CAD Manager's Newsletter #122

9 Feb, 2005 By: Robert Green

CAD Management Action Plan, Part 2

Chart your course now to help ensure a successful 2005

In the last edition of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I began my action plan for the new year by examining the following CAD management activities:

  • Creation/modification of a budget

  • Creation/delivery of a training program

  • Staff development and evaluation

In this edition, I'll complete the action plan by picking up where we left off, covering the following activities:
  • File/data management concerns

  • Evaluation and deployment of software upgrades

  • Upkeep/modernization of CAD-related hardware

  • Normal technical and production-related support tasks

  • Minimizing or eliminating last-minute crises through planning

File/Data Management Concerns
What good is doing a great job of CAD management if the data your users produce is stored in a haphazard way? Does anything make you cringe as much as thinking about a bunch of project files being deleted, or not running a backup process? If you're like me, these sorts of concerns can keep you awake at night.

I'm calling this topic file/data management because I want to address the core issue of being able to find information reliably and not have it disappear. I'm not necessarily trying to make you go out and invest big bucks in document or data management software systems (though they can certainly make sense in large, distributed environments). I'm just trying to get you thinking about how you manage your files and your data.

Here are a few suggestions for making sure your file/data management concerns are addressed:

  • Think about the weak areas of your file management, whether it's deficiencies in hardware, software or user procedures, and make a list of them. Don't worry about offending anyone; be bluntly honest in your assessment.
  • Think about the worst-case financial impact that could occur if the perfect storm of file loss happened based on your list above. Now you have the impact of file/data loss in dollars that you can take to your management.
  • Carefully write up a list of your concerns and the possible financial impact on the company in a way that isn't sensational or judgmental. The goal is to have a one-page overview of existing problems and liabilities that your management can read very quickly.
  • Now route this document to your management, department heads, project managers and anyone else who could be adversely affected by bad file/data management.
  • Now stand back and watch the conversation on file/data management come to a head.

By pointing out potential problems, you'll certainly raise awareness and focus attention on the financial impact of data loss, which is the correct place to focus. I will point out that your list of concerns and financial impacts should be thought through carefully and well written so that you'll be able to stand behind it.

It takes some fortitude to blow the whistle on bad file/data management practices, but would you rather take some heat now or a lot of heat later after the disaster hits? I've learned from real-world experience that when a major loss of data occurs, the CAD manager will be called upon to explain why, so you might as well start making your case before the worst happens.

Evaluation and Deployment of Software Upgrades
Will you install software upgrades this year? If so, why? Are you certain that upgrading your CAD software will lead to higher productivity for your company? Can you effectively explain and defend your decision to pursue upgrades to senior staff and management? These are the sorts of questions you should be asking yourself now to make good decisions about upgrading later this year.

I know that many companies now receive upgraded software via subscription agreements, but just because you have the software doesn't mean you'll install it, right? Believe me when I say that your management wants to know why it should support the installation of new software releases even if they're already paid for. I've found that treating software upgrades as a business decision based on new features and increased productivity is always in fashion.

Upkeep/Modernization of CAD-Related Hardware
Are you in line for new computers or network gear this year or are you trying to get approval for these sorts of upgrades? If so, you'll need a clear plan of attack for who will get upgraded, when, and how to accomplish the switch with minimal disruption