CAD Management Strategies, Part 1

8 Jan, 2008 By: Robert Green

All CAD managers face common challenges, and these tips can help overcome them.

I get all sorts of questions from readers asking for advice that can help solve specific problems. In researching these issues I often find new information that has made me much more productive. So to kick off the new year, I'll pass along some of my best recommendations for CAD managers. And since CAD managers deal with so many different things, these tips address all sorts of topics.

In this issue I'll start with some of my general management tips to help you get things sorted out and start working on tasks in order of priority. Here goes.

Assess Everything
Question everything. Look under rocks for better ways to do things. Challenge bad practices by suggesting better ways to do things.

So often we keep doing things the wrong way simply because we've never taken the time to investigate what we're doing. The good news is that you don't have to stop the whole company's CAD operations to perform assessments. All you have to do is keep your eyes and ears open and constantly question current practices. When you adopt this assessment-based mindset, good ideas emerge.

Hints:Ask, "Why do we do things this way?" a lot, and "Why not do this better?" even more. Never, ever say, "Well, we've just always done it that way."

Money Talks (or, Think Like Your Boss)
Want to make changes in your CAD environment? Want to change software? Want to get new hardware? Want to get training? Everybody can answer yes to one of these questions. Maybe the better question is why you aren't already achieving these goals.

When you realize that everything in CAD management is about money and that you'll have to get your boss to finance your new purchases by making money talk, you're on your way. So find a sound business reason for making the change you want to make and you're golden.

Example: Using Inventor instead of AutoCAD
Don't say, "Inventor is really cool, we should be using it."

Do say, "We can go from concept to shop-floor tooling on our typical parts in six hours with Inventor versus 10 hours with AutoCAD, thus saving $240 per part at our standard $60/hour rate."

Example: Purchasing a new plotter for the repro room
Don't say, "I want rid of this old, cranky plotter."

Do say, "Our old plotter, because it is constantly experiencing problems, is costing us four hours per week of clerical support at $45/hour plus a ridiculously high $4,000/year service agreement. That adds up to roughly $13,000/year in costs. In fact, we could purchase a new $25,000 plotter and pay for it in less than two years in savings alone."

Save Money
Always be on the lookout for savings opportunities. When you find one, tell your managers and make the change. Want to change the tone of the relationship with your management? Try saving them some money and watch it change.

Bonus: When your management sees you as someone who can save money, they will be much more likely to take you seriously when you do ask for funding for new equipment, software, or training.

Set Realistic Expectations
Does your boss think you'll go from AutoCAD 2005 to Revit in three days? That's an example of unrealistic expectations that you can never live up to.

Shatter misconceptions and replace them with achievable time frames that you can meet. Remember: If you don't set realistic expectations, nobody else will -- certainly not the marketing guys!

Report to Your Management
How else will they know what you're up to? How else will they understand your value? How else will they know how to help you?

Look, your managers aren't clairvoyant, nor do they understand CAD as well as you do. If you want them to understand you and help, you must tell them through regular reporting. Ideally reporting is a combination of written and verbal methods, but any reporting is far better than none.

Strive for Simple
The noted computer scientist Dan Bricklin was quoted as saying, "Users aren't stupid, they're busy!" So true! Strive for convenience, simplicity, and ease of comprehension in anything you do, and your users will love you for it.

Want to get your users to follow standards better or follow project guidelines better? Make those standards and guidelines easy to read and follow. Consider using video recordings to personalize training timeframes.

Hint: Remember how you felt when you first learned a concept and strive to communicate in a way that made sense to you the first time. You'll be well on the way toward communicating in the simplest way possible.

Tackle the Problems, Ignore the Minutia
Got a problem that impacts all your users on a daily basis? Tackle that first!

Got an annoying little problem that vexes you but doesn't really affect anyone else? Put that at the bottom of the list.

When you tackle the big problems, you improve efficiency a lot more than harping on the little things.

Challenge Power Users
Have some good power users that are chomping at the bit for challenging work? Have them teach a lunch and learn, let them manage a CAD standards project, or let them conduct a project kickoff meeting or other project.

CAD managers can utilize power users to leverage themselves yet rarely do so. Don't be afraid to help yourself by using power users to lend a hand.

Bonus: You'll get happier, more energized power users who will be happy to work for a CAD manager who recognizes their talents!

Confront Problem Users
Problem users are the "anti-power-user" in your workplace because they take too much of your CAD management time. When people won't follow standards or ignore your directions, they're costing the company money. Go to management if you have to, be stern with the problem user if you have to, but confront the problem -- don't let it fester.

Problem CAD users leave a wake of ill will behind them that negatively impacts your workplace. Your job as a manager is to deal with them. In fact, the way you deal with problem users has more to do with your success than how you deal with power users!

Wrapping Up
In the next edition of CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll conclude my series on CAD management strategies by delving into more software-specific topics like optimization, testing, and training.

I hope you find some of these tips useful. If you have any good advice you'd like to share, please email me and I'll print some of the best in upcoming newsletters. Until next time.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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