How Should You Spend Your CAD Management Time?25 Sep, 2018 By: Robert Green
CAD Manager Column: If you're like most CAD managers, you have lots of tasks on your plate — but what's the best way to prioritize them?
One question CAD managers frequently ask me is, “What should I be spending my time on?” This is a simple question, but — like many things in our profession — it has a multitude of answers, with varying degrees of complexity. I’ve always responded this way: “Spend your time on the things that make you more efficient, and avoid things that are overly difficult.” This always leads to a follow-up question: “How do I know which is which?”
In this edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll share my approach with you and introduce you to a chart you can create to help you understand your own workload better. Here goes.
Build a Task Radar Chart
It turns out that by dividing your workload into tasks and understanding a few metrics for each, you can gain insight into what you’re doing — and what you should be doing. My method is to consider which tasks I’m responsible for, how often each task is needed, and the complexity of each task.
The trick is trying to get all this information organized in a way that you can visualize it all. The best way I’ve found is to build a radar chart like the one below. You can use Excel to build your chart (scroll to the end of this article for detailed instructions), or just sketch it out by hand — but either way, do take some time to think about it.
A radar chart that illustrates the need and the complexity of several CAD management tasks.
What emerges is a pretty good picture of what your users need you to do, along with your estimate of how difficult each task is for you to perform, rated on a scale from 0 to 100. The blue (Need) line tends to indicate the time you’ll spend on each task, while the reddish line indicates how much effort you’ll expend.
The next challenge is interpreting this data, and planning how to prioritize your time to be the most efficient. Let’s start with software updates.
I think we can all agree that software updates represent a substantial amount of work and a high degree of difficulty (represented by a high red value on the radar chart). Happily, they don’t happen too often (as indicated by the low blue value), but they have a nasty way of forcing us to not only complete the update, but to deliver more training, more support, and alterations to our standards — the perfect storm of difficulty.
For these reasons, I’ve become much more skeptical of updating software, and always ask myself the following questions:
- Are we really gaining substantial productivity with this update?
- Will licensing and security remain the same with this update?
- Are the changes to the software interface minimal?
If I can’t answer “yes” to all these questions, then I may just skip the update. After all, if the update won’t make us substantially more productive and keep training and configuration time down, why install it at all? (We’ll touch upon these concepts again in a later section.)
Prioritizing tip: View software updates as the most disruptive and difficult task you have, and avoid them unless there are very compelling productivity reasons to update.
Heading clockwise around the radar chart, we encounter training. Training is a process that requires an ongoing effort, and therefore is needed with some degree of frequency (denoted by the high blue value on the chart). However, the process of training requires relatively little complexity for me, since I use the same tools and methods to train my users time after time (thus the low red value on the chart).
The conclusions I’ve drawn regarding training include the following:
- As long as I have good tools for creating handouts, videos, and lessons for users, I can create new training materials very easily.
- Polishing my training technique is largely a matter of doing the training – practice makes perfect.
- Training isn’t just for software updates; it is needed for standards updates and user support as well (more on that later).
- If you ignore training, you’ll pay the price in increased support time.
Prioritizing tip: Once you get your training process down pat, it is very easy to do more training, whether it be in person or via written/video methods. Since users seem to always do better — and make fewer errors — when they are trained properly, you should probably be spending more time training than you expect.
Standardizing your software procedures is something that typically happens in sporadic bursts followed by periods of stability (thus the medium blue value on the chart). However, creating new standards is usually a reaction to software updates or broken processes, so the complexity can be somewhat higher than you might think (thus the medium red value on the chart). Therefore, the process of standardizing CAD tools is more demanding than most users would suspect.
The conclusions I’ve drawn regarding standardization include the following:
- Standardization must coincide with training, because users only follow a standard that they understand (i.e., have been trained on).
- Standardization can be used to fix common user errors, since the new standard shows users how to avoid making the same mistakes — thereby driving down errors and support requirements.
