How to get what you need from upper management

30 Sep, 2002 By: Michael Dakan

CAD managers and users alike wonder how to get better support from upper management for the CAD manager position. One of the most frequently asked questions in CAD-related newsgroups is: How many CAD users should an organization have before it needs a full-time CAD manager? This question usually comes from office CAD experts who feel they function as de facto CAD managers without corresponding management acknowledgement and support. Such people are also expected to be fully productive on project-related work, or to spend just a few hours a week handling CAD management tasks that actually require much more time.

Unfortunately, no rule of thumb applies to the position of CAD manager. The amount of CAD support required varies greatly, depending on what an organization is trying to do with its CAD software. A company that uses CAD in the most basic way, as an "electronic pencil," needs less CAD manager support than a company that is implementing a discipline-specific application or heavily customized environment.

Many other factors enter into the equation: Are CAD standards and procedures, or the lack thereof, causing problems for users? Do users lack training in the CAD software and so ask the CAD guru a host of questions daily? Can the software be customized to automate certain functions and thus improve user productivity and satisfaction?

Two keys to success

I don't have any magic formulas, and few generalities apply to all situations. But usually, the keys to securing better support from senior management are twofold:

  • Keep track of and document issues that occur regularly and require time expenditures outside normal project work, and
  • Educate management about the issues and general CAD use in the office.

If you need to justify devoting increased hours to CAD management, you can log activities that take time away from other work, along with suggested solutions to minimize such disruptions in the future. It is always best to justify solutions strictly by financial payoff, but that can sometimes be difficult to do with any certainty. You can make reasonable estimates of how much time a given improvement could save users on a daily basis, but you must avoid hyperbole and overly optimistic guesses.

Some proposed activities and solutions may not be easily quantifiable, but would clearly allow users to more easily accomplish certain tasks. Improving employee satisfaction and morale may serve to justify such solutions. Enlightened management will often respond positively to these kinds of things, especially if employee morale and turnover are issues in the office. Keep in mind, though, that just making things easier for employees may not be a top priority with upper-level managers when professional and financial results demand most of the attention.

Think like your boss

You are always well advised to try to see things from management's perspective when you formulate your approach to seeking acknowledgement and support for the CAD manager's position. Upper management is sometimes oblivious to CAD technology, or at least assigns it a lower priority than other business issues. Your arguments for what the CAD program needs will receive the most favorable response when they are couched in terms of support for the higher-level professional and business objectives of the firm. Though your daily work may revolve around the use of CAD as a tool, that is never the primary concern of a professional organization. CAD is a secondary byproduct of the company's primary professional activities.

School your superiors

Senior management may believe that all is fine with the CAD program as long as the work gets done reasonably on time and within budget. They may have little interest in changing something that appears to function adequately. It's hard to argue with this logic, and in fact it may be the correct approach for a firm that is not interested in pushing CAD toward a higher and better use. Unfortunately, this attitude places an increased burden on the erstwhile CAD manager who believes that the CAD program could make a more significant contribution toward the firm's business and professional objectives.

In some firms, CAD technology is still viewed as an expensive "necessary evil" that has achieved only questionable financial results for the firm. The people who support the CAD efforts may likewise be seen as less important than other professional staff, on par with other types of administrative support personnel in the office. This is especially true in offices where upper management still thinks in terms of CAD operators and where senior professional staff members are not CAD users themselves. This may not be the norm in most places, but it still holds sway in some offices.

The answer to this perception is an educational effort to show senior management how CAD works best, the importance of training, the importance of standards and compliance, the benefits of discipline-specific applications or customization, and so forth. Perhaps you could organize a series of short training seminars for senior managers, or at least take advantage of every opportunity for one-on-one education as issues arise. I believe that sometimes CAD managers take the attitude that senior management is just uninformed and insensitive, and so they fail to take some responsibility and initiative toward improving the situation.

Prove your points

Multiple reasons may account for less-than- optimal CAD performance in an office, including lack of adequate investment in hardware and software resources, lack of user training and daily support, and difficulties caused by lack of standards compliance. Still, some firms are not fully committed to devoting additional resources to optimizing CAD use. In this environment, CAD managers can't simply talk about what they want; rather, you must develop sufficient data to show how what you want will improve the firm's bottom- line business and professional results. This places a burden on the CAD manager who has to devote extra time and effort to developing good arguments and presentations in an attempt to garner support, but it may also be the only way to achieve the needed results.

Pass on the problems

In some cases, no amount of persuasion can carry the day and change the attitude of senior management toward CAD support. You may need to acknowledge this fact and then decide whether the situation is tolerable or whether you should just move on. I've seen situations where moving on benefits everyone involved, including the firm, which is forced to deal with the issues once the person who was dealing with them leaves for greener pastures.

This has unfortunately all too often been the case with first- and second-generation CAD support people. They have been involved with an organization from the beginning to introduce and implement CAD, but become taken for granted through the process.

A bit of a crisis in an office may be required to force changes and help the next generation of CAD support people succeed. If this is your situation, you may just have to bite the bullet and leave it to your successor to move the organization forward.

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