as I speak to different groups. Much as European businesspeople often need to switch from their native language to English in the middle of a conversation, you must be able to leave your native CAD language to embrace these other technology languages. It takes a little time to master the skill, but I promise you it is worth the effort!


About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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