Get Your Point Across to Management — Quickly22 Oct, 2014 By: Robert Green
Use an elevator pitch to get your management team's attention and help your users.
CAD managers function in a complex technical environment with countless variables to consider. As a result, trying to communicate our problems to others can be vexing — especially when speaking with senior and IT managers who don't necessarily have a firm grasp on CAD technology. But, no matter the complexity, if you can't communicate your issues succinctly, you'll be tuned out and — even worse — you'll continue to suffer the same problems.
In this edition of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll pass along some communication strategies that have served me well. I'll also give examples of how to start conversations on a variety of frequently encountered CAD management issues. Here goes.
Elevator Speech Logic
Have you heard of an "elevator speech"? The central tenet of this concept is to condense a complex problem into a core message and express it in standard language so anybody can understand it. It's called an elevator speech because you should be able to convey the concept during a typical elevator ride — in other words, it's brief.
As you read through my conversation starters, note how I've strived to use elevator speech logic to make complex technical issues comprehensible to managers who are usually more comfortable with financial concepts.
Note: For more information on crafting your elevator speeches, see this issue's CAD Manager's Toolbox.
The Standards Problem
No matter which software applications you manage or what types of projects you handle, you must have standards to maintain consistency and sanity. Yet, we all experience users and project managers who deviate from standards — or simply ignore them. So, how can you get management on your side? Start a proactive conversation with senior management.
Suggested conversation starter:
"You know, when I discuss CAD standards, I'm not trying to be domineering. Standards are simply an attempt to create some degree of consistency, so our projects will move forward faster and cost us less in rework time later. I realize it may seem like I'm a control freak, but that really isn't the case.
"The reality is that CAD managers just want consistency and to track what we do. What the standard is isn't as important as having everyone observe a consistent standard. I'm more than willing to work with anybody who has better ideas about how to standardize our workflows. Please understand that my only motivation is to make our projects flow better and to make them more profitable."
Conclusion: By framing the standards problem in terms of efficiency and savings, you've turned a technical issue into something financial — making it important to your boss. Your challenge now is to keep the conversation going and provide examples where lack of adherence to standards has cost the company time or money, so your boss will support standardization.
The Training Problem
Unless you manage users who know all new software functions and features already, you need a training program. Unfortunately, management often sees training as a cost, and the time it takes out of the day as non-billable hours. So, how can you get the approval needed for training time?
A strategy I've used with great success is to tie the standards problem (see above) to the argument for training. In fact, you may want to have the conversation at the same time.
Suggested conversation starter:
"We've invested a lot of time and effort into CAD tools and standards to make our projects profitable. But if we don't train people on how to use the tools to our standards, how can we expect users to do what we want? If we don't train our users, it doesn't save us anything; it simply builds errors into our projects that we'll have to correct later. If one hour of training per person on project standards and start-up logistics saves us an hour of rework later, then the training pays for itself. In reality, I've observed that the time to fix these errors far exceeds the amount of time we would spend on training, which means training gives us a great return on our investment. Please understand, I'm not training people just to say we have training — I'm actually investing in great project execution and profit."
Conclusion: By framing the training discussion in terms of time savings, you appeal to project managers and users alike. After all, nobody objects to saving time, right? Your challenge now is to implement a bare-bones training strategy that reduces initial project hours and rework.
The Hardware Problem
No matter what type of company you work in, you need computers to run CAD software. The problem is that many IT departments don't coordinate with the CAD manager about user needs, so they purchase computers that can't run high-end CAD software applications properly. In addition, CAD model sizes are continually growing, so this year's inadequate hardware purchase will become even less capable in the near future. So, unless you want your users to struggle with underpowered hardware, you must become involved in the hardware specification, budgeting, and purchasing process. But how can you do that? How can you make IT responsive to your needs?
The most successful strategy I have found is to go directly to senior management to articulate the need for more robust hardware to run CAD, and to focus on project timelines and financial sense, rather than bits, bytes, and technobabble. Suggested conversation starter:
"Every time a clash detection, rendering, or energy analysis program crashes, we lose time and money because we have to reload everything and start again. When this happens, we waste an expensive engineer or designer's time. Are we willing to pay a $50/hour engineer to spend several hours restarting an analysis because a $3,000 workstation is 'too expensive'? At $50 per hour, if we save sixty hours on completing processes over the next three years (or 20 hours/year), the workstation will pay for itself ($50/hr * 60 hours = $3,000).
"Based on my observations of power users struggling with our old computers, I feel we waste more than 20 hours per year on these types of problems. Why are we hobbling our most effective CAD users with outdated computers? Using cheap computers is not saving money, it is actually costing us time, and time is money."
Conclusion: By totally changing the way you talk about hardware, you'll help management view hardware as an efficiency generator, rather than an expense they'd rather not have. Your challenge will now be to provide specific examples of inadequate hardware wasting work-hours. If you provide examples, management is much more likely to believe your line of reasoning, because time really is money!