Make Your Users Your Allies

23 Sep, 2020 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager Column: When you’re constantly correcting your users’ behavior, it can be hard to remember that you’re all on the same team — but finding ways to make users happier can result in a happier CAD manager too.

As CAD managers, many of us find ourselves responsible for controlling all manner of user behaviors. Whether it is imposing standards, conducting trainings, installing new tools and workflows, or interacting between departments, it all involves dealing with users. I don’t know about you, but I find these user interactions harder to manage than software by a long shot.

So, what is the easiest way to deal with user behaviors? I suggest that making users your allies is a great place to start, and that’s the topic of our discussion this time around. Here goes.


Examining User Interaction

Let’s start this conversation by asking some diagnostic questions. I’ll offer my take on each one, but I really want you to think of your own answers as well and contrast your experiences with mine. Let’s begin:

Can you make all your users happy all the time? No. Lord no. And even if you could make things work perfectly, there would always be those who would argue about how it worked perfectly. The more you push to make everyone happy, the more burned out you’ll become as you grudgingly come to realize it just can’t be done.

Can you strive to make most users happy most of the time? Yes — and you should. When you create a CAD work environment that most users enjoy working in, you’ll notice less arguing about standards, better productivity, and lower error rates — all things that you want anyway, right? And besides, if you make most users happy, then those who chronically complain will be seen as argumentative and non-productive.

Can you provide technical solutions to user problems that will enable the users to get their jobs done faster? Typically, yes. Simple customization, job-specific tools, templates, families, standard components, and automated procedures are just a few ways that you can leverage CAD technology to achieve time savings. And when users get done faster, that makes them happy! This method really shines when you create custom tools or workflows that solve common user problems. With problems eliminated and speedier workflows in place, why wouldn’t your users be happy?

Is it worth your while to try making your users happy? Yes. Because happy users get more done, and because a greater percentage of happy users means a happier CAD manager.

But shouldn’t users just do their jobs and follow the standards without question? In theory, yes. In reality, it never works that way, does it? It seems that that users will do whatever they think will get their work done faster, whether it conforms to standards and best practices or not. And that lack of adherence to standards makes me an unhappy CAD manager.

Take Action!

I’m hoping you’re now ready to work more with your users to make them happier and more productive — but how should you proceed? Try the following strategies, which have always helped me to win over users.

Be their advocate. Often, CAD users feel that the computing environment and CAD software they work in hinder them instead of helping them. Users often make comments like, “the management doesn’t know how messed up this is” or “these standards slow me down” or “this workstation is a piece of garbage” out of frustration. By becoming a CAD user advocate, you can carry user complaints to IT or project management teams where they can make a difference.

When users realize their CAD manager understands their concerns and will go to bat for them, things start to change. So instead of changing the subject when CAD users share their frustrations, you should be happy they are talking to you, because they are telling you how to increase user productivity — something senior management should like!

Listen and probe. When your users tell you about the frustrations or productivity barriers they face, listen to what they’re telling you. Then delve into the problem more thoroughly: Drill into their frustrations with questions so you’ll know what to do about it. Here’s an example conversation that illustrates what I mean:

User: I can’t ever find the project standards I need! Trying to get the right title frames, correct part-naming conventions, and standard symbology I need for the XYZ project we’re working on is driving me nuts! I wind up making up my own standards as I go along even though I know I’ll probably have to rework the project later.

You: Well, we have those standards on the network in the Q:\XYZ directory, so what’s causing the problem?

User: I know, but our project manager got together with the project manager from XYZ Corporation and decided that they would need to make alterations to our existing standards and put it in the contract. They’re so busy batting this all back and forth that I can’t get any real definition as to what I should be doing.

You: Aha! I need to set up a conference call with our internal staff and XYZ’s staff to delve into this. I’ll get you a revised standard as soon as I can get the call arranged!

In this case, we learned that a user who appears to be complaining about standards is actually upset about ill-defined project coordination. By finding the underlying problem, you were able to figure out that coordination was required to fix the issue. So, what seemed like a user standards violation at first was a problem that had been lingering for some while. Now you will be a hero to this user for fixing the problem — and he or she will be your ally for life.

Strive for simple. The noted computer scientist Dan Bricklin was quoted as saying, “Users aren’t stupid, they’re busy!” So, whenever you create a standard, modify a procedure, or install a new software tool, remember the three main rules of CAD management: 

  1. Make it easy
  2. Make it easy
  3. Make it easy.

Strive for convenience, simplicity, and ease of comprehension in everything you do, and your users will love you for it. Want to get your users to follow standards or project guidelines more closely? Make those standards and guidelines easy to read and follow.

Don’t understand how to make things easier? Ask your users, because chances are they’ll have some good ideas, if you’re patient enough to listen.

Remember yourself as a user. Remember that you weren’t always a CAD manager; you used to be a regular CAD user too. Remember how you felt when you first learned a concept and it confused you? How did you overcome the confusion, and what did you read/watch that enabled you to understand?

Tap into your memories as a user and communicate to other users with that same voice, and you’ll be well on your way to a user communication style that will be well received by all users, no matter what their skill level is. And believe me when I say that users always work better with me when I speak to them as a fellow user.

Summing Up

I realize that the concept of making users your allies is yet one more thing you need to worry about in your already busy day. But as I’ve dealt with all manner of users over the years, I’ve come to realize that if they don’t trust and respect me, I can’t achieve much as a CAD manager. But if I can prove that I’m making their CAD environment work faster and better while being a strong user advocate, there’s very little I can’t achieve.

I strongly recommend that you give a little thought to these concepts and think about how you can fit them into your daily routine. You may find that a small amount of change on your part can return a huge amount of results from your user community. And in the next installment, we’ll discuss how you can use your new allies to help you make things better without any extra effort on your part. Until then.


About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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