New Year, Old-School CAD Management Wisdom

8 Jan, 2019 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager Column: When it comes to making smart CAD management decisions, there’s much to be learned from looking to the past.

Over the holiday break, I spent some time looking in the rearview mirror at my early CAD management days. And as I thought back to that era when software was primitive, computers were expensive, and nobody (including myself) much knew what they were doing, I realized that something has been lost in modern CAD management: The concept that software should serve us more than we serve it.

These days, we’re so busy managing commoditized computers, tablets, phones, user portals, and the never-ending wave of apps that we spend all our time on websites feeding the machines rather than asking what the machines should be doing for us. In this edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll focus on getting back to the core of what CAD management should be, and pass along some old-school CAD management truisms that still apply today. Here goes.

Image by everettovrk /

The Mission: Production and Efficiency

In the old days of CAD management, the expectation from users and managers alike was that CAD tools should run efficiently, and that the CAD manager was the person to make that happen. This push for efficiency led to the following basic job requirements for CAD managers:

Get projects done. CAD and building information modeling (BIM) tools are cool to work with, but our companies don’t pay us to play with fun toys — they pay us to get projects done quickly and profitably. So, while CAD managers may spend time learning about new tools and technologies, the only real reason to do so is to support faster project completions.

Manage technology to meet deadlines. If your company has a choice between a low-tech solution — perhaps an older or less-sophisticated software tool or process — that always meets deadlines, and a high-tech, cutting-edge option that’s unreliable and misses deadlines, they’ll take the low-tech alternative every time. CAD managers who’ve been successful over the long haul understand this. Don’t believe me? Ask your boss.

Create standards that work automatically. What’s the best standard to use? The one you don’t know you’re using! From low-tech standardization techniques (such as block libraries or object families) to complex task automation, the best standardization is something that is so easy to use that users don’t think about it. Why beat your head against the wall teaching someone to do something manually when you could make the problem go away with standards?

Build a custom environment. An environment that maximizes productivity for users in your company’s real-world project environment. CAD is not one-size-fits-all; for it to be truly effective, we must tweak our CAD tools to support our needs.

Adapt tools to users, rather than adapting users to tools. What’s easier: applying some programming to make CAD work in harmony with current methods, or training people to change the way they work? Human nature is much harder to change than programming code.

Note that every one of these requirements is focused on making CAD tools as productive and easy to use as possible, so that work can be completed quickly. In a very real sense, CAD management came of age because somebody had to make all the CAD tools work well together; all these years later, that core mission hasn’t changed.

Keep What Works

If we believe that our main task is to make sure CAD works well, then it stands to reason that whatever works well should be left alone. Whether you have a 6-year-old utility program, a 2-year-old CAD software platform, or some custom standards that have been serving you well for 15 years, the bottom line is that if what you have works, don’t be in a rush to change it.

Of course, many things that perform well could be optimized to work better — and that is always my goal. But my first instinct with anything that’s currently working is to leave it alone (at least until something demonstrably better comes along to replace it).

Replace What Doesn’t Work

On the other hand, if you’re dealing with software applications, hardware, or any other component of your CAD environment that messes up repeatedly, get rid of it or overhaul/fix it right away. My motto is that which does not help us, hinders us.

It doesn’t matter if a piece of software is the latest and greatest if it doesn’t work for you! If anything in your environment costs you time rather than saving it, get rid of it and figure out a better way.

Drop Anything Nonstandard

Do you have software applications that users mess around with but aren’t part of production? Is anyone using an app on a phone or iPad that causes you grief? Do you have users who seem to revel in trying software utilities that you have to fix?

These are all examples of nonstandard solutions that are costing you time, not saving it. These types of programs should not be supported — and ideally, they should be banned.

Reject Complexity

If you think something is complicated, your users certainly will. If you find a software tool hard to use, they will too. Complexity costs money because it slows users down.

Don’t implement methods or tools that are needlessly complex, and you’ll save tons of time. And, as we all know, time is money.

Let Nothing be Sacred

No computer, software application, or work method should be viewed as untouchable. By freeing yourself to think in terms of what works, what doesn’t, and what could work better you’ll select the best tools for the work your users need to do.

As the Customer, You’re the Boss

You’re not in business to serve the software companies, you’re in business to complete projects — and the software companies should support you in doing so. Remember that when you put your budgets together.

Summing Up

The more I’ve seen software and IT technology change, the more I’ve come to realize that software and computers are used by people, and people haven’t really changed. It turns out that those CAD managers who embrace making CAD work efficiently while getting projects done quickly and profitably are always secure in their positions while others might struggle.

Why not take some time to think about these old-school approaches to CAD management and see how you could integrate them into your current CAD management repertoire? And let me know what you think.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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