CAD Management Vision: From Good to Great, Part 1

27 May, 2020 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager Column: Whether your workplace is tolerant of errors or trained on excellence, Jim Collins’s book has helpful advice for all CAD managers who are seeking greatness.

In the previous edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, we continued our discussion of CAD standards in the age of CAD Management 3.0 by refocusing our efforts on standardizing workflows that lead to faster work outcomes. As we consider how to make our companies work better, perhaps it is time to take a break to consider how CAD managers should view the larger context of not just CAD tools, but their CAD-using companies as a whole.

In this edition, I’ll do something I rarely do — recommend a business book — and give you some action items based on the lessons gleaned from it. Here goes.

                                                                                                                                                      PixelChoice /

Recommended Reading

The book in question is Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap ... and Others Don't by Jim Collins. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Even though it isn’t a technologist’s book per se, there is so much valuable insight into managing an organization that I’ve found it very compelling over the years. I’ve found CAD management fits very nicely into how Mr. Collins approaches management, and I hope you find it as valuable as I have. I’d like to acknowledge the contribution Mr. Collins has made to this newsletter.

Where Are You Now?

Does your company run well now? Is it broken? Are some areas broken while others are OK? The reality is that no two companies are alike, but they are all somewhere on the spectrum somewhere between broken and great. And since everyone should want their company to be great, getting there is simply a matter of first mapping out your strategy to reach that goal, then working your way along that path. Or, as the old NASA adage puts it: Plan the work and work the plan.

In my experience, there aren’t that many companies that are broken these days; they’d already be out of business if they were. Rather, the company personas I tend to see are as follows:

  • The “Just Get it Done” company
  • The “Getting Good” company
  • The “Becoming Great” company

If you can assess your company persona, then you’ll be able to start moving toward being a great company. So let’s ask some diagnostic questions and figure out which persona best fits your company.

The “Just Get it Done” Company

This is the logical step before things start to get good. The traditional warning signs include:

  • Errors are tolerated
  • Rework happens often
  • Economic consequences are overlooked
  • Everything is justified in the name of finishing projects.

I see these mindsets most often in project manager–driven companies where there is no real culture of standardization, and therefore no “right way” to do anything. Everything comes down to a mad rush to complete the project, no matter how inefficient. Your company may exhibit some of these characteristics even if it’s well managed otherwise.

This culture is the opposite of great, because it makes excuses for being inefficient! Here are some strategies for getting away from this culture so you can move toward greatness:

  • Alert management to rework costs, errors, and waste
  • Make your alerts CAD-specific by talking about wrong file versions, plotting problems, or other production snafus
  • Quantify the cost of snafus in terms of employee hours wasted
  • Help management see that “just getting it done” costs money rather than saving it
  • Focus on eliminating needless unforced errors.

The “Getting Good” Company

This is the step before things get great, but it can also be where your company stalls. The traditional signs of “getting good” include:

  • Errors are evaluated
  • Processes/standards are revised to fix problems
  • Cost containment is actively managed
  • Catchphrase is, “Why are we making mistakes?”

I see these mindsets in all manner of companies that embrace standards and strive to find a “right way” to execute projects. Your company may exhibit some of these characteristics even if you haven’t yet achieved all of them.

This culture is a good start toward great, but the cultural shift toward trying to be great hasn’t happened yet. Getting good is something that requires constant vigilance on your part and is therefore not self-sustaining. Here are some strategies for getting good and paving the way to greatness:

  • Find the “traffic jams” in your CAD flow
  • Ask what users continue to have problems with
  • Find proposed solutions
  • Set time-based goals for eliminating problems.

The “Becoming Great” Company

This company is beyond good, and striving to be great. The hallmarks of this company are:

  • Errors have largely been fixed
  • Processes are well standardized
  • Focus is on optimization (constant improvement)
  • Catchphrase is, “How can we do this better?”

I see very few of these companies, precisely because it is really hard to get to this point. Further, many companies stall at this point, since prevailing opinion is that everything is running really well, so why mess with success?

This culture is hard to start, but tends to be more self-sustaining because users are motivated to be great in the first place. Here are some strategies for building and maintaining greatness:

  • Focus on optimized flow to increase speed
  • Build infrastructure to encourage flow
  • Eliminate the causes of errors instead of trying to fix them after they’ve happened
  • Think about the software, hardware, and networking systems you’ll need to maintain greatness
  • Timeframe is roughly 3 years.

So Where Are You, Really?

Do you recognize your company in the descriptions above? If so, which one? Your answer is crucial, because it’ll dictate what actions you take, in which order, to move along toward eventual greatness.

The first step in your move from a good company to a great one is to thoughtfully diagnose which of the personas you fit into and which of the weaknesses/problems you have at present. There’s no shortcut for this step, and it is something that you must undertake from the point of view of the CAD manager.

Interesting Related Effects

You may find that when you start analyzing your CAD operations, many other types of errors present themselves. Here are a few other effects I recommend looking for:

  • Are problems with project managers pushing to “just get it done” really problems coming from more senior levels of management?
  • Are errors being made due to bad processes or lack of training?
  • Is the user culture aligned with management culture so both want to achieve greatness?
  • Are CAD problems, specifically, arising because of no standards, poorly enforced standards, or poorly trained standards?
  • Does management understand the weaknesses and problems you see?

As you dive into your quest for greatness from a CAD point of view, you may find yourself becoming an extremely valuable resource for your entire company, because you’ll have taken the time to truly understand what does, and doesn’t, work so things can be made better. That is, you’ll be striving for greatness — and you’ll most likely be noticed as you do so.

Summing Up

Do you now understand where you company is on the greatness spectrum, and are you motivated to make it greater? In a future edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, we’ll take some strategies from good to great to show you how to make over your project workflows and CAD tools, and how to inspire those around you to help. Until next time.

Editor's note: Click here to read "CAD Management Vision: From Good to Great, Part 2"


About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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