- Standardization combined with training is the key to achieving optimal software efficiency.
- Well-standardized older software almost always beats non-standardized newer software for total productivity.
Prioritizing tip: While standardizing may not be the easiest thing you do, when combined with training it is probably the best thing you can do, from a productivity perspective.
User Software/Hardware Support
User software support is a need that is always in demand, yet doesn’t really require a lot other than time (thus the high blue and low red values on the chart). Hardware support happens less often, and may not even be in your job description, but it is essentially the same problem as software support.
When it comes to support, I’ve concluded that the following elements are essential:
- Find the best way for users to contact you (e-mail, support ticket, phone, etc.) and stick to it.
- Let everyone know that you prioritize requests based on how severely the problem impedes productivity. In other words, the first request you receive won’t always the first one you act on.
- Find the best method for keeping users informed of their request status, so they won’t feel they’ve been forgotten.
Prioritizing tip: Get your user support methodologies in place and become comfortable with them, then stick with those methods. Spend the necessary amount of time to keep your users productive — not more, not less.
Project management, like training, is a process that requires an ongoing effort and is therefore needed with some degree of frequency (see the high blue value on the chart), but it doesn’t require much process change, because interactions with project management staff tend to stay the same (explaining the low red value on the chart). To the extent that I must become involved with project management teams, it seems the following issues are the most likely to be encountered:
- Defining any standards or processes that must be followed for new projects.
- Making sure project managers and others understand the urgency of dealing with these issues before the project starts.
- Conducting project kickoff meetings and training sessions as required to ensure success.
What jumps off the page when I read through these project management requirements is just how closely related they are to the CAD management tasks of training, standardization, and support. In a very real sense, your ability to manage projects will be determined by how effective you are in optimizing the user experience in these three areas.
Prioritizing tip: Spend the time required to really think about how standards and training will be used to make projects run more smoothly, more quickly, and with fewer errors. By using your skills in a proactive way, you can achieve better project results and reduce the amount of user support required at the same time.
Now that we’ve been around the radar chart, we arrive back at software updates and can look at the problem from a different viewpoint. At some point there will be software updates that we must perform, so let’s think about what we can do to reduce the complexity of the task:
- Understand the software well before installing it.
- Standardize the software thoroughly before installing it.
- Conduct training that uses standards as a basis for instruction.
- Ensure well-established support procedures are in place to handle problems.
Note that these tasks are all the things I’ve advised you to spend more time doing anyway! You may find that as you get better at all these tasks, software updates become a bit more manageable. Will software updates ever be easy? No. But can we make them somewhat less complex? Yes.
The conclusions I’ve come to are:
- The tasks I spend the most time on (training, support, and project management) have a low degree of complexity, so I don’t have to worry too much about them other than finding the time to do them.
- The better you perform low-complexity tasks (like training and support), the smoother the high-complexity tasks (such as software updates or standardization) will go, because training and support will be required for those too.
- Practice makes perfect and builds culture. If you standardize, train, and support your users in a consistent way, they’ll trust you — and that trust will make more complex changes easier to handle.
Prioritizing tip: If you master the basic tasks of support, training, and project management, it’ll pay dividends later when you must update software products and change standard procedures.
I hope you’ve found this analysis of how to understand your task load and allocate your time accordingly to be eye-opening. I implore you to create your own radar chart, and really think about what you do and where best to spend your time. Use my scenarios to start your own analysis, and to reprioritize how you approach your job. Until next time.
Create Your Own Radar Chart
You can create your own radar chart in Excel by creating your data fields and assigning your complexity and need values to each one in cells A1 to H3:
You then create the chart by choosing Insert Chart and selecting the Radar chart type. The data you entered will be in cells A1 to F3, as shown in the selection above. To fine-tune the chart, you can edit its color and text tags by double-clicking the chart and using the formatting tools in the ribbon.
Note that the example chart I’ve shown you is based on my own experience, and my estimated values of need and complexity; your mileage may vary.