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Lack of Authority Still Vexes CAD Managers

11 Sep, 2019 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager Column: Feedback shows that senior management continues to need help in understanding the value of CAD standards.


I periodically post a series of questions on my various social media outlets asking what CAD managers find most difficult about their jobs, then wait a while to see if a consensus forms. This time around, the number one problem that CAD managers cite is — once again — lack of authority to do their job.

What hasn’t changed is that senior management doesn’t know what we do, so it is up to us to explain ourselves. Yet, there were a few interesting new wrinkles in the comments I received this year, which I’ll address. My goal for this newsletter is to give you strategies you can use to gain authority over time. Here goes.

Why Don’t They Get It?

I’m constantly asked questions like, “Why doesn’t senior management understand what I do?” or “Why don’t they just let me enforce the standards?” Here’s the answer:

Because you’re doing such a good job that they don’t have to!

Senior management is in the business of dealing with problems. And from their perspective, if the CAD work is going out the door, there must not be a problem! So the harder you work to overcome the problems you have, the more management thinks that everything’s fine.

This is a hard pill to swallow for a CAD manager who’s working 50 or 60 hours a week, but I promise you it is true. Now if the CAD work stopped going out the door, management would start paying a huge amount of attention to the problem. But as a CAD manager, I can’t afford to miss deadlines, so we’re now faced with this conundrum: How can you make the boss understand your problems without messing up a project?

Standards Are the Answer

One of the most common complaints I receive about a lack of understanding on the part of senior management revolves around the standards process — and the lack of enforcement authority. I hear these comments all the time:

  • "Management lets our engineers violate the standards all the time — why do I even bother?"
  • "Doesn’t management understand that standards make projects work better?"

Let’s now ask a couple of related questions:

Q. Do the two questions above reflect standards problems or senior management problems?
A. Senior management problems, without a doubt!

Q. Who is going to educate senior management on the value of enforcing standards?
A. The CAD manager and nobody else! In fact, users may even argue against standards!

You already have the standards, it is just that senior management doesn’t understand the value of them, right? So it’s your responsibility to make your bosses see that standards are in their best (financial) interest, and that they really should help you enforce them, which brings us neatly to our next topic.

Frame the Issue Clearly and Financially

Let’s say you’re trying to explain to your boss why it is so critical that people follow your project filing standards. Here are two options for how you can explain the problem:

Option 1: When people create their own filing standards, we find that our publishing scripts for compiling collated PDF file sets fail, and that relative pathing options we set up for branch offices also fail. Not to mention that multiple filing structures stress our WAN with additional bandwidth burden that slows the throughput of our entire network.

Option 2: When people don’t follow our filing standards, we spend all kinds of man-hours fixing the printing mistakes, and sometimes send the wrong file sets to clients. As a bonus it slows down everybody else’s email, so IT must spend more hours on support. Not following standards costs us money!

Which option do you think will get your boss’ attention? Which option is more likely to get the boss to come down on violators? The bottom line is that the bottom line rules. The only reason management cares about technology is if it can save them money — but they need to understand it all first.

This brings me to the most powerful thing any CAD manager can do to get senior management on their side.

Un-Geek How You Speak!

In the scenario above, I explained the same problem in two ways. The first option was loaded with so much “geek speak” (technical jargon) that many CAD users may not even follow it, so how could you expect a senior manager — who doesn’t do CAD — to follow the conversation? The second option neatly summarized the connection between standards and support/rework costs, which every senior manager understands. Here are some tips you can use to un-geek the way you speak to your senior management:

Show that you issue instructions, but they aren’t followed. Help your boss see that you understand the problem and have a solution, but that users are ignoring you.

Stress how reasonable the standard is. Say something like, “We’re not telling anybody how to design a building here, or killing their creativity. We’re just asking them to store their files in standardized project directories — this isn’t complicated.”

Imply stubbornness. After you’ve explained that you have easy-to-use standards that are perfectly reasonable, your boss will figure out that people are being simply being stubborn in not following them.

Close the argument with cost. Repeat after me: Time = Money. If your boss sees that improper filing and PDF procedures cost $500 per project in rework, for example, they will immediately use their authority to start enforcing standards because, well, time equals money (plug in the problems and costs you experience in your office). And as the old adage goes, “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

This plain-language approach to explaining your problem, backed with financial metrics, is the only way I’ve ever found to get senior management on my side. The reality is that most senior management teams I talk to don’t know much about technology (nor do they care to), so I don’t talk much about it. What senior managers do care about is getting work done at the lowest cost possible — therefore, my “time is money” and “savings centric” approach makes sense to them.

The Underlying Theme

Of course there are many other problems you deal with besides standards, so how do you tackle those? By using the same approach as you did for standards!

Every CAD management issue — from purchasing hardware, to implementing new software, to training users — can be much better communicated using the un-geek and financial/savings methodology of explaining what you’re doing to your bosses.

Over a period of months, you’ll find that they will learn a lot about CAD management, even though they never set out to do so. Here are a few more methods I’ve used to build an educational rapport with senior management staffs:

Weekly reporting. Provide a one-page report of what happened in the past week in diary form, being sure to note violations of standards or cases where you were undermined and the resulting costs for support or rework.

Training justifications. A brief synopsis of what you need to teach CAD users, and the time savings that can be reaped by having users that make fewer errors. This type of conversation uses the “time is money” argument logically adapted for training.

Budget involvement. Weigh in on departmental budgets by focusing on solving time-wasting problems. Don’t say, “We want new computers”; instead, explain that “Upgraded workstations will allow us to complete a typical project 20 hours faster, which equals $1,000 in savings at our user labor rates.” (Obviously your numbers will vary, but the financial approach will not.)

If your boss receives a regular stream of communication from you that illustrates the financial benefit of CAD management, he or she will eventually come to value you and what you do.

Summing Up

I hope this has helped you understand how you can educate your boss about CAD management via jargon-free, financially focused dialogue. So put on your financial hat and start evangelizing the value of what you do to your boss. And above all else, realize that nobody else will explain CAD management to your boss — you have to do it, or it won’t happen!


About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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