CAD Manager's Newsletter #107 (May 27, 2004

26 May, 2004 By: Robert Green

When I speak at user events, one of the most frequently discussed topics is how to manage the deluge of files that a modern CAD-enabled business generates. Typically, questions focus on procedures or software packages that can assist in taming the filing problem. I often hear laments about how company management wants to use the Internet to manage remote offices, but is not willing to pay for the technology or communications infrastructure needed to do the job well.

For the next several issues I'll be tackling the topic of managing CAD files in all sorts of environments - large, small, Internet, local area, wide area, and so on. I'll pay particular attention to how to avoid common mistakes and how CAD managers can enhance their careers in the process.

Many CAD managers I talk to say that their management doesn't see the need to worry about file management technologies or procedures because it perceives that things are working fine as is. This "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mindset is frequently held by management precisely because the CAD manager has kept disaster at bay through constant oversight and management. You can see why management doesn't feel a sense of urgency so long as you're able to keep things under control, right?

When management is blissfully unaware that managing the company's CAD files is a high-priority item, you should be very worried. Here's my reasoning:

Point 1: Management that isn't worried about managing CAD files doesn't understand how many work-hours are stored in each drawing and, therefore, how devastating it would be to lose track of them.

Point 2: If management doesn't understand what is at stake, it means, by definition, that you haven't explained the situation well enough. Many of you will respond with complete frustration and say that you've tried to explain the situation over and over. I feel your pain and will offer some suggestions for how to deal with the problem in the next section.

Point 3: If a large-scale loss of drawing data does happen and you haven't explained the situation to management in a detailed way, you can bet that your life will be miserable. At best, you'll be dealing with a lot of rework and time pressure. At worst, you may become the sacrificial lamb who gets blamed for the data loss.

Concerned yet? You should be.

You should now prepare a list of concerns to discuss with your management and frame the concerns in a way that will get attention. I'll suggest how to phrase some standard concerns I hear from CAD managers in a way that gets management to listen. I'll first list each concern in relatively generic terms, then provide a more specific and financially oriented way of expressing the concern.

My phrasing is written in a style that imagines you having a face-to-face meeting with management. My goal at all times is to convey urgency and to depoliticize the issues by focusing on the company's financial well-being.

Concern #1: We've got to get organized and follow some CAD file management procedures around here!

Suggested phrasing: Right now we have 10 CAD designers storing files in 10 different ways. We've got people sending files via e-mail with no real record of who has the latest versions. We've got designers storing huge numbers of drawings on their own personal hard drives that are never backed up. These drawings are at serious risk of deletion due to hardware failure or user error. The financial risk we're taking by not controlling our CAD files is enormous, and I feel strongly that it's my job to bring it to your attention.

Concern #2: I'm responsible for managing this mess, but I don't have the authority to make anyone follow procedures. What's the point of having procedures if people don't follow them?

Suggested phrasing: I realize that as CAD manager I can't control all our project teams, and I'll never be able to force everyone to follow procedures unless the full management team supports me. I'm trying to lower our risk of data loss and really need help getting this issue on everyone's radar screen. Can you please assist me by insisting that we devise standard filing practices and that everyone follow them? Your support is crucial to us lowering our risk.

Concern #3: Everyone wants to implement Internet file management, but I can't even get them to manage our files here. How in the world can I be expected to create a working Internet filing scheme when I have no standard to base it on?

Suggested phrasing: As we do more and more work with remote customers, vendors, and subcontractors, we're going to need an Internet file management strategy. I need some help making people understand that we can descend into anarchy quickly if we start sending files to outside parties without some formal control. My specific concerns are that we'll get the wrong file version to someone or send an unapproved drawing somewhere and end up getting sued over it. We need to evaluate our risk in this area before we consider exposing our design data over the Internet.

Your task now is to create a list of issues related to file management that you need to talk to your management about. Phrase them in a management-savvy way as I've done above. Give this list some serious thought and write everything down so you'll become more comfortable with the approach.

As you create your list, try to remain focused on the financial aspect of file management and how it affects your company. Believe me when I say that nothing gets management's attention like saving money and lowering risk.

In the next issue of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll continue discussion of CAD file management by looking at some low-cost ways to handle common problems. Along the way, I'll pass along tips for communicating with management and getting users to work with you on solving file management problems. Until then.