To Get the Tools You Need, Learn the Right Way to Ask Management1 Dec, 2015 By: Robert Green
CAD Manager Column: You’ve got to secure better hardware and software resources for your users — but how? And which items should top your priority list?
We all know the drill: Hurry up, do more, use more advanced software — but do it all on old computers, with no training budget. This time-tested recipe for CAD management failure seems to be even more common in today's business environment, where tight budgets put pressure on everyone to do things on the cheap. And absent any input from the CAD manager, you can be sure that nothing will change for the better.
In this edition of the CAD Manager column, I'll examine the key resources you must push for to be successful, and ways to present your case to senior management so they'll take you seriously. Along the way, conversation-starter tips will give you examples of how to approach your boss and other members of upper management. Here goes.
What Should You Push For?
All companies have slightly different needs, but at minimum, all CAD managers need the following resources if they want to deliver CAD success for their company:
- Modern workstations to power through compute-intensive CAD tasks.
- Fast local-area and wide-area networks (LAN and WAN), so users can work effectively with remote teams without enduring long file load times.
- CAD management involvement in IT policy to properly represent CAD users' needs.
- The clout to implement standards. Standards are crucial to put streamlined work processes in place, but standards are pointless if nobody follows them. Only with senior management's backing can CAD managers achieve the clout they need to make standards enforceable.
- A training program. For users to get great results and follow standards, they have to be trained on a continual basis. CAD managers simply must have the resources to train their users.
You may want to add more items to your personal list, but don't forget to push for these essentials.
Conversation starter: "Think of these critical system components like the mechanical systems in a car: engine, suspension, electronics, etc. If we ignore any one of these systems for long, the car simply won't work anymore." By providing a concrete analogy based on a familiar physical system, your boss will understand the point you're trying to make even if he or she doesn't understand much about the CAD subject matter at hand.
ROI: How to Ask Your Boss
Now that we've got a list of what we need to push for and an analogy to use for starting the conversation, we need a strategy for asking our boss to fund our requests. At the risk of sounding like an accountant, I'll go ahead and assert this truism: The only reason your senior management team will ever purchase (invest in) anything is if they have a reasonable expectation of making a profit (return) from it. They don't much care about the technology, the buzzwords, the bits, or the bytes; they care about profitable operation.
This return on investment (ROI) logic permeates everything business owners do, but unfortunately, many CAD managers haven't mastered the simple, yet profound concept of ROI. That stops now.
A workstation-based ROI example. Since obtaining new workstations is always high on the CAD manager's priority list, let's take a look at a real-world example of how to ask for new workstations by using ROI:
Sam struggles to produce renderings from CAD models because his workstation often locks up and/or experiences graphics glitches. Each project Sam does requires 4 hours of labor to create renderings, and he does about 20 projects per year. A new workstation that costs $1,895 will cut Sam's time from 4 hours to 1 hour per project due to faster processing, better graphics, and elimination of lockups.
Obviously there are big time savings to be had if we can purchase the new workstation, but the boss has rejected the idea thus far because $1,895 is "too much money." So how can I make a convincing case for the expenditure? Start with this simple equation:
Using Sam's labor rate (let's say $45/hr), we can compute the savings in his first year of using the new workstation:
Now let's compute the costs. I'll assume your CAD management labor rate is $60/hour, and that it'll take you 2 hours to set up the new workstation so Sam can use it effectively.
Now, by definition, the ROI is:
So if we invest $2,015, we can save $2,700 in just one year. Not only will the workstation pay for itself in less than a year, we'll continue to save money in following years! In fact, in three years, a $2,015 workstation installation can save us $8,100 in labor costs.
Conversation starter: "You'd be amazed by how much engineering time we lose around here because of faulty old computers. Let me show you an ROI computation I did on Sam's workflow." The conversation will now proceed with finance as the focus — not technobabble — and your boss will be much more likely to deal with your request.
Completing Our List
Now that you know how to frame a request in terms of ROI, let's go through the remaining items in our "what to push for" list with an emphasis on how to quantify the savings and costs you'll need to make an ROI-based argument.
Fast networks (LAN and WAN). These days, many CAD tools connect users over wide-area networks (WANs), so the speed of the WAN is crucial in providing a good work environment for everyone. By talking to your users, you can collect data to document how much time they spend waiting for files to open and save, and how many times work processes have to be restarted due to WAN issues. Add up all the time and multiply it by an average hourly rate, and you'll be shocked by how much is lost. If you can negate this time loss with a better network, your company will save a ton of money.
Conversation starter: "We performed a study to determine how much time we lose to network problems; here are the results."
Your management may now choose to get your IT department involved in specifying network upgrades to address the problem; their cost estimates, combined with your savings computations, will yield an ROI. While you may not totally control the process, you will at least control the dialogue and place the focus where it should be: on a productive work environment for users.
A voice in IT policy. If CAD managers are involved in IT decision-making from the get-go, scenarios like the one I outlined above should never happen in the first place. The ROI benefit of including CAD management in IT decision-making comes from time and money saved by preventing bad purchases or configurations.
Conversation starter: Tell your IT manager, "I'd like to help support the IT needs of CAD users. If there's anything I can do, let me know!"
Clout to implement standards. Standards promote consistent, error-free work processes, so it stands to reason that a lack of standards contributes to errors and rework. All you have to do is figure out how much time you're spending fixing CAD-related issues because somebody didn't follow the standards! You probably have a good idea of how much time is involved, so all you have to do is total everything and multiply it by your labor rate to get a sense of how much you could save just by having great standards.
Conversation starter: Go to your boss and say, "I've got the results of our standards deviation analysis, and you won't believe how much we're losing in rework costs. If senior management would make standards a priority and set a tone of enforcement, we could really turn things around — and it won't cost us anything to do it!"
Once your management understands the financial impact they can have simply by sending a strong message to CAD users to "follow the rules," they'll be falling all over themselves to help you. And since ROI is just savings divided by costs, you can see that this very low-cost approach to generating savings yields an almost infinite ROI.
A training program. Once management mandates standards compliance, you'll need to train users to apply the standards they've been ignoring for so long. The only way to claim positive ROI on a standards training program is to make a reasoned — if not numerical — argument that people will start working to the standard much more quickly if they are trained. If left to flounder on their own, users will waste a great deal of time. (This logic applies to standards and nearly all other software-related training, by the way.)
Conversation starter: Tell your boss, "Thank you so much for making standards a priority. I'd like to set up some brief training classes to show everyone how we're going to use the standards. I will keep them on point and make sure everybody is trained in how to work the right way in the least amount of time possible."
If management complains about training consuming user time and being nonbillable, simply remind them how much money is being lost due to the anarchy that results from a lack of standards, and explain that people can only work the right way if you tell them what the right way is.
CAD management is tough enough when you have the right tools; it's almost impossible when you don't. By pushing for the essentials and supporting your requests with strong business logic and ROI numbers, you'll have the best shot at getting the tools you need.