Manage the Review ProcessAnnual performance reviews can be an effective CAD management tool.

31 Jan, 2003 By: Michael Dakan

We often receive queries from CAD managers, especially young people or those new to the CAD manager role, about how they can learn about the people-management parts of their job. Internet newsgroups and forums feature a stream of complaints and grumbling about CAD management duties in environments where managers have the responsibility to improve CAD performance without the authority needed to get CAD users to pay attention to standards and procedures.

College-level classes in management techniques may be available locally, and many business books address people-management topics, but often these skills come simply through hard-won experience. You gain management skills with time and hands-on experience solving problems and handling people issues as they arise.

A new CAD manager, or one whose authority doesn't match responsibilities, is well advised to look for opportunities to participate in management discussions and procedures. One such opportunity may be your organization's annual performance reviews.

Annual reviews are usually timed to coincide with a company's fiscal year-end, which is often the calendar year-end. Though the 2002

An annual review, especially when it influences continued employment and compensation, needs to be kept professional and confidential.
review period is just past, it's not too early to start thinking about and preparing for 2003 reviews. In some firms, the annual performance review is strictly compensation related. It's the time when raises are handed out, or excuses given about why raises are so slim. But in other firms, the annual review is conducted more as a career-development event that covers an employee's career growth as well as compensation.

If your firm does a thorough annual review that includes employee performance and goal-setting for the coming year, you should try to participate on a formal basis for those aspects of performance with which you are directly involved.

If you don't participate in a formal review but perhaps are consulted informally about how employees are doing with CAD-related issues, you could propose setting up a separate CAD performance review process that can be integrated with the rest of the annual review.

A formal review should be based on specific criteria and objectives that are important to your firm's CAD performance. The criteria may

A new CAD manager is well advised to look for opportunities to participate in management discussions and procedures.
change from time to time, depending on what is going on with CAD use, what the CAD manager is trying to introduce or improve upon, and the problems that people may be having with CAD. But to the extent possible, the formal review must be based on well-defined and well-understood criteria, not just generalities. In setting up a CAD performance review process, you should prepare a list of those things that are important to the firm. Such a list might include the following:

Standards compliance. Most CAD managers would probably put this close to the top of the list.

Procedures compliance. How well does the employee follow established procedures regarding how CAD software is used, file management and security, and so forth?

Budget compliance. How well were CAD hourly budgets met, to the extent that CAD hours may not be easily separated from other professional hours expended?

Willingness to learn. CAD use involves a constant process of learning about software use and procedures and applying the learning to new situations.

Acceptance and use of new software. How willing is the employee to work with new and improved versions of software and new software tools that are put in place?

Effective use of time. Does the employee use work time efficiently and not waste a lot of time on nonproductive tasks?

Other. There are many possibilities for ordering and prioritizing review criteria, and the list may change depending on shifting priorities and problems that arise.


The annual performance review usually involves meeting with the employee's immediate supervisor or a firm principal. You should schedule a separate CAD performance review meeting in advance of the general review meeting so that the results can be reviewed and incorporated into the regular review to whatever extent is appropriate.

You need to prepare thoroughly for a CAD performance review meeting with written notes and observations that you keep throughout the

Top performers might be asked to help with some CAD management tasks.
year and incorporate into a meeting agenda for each person reviewed. Keep in mind that an annual review, especially when it influences continued employment and compensation, is a serious business and needs to be kept professional and confidential. If you have human resource personnel available to you, it's a good idea to ask for guidance on how to conduct your review and meetings. Even though you probably won't be directly involved with setting salaries, if the results of your CAD review can be seen as affecting salaries of individuals, it needs to done properly and in accordance with employment laws and regulations.

If your firm doesn't have a separate human resources department, it's important to work with a principal who normally deals with employment policies and issues to make sure you proceed in line with the firm's policies.

Though your meeting agenda for each person will probably follow a similar format that addresses each item of the review criteria, you can customize agendas as needed to cover items of particular importance for each person. Make sure that you don't just concentrate on areas that need improvement-be sure to talk about strengths as well. This is a good time to acknowledge a solid contribution or pass out thanks for cooperation in implementing new software or procedures.

If someone has been quick to pick up on a new procedure or tool, you may want to recruit him or her to help get other CAD users up to speed. Top performers might be asked to help with some CAD management tasks. If someone express a willingness to take on extra mentoring or special projects, make sure you acknowledge this in any follow-up notes or reports, even if you may not have a specific task in mind yet.

For those areas of an employee's CAD work that need improvement, it's important to get agreement about what areas are lacking, and then at least outline a general plan to work toward improvements. To the extent possible, set specific goals for the upcoming year. Outline steps necessary to achieve improvements, get agreement to and "buy-in" for the goals, and document them in a written follow-up to the meeting for reference during the upcoming year.


Make the CAD review process an opportunity for feedback about how well you and your department are addressing the needs of the staff who use CAD. Solicit feedback on what CAD users need from CAD management and suggestions about how things could be made better. Go over plans for the upcoming year and ask for help in prioritizing improvements and revised procedures. Whether it's additional training, more timely daily support, new and upgraded equipment, or additional tools and customization, any feedback you can get is valuable information that can help you do a better job. It may also help when you discuss plans and budget needs for the upcoming year with your superiors.

People will respond better to your suggestions for improvements if they believe that you listen to their problems and will help them deal with the impediments they face in trying to do a better job.


As you might imagine, doing a good job with performance reviews can be a formidable task. It takes a lot of time to do well, especially if you have more than a few people to review. But the time spent on a formal, once-a-year process can pay dividends throughout the year in the form of improved cooperation and status within the firm, both from the employees who you are charged with reviewing and from your superiors in the firm.

If your firm doesn't have a smoothly running formal CAD review process in place, be sure that you want to do it before you propose such

Any feedback you can get is valuable information that can help you do a better job.
a project to firm management. If you aren't sure that you're ready to take it on or that you can devote sufficient time to do a proper job, you might want to devise a less ambitious program to start with. You might begin with simple reports to firm management about CAD use and problems and build a program from there.

You also may not get immediate support from firm management for the idea of setting up a CAD performance review. Firm management may not see the need for it, or they may resist the idea of your being involved with whatever performance reviews are currently being conducted. If you don't succeed on the first try, perhaps you need to do a little education about the importance of CAD-related activities and how they affect the firm's bottom-line efficiency and profitability.

Management may not feel that you are ready to take on more responsibilities in firm management, but by simply showing an interest in people management and the willingness to sell your ideas on the subject, you may go a long ways toward convincing senior management to view your efforts in a different light.

One problem a CAD manager must often overcome is the perception that you are a geek who's only interested in technical stuff and computers. Anything you can do to demonstrate an interest in participating in a wider range of management issues can be effort well expended.