Managing Multioffice Mayhem (CAD Manager Column)

31 Jul, 2008 By: Robert Green

Listen to and actively support your remote CAD users.

It seems that companies are covering more area through branch offices and remote project teams than ever before. These remotely located workers allow companies to be in many places at once, but they also mean that the CAD management burden is spread over a larger and harder-to-manage area — potentially leading to multioffice mayhem.

I've found that CAD management in a multioffice environment is substantially tougher than managing a single office. In this month's "CAD Manager" column, I'll give you some helpful tips about recognizing where problems lie and strategies you can use to deal with them. Here goes.

Listening Remotely

I've come to believe that the simple act of listening to users, project managers, and everyone else affected by CAD is the best thing I can do as a CAD manager. The problem in multioffice environments is that I can't walk around the office and casually speak with CAD users as I would in my own building. And because I can't converse with users easily, I also can't listen as much and, therefore, more problems can build up without me knowing about them. When you listen, you can identify a potential problem and work to prevent it, which is always better than solving a problem after it pops up, right?

 Multioffice Management Tools
Multioffice Management Tools

If you can't always listen in person, what are your options? Here are a couple of techniques that seem to work:

Chat weekly by phone. Rather than speaking to users only when problems have popped up, talk to users at regular intervals to head off problems. I find that a weekly phone chat at a fixed time becomes something users can look forward to for venting concerns and voicing suggestions. Pick a time that works for your users, reserve a room, turn on the speakerphone, and talk through the issues every week. I bet you'll spend less than 30 minutes a week doing this, and you will gain a great deal of information and goodwill.

Document the issues. To document the results of your weekly chats, create a spreadsheet that lists all issues discussed, action items, and responsible parties. This list assures you that all have had their say, that you heard them, and that you're actively tracking progress. And, you can share the spreadsheet with the remote-office management team via a corporate network or e-mail to update them as well.

Plan More, React Less

CAD managers frequently operate in crisis-management mode. Some crises can't be avoided, but many could be with better planning, right? This is even more true — and in some cases, critical — when you're managing multiple offices. Realizing the following things about remote office planning has helped me tremendously:

Remote means time lag. When working in a remote-office environment, it always takes longer to make things happen than when working in one building simply because of communication lags. If you expect things to move as quickly when coordinating work with a remote office, you'll be disappointed, so it's crucial that you adjust schedules accordingly. My general rule is to allow an extra day of communication time for every round of e-mails or phone calls required to coordinate a project.

Things will go wrong more often. Lack of communication also means less chance to review work in progress, and that means errors and surprises. Don't schedule remote tasks as tightly as you would those in your own office so you leave enough time to deal with the mistakes that are sure to pop up.

Remote Support

Of course, the single most noticeable difference between a remote user and a user sitting next to you is that you can't see what the remote user is doing at any given time. And when you can't see what he or she is doing, support becomes much tougher. To make the task of remote support easier, I offer the following recommendations and tools for your consideration:

Remote desktop support. The ability to see a remote user's machine can be a critical tool in debugging problems. Consider using tools such as LogMeIn (see "Multioffice Management Tools") to connect directly to remote user's machines when you need to provide support.

Video capture technology. If your IT department won't let you use remote desktop-support technology because of security or firewall limitations, the next best thing is to have remote users create video captures using tools such as Camtasia Studio (see "Multioffice Management Tools") and then e-mailing the video to you. Video capture isn't as good as remote desktop support, but it is a lot better than guessing.

Use Remote Power Users

Let's face it, sometimes you can't be at the remote office, and remote support doesn't always solve the problems. Your best line of defense in these situations is the motivated power user who is willing to help perform CAD management duties in a pinch. To find these power users and get them on board, I offer a few recommendations:

Put out the call. Send communications to all your CAD users in each office asking who would be willing to assist with CAD management and support functions at his or her office. Stress that this position would be minimally demanding of their time and that you won't cause project delays for work teams at the remote office. You'll never know who will step up and help if you don't ask.

Give a reward. If someone is willing to help you at a remote office, reward him or her with a professional benefit such as educational materials, a couple of paid training days per year from your budget (if you can swing it), or an gift certificate. Even a small token is a reminder of how much you value your remote power users.

Perform quarterly reviews. Once a quarter, hold a telephone conference with your remote power users to get their ideas for how things can be done better. I often find that the remote perspective can be different from my perspective — often better.

IT Coordination

If you work in a company with a centralized IT department, consider that it has the same remote office management problems you do, except with computers and networks instead of CAD. Try to see if you and your IT department can work together to solve common problems to achieve greater efficiency. Here are a few ideas:

Task sharing. If you're going to the Anaheim office to do some CAD training and the IT department needs to swap out a backup system, see if you can help to save IT a trip and the Anaheim users the frustration of the swap out. Conversely, if you need to swap out some monitors on a few CAD stations in Chicago, maybe an IT representative will be there before you and could assist. Task sharing takes a little time and goodwill to initiate, but it pays big dividends in terms of more immediate support for remote users.

Remote support. Your ability to support remote users is largely a function of network- or Internet-based tools for remote desktop support and server file management, and these functions are facilitated by your IT department. You need to make sure IT understands your support needs and assists you with deploying the tools you need to do your job — but they'll only know about your needs if you tell them.

Summing Up

I hope I've been able to raise your awareness of the issues that you'll need to deal with in a multioffice CAD environment, and that you'll take time to consider some of the tools I've brought to your attention. When your top priorities are communicating with and actively supporting your remote users, you're well on your way to effective CAD management in a multioffice environment. Until next month.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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