Don't Get Caught in the Tool Worship Trap

9 Apr, 2013 By: Robert Green

In your quest to gain management support for new software, begin with a lesson in reality.

Well, it’s spring, and you know what that means: new software releases! This time of year, it seems as if all the software developers are releasing new products and touting their new capabilities. And although CAD managers and power users look forward to new software releases with a Christmas-morning zeal, our senior management staffs rarely seem to share that enthusiasm.

In the next couple of issues of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll shed some light on why management teams dislike new software and how you can overcome those negative attitudes, gain approval for the upgrades you need, and integrate the new software into your office culture more smoothly. Here goes.

Plus ça Change

An old French expression goes, “Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.” It means, “The more things change, the more they are the same.” The saying exactly describes the attitudes of senior management about new CAD software that I’ve observed since my first job as a CAD manager in 1989. Here’s the push-back I hear every time:

  • “We spend all this money on software, but we don’t execute projects any better” or, “We just haven’t increased productivity like we expected.”
  • “It takes us way too long to implement new software.”
  • “Many users are dragging their feet on using new technology.”

In 1989, complaints were about migrating to AutoCAD and MicroStation, whereas today they are about transitioning to 3D or other game-changing software, but the sentiment is exactly the same.

If you look closely, you’ll begin to realize that these complaints seem more focused at the CAD manager and users rather than the software itself. You can almost hear someone saying, “We’ve got the new software, yet it isn’t working like we expected, and it can’t possibly be the software’s fault.”

Tool Worship

That scenario illustrates a syndrome I call “tool worship” because the tool — the software —escapes all blame for its complexities while the CAD manager and users are held accountable.

Following are some signs of tool worship that I’ve heard more times than I care to remember, and you probably have too:

  • “We have (fill in the blank) now, so all our designs will be fantastic.”
  • “Now that we have (fill in the blank), we’ll stop making mistakes.”
  • “(Fill in the blank) is so easy to use, we won’t need training.”

I don’t know why anyone would think you could drop a new software tool into the middle of a workforce — with no training, no learning curve time, no process adjustments, and no upper management support — and be successful. Yet the tool worship mindset persists.

How do you break through the tool-worship barrier? Show your senior managers that tools alone do not ensure success. I often use the following example:

Apollo Guidance Computer
Apollo Guidance Computer (1967)
38-KB ROM, 2-KB RAM, 512-KHz clock rate
12” x 6” x 24”, 70 lb
Use: Took people to the moon.
(Image courtesy of WikiCommons)


Smart Phone (2010)
32-GB storage, 1-GB RAM, dual cores at 1.2 GHz
5” x 3” x 0.5”, 0.5 lb
Use: Sends tweets.
(Image courtesy of Samsung)




Reality Check

When confronted with complaints and tool-worship mindsets, I like to engage management directly while the frustration level is highest. If you want to know why management is upset about something, ask the following diagnostic questions while they’re still upset:

What did you think would happen in terms of software implementation?

  • Did you really believe little or no training would be required?
  • How easy did you think the workflow transition would be?
  • Did you assume that I, the CAD manager, would simply “handle” the implementation?
  • Did you take into account how this software would impact employees? Customers? Project teams?

These questions open a dialog that usually leads to the following conclusions:

  • New software is harder to implement than you think.
  • New software requires more time to win users over than you think.
  • New software requires plenty of training.
  • Involving customers and project-management teams in the software transition is critical.
  • CAD managers waging the new software battle with users need senior management backup.

Have you had these discussions in your company? With your senior management? With project managers? With users? If not, I’ll bet you have a hard time getting your management to cooperate with your efforts to implement new software successfully.

Software Mission

At this point I like to get senior management to envision how new technology will help achieve a specific business objective — that is, the “technical mission” that the CAD users and I will have to complete.

I’ve noticed that people respond much better to a challenge than an ultimatum. Don’t issue directives such as, “We’re going to implement AutoCAD Civil 3D.” Instead, explain, “We’re going to be the fastest, most cost-effective, most client-responsive civil engineering firm in our area, which demands that we leverage new tools like Civil 3D.”

Don’t say, “We’ve got to adopt building information modeling.” Do say, “To meet client demands and contract requirements, we need to figure out how to make BIM work for us.”

Notice how the mission is to achieve a client goal or business objective, not to learn a piece of software. Notice how the mission uses terms such as “learn,” “leverage,” or “figure out” so staff understands that it must be actively involved in the process and that the process will not be easy. Note how the tool (software) was not the main focus of the discussion.

To summarize:

  • Mission = challenge
  • Challenge motivates users
  • Challenge means learning new tools
  • Motivated users learn faster
  • Meeting the challenge = good business

Wrapping Up

Your mission now is to think about how you’ll make the case for new software technology implementation based on business outcomes rather than irrational expectations and tool worship. I highly recommend thinking through the process carefully and getting a game plan in place.

In the next issue of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll provide some guidance in how you can extend the “mission” logic to other aspects of software implementation such as working with your IT department, training, user team organization, and project execution. Until then.

Read "Don't Get Caught in the Tool Worship Trap, Part 2" here.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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