CAD Manager Survey Update, Part 2

10 Mar, 2009

Even when business is bad, take a proactive approach to make sure you're using your staffing and resources to their maximum potential.

In the last issue of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I presented my initial findings for the CAD Manager Survey Update. If you haven't had a chance to read the last issue, you may want to do so now to have proper context for this issue. Here I'll offer some additional recommendations for CAD managers based on some expanded survey analysis. Here goes.

Low Project Loads Change Business
Several of the survey results pointed to roughly a 60:40 percent ratio between companies having problems and not having problems, respectively. Because the ratio was similar for those having layoffs, those no longer purchasing new hardware, and those no longer purchasing new software, I tend to believe that more companies are having troubles than not.

For those of us in the 60% of companies that are having problems, I'd like to point out that working in a company doing poorly is a completely different experience from the heady experience of working in a growing startup -- I know; I've worked in both environments. My point is that when your company is struggling, the work culture changes noticeably and you must adapt to that change to remain effective. No, you're not imagining it: How you work really does change as business gets tougher.

When New Work Arrives
When your company is low on work, every new project obtained will have to be done on time, on budget, and to the complete satisfaction of your clients. After all, there's no shortage of companies out there who would love to have your company's projects.

So what can the CAD manager to do make sure the project goes well? Consider these action items:

Coordinate the standards up front. Nothing bogs down a project like misunderstood or missing CAD standards as the project nears submission deadlines. There's no excuse for not having your standards in a good state of repair now so your project will run better later.

Work with your clients as needed. If your client will dictate CAD standards or work processes to you, make sure to coordinate and clarify in a friendly and helpful way. Strive to take a cooperative tone and never be confrontational. Clients are like gold in a down market, and they deserve to be treated as such.

Hold kickoff meetings. After your standards are properly set up, make sure to communicate how those standards will be used on the project via good, old-fashioned kickoff meetings. The classic excuse for skipping kickoff meetings is, "We're too busy to have meetings." No excuses!

Optimize Your Hardware
If your company isn't purchasing any new computers, do everything you can to get the computers you do have in the hands of those who can best use them. How can CAD managers help achieve this goal? How about:

Repurpose executive computers. Do you have CAD users with four-year-old machines while top executives who travel three days a week have a brand new, high-power machine? If so, make the argument that the high-power machine would be better utilized by a full-time CAD user. Don't be bashful to bring up this topic because you're helping the company when you do.

Refresh old machines. I usually reinstall operating systems on older machines when they go to a new user. I find reformatting and reinstalling works better (and is more reliable) than registry-cleaning tools and there's no denying how much better a machine runs after all that old software is stripped.

Add RAM. Even if you have to pull older RAM modules to replace them with higher-density modules, RAM is cheap and it really does help I/O intensive software such as CAD run better.

Of course there's nothing like getting a brand new, high-powered workstation for everybody, but if economics preclude it, keep your older gear working optimally for the right users and you'll stretch your hardware dollars without too much sacrifice.

Fine-Tune Your Software
Even if your company is still receiving software updates, you may not have the funding or staffing to deploy those updates in a down market. So if you're sticking with your current CAD release, how can you wring more productivity from that software? Try this:

Clean up. Get rid of the old blocks, the junk files, old plots/scans you don't use anymore, etc. You know a lot of this stuff is junk, so quit putting it off and get organized. (Hint: Burn everything to a DVD first, then when somebody complains that a file is missing you'll not only have a backup but you'll be able to identify why those old files are out there because you'll know who the owner is!)

Use a suggestion box to get ideas. Ask people to submit their ideas for making your software environment better. I've always been impressed with how many good ideas users will give you if you only ask.

Customize and automate. Use programming techniques to automate tasks that would otherwise be done manually, and you'll enable your minimal staff to get more done in fewer staff-hours.

Teach as you can. Make sure people know the right way to use software by training them as you can. Use lunch-and-learns, do show and tells, record your own training videos, and distribute them to users. Just because you don't have money to run a training program doesn't mean you can't still teach people!

In a market where work is scarce, these recommendations should make intuitive sense:

Learn more software. The more you know the greater your ability to compete in the market.

Learn more programming. Programming allows you to customize your CAD software to be even more efficient, thus making you more valuable.

Focus on efficiency. Anything you can do to make your company work better is a good thing.

Summing Up
I know the CAD Manager Survey Update has been a bit of a downer, as has nearly all other news linked to economics in recent months. I continue to believe, however, that understanding your market is your best defense against being blindsided by layoffs. I hope these recommendations help you adapt in a positive way to today’s working environment.

If you have any questions or suggestions please contact me via my web site at Until next time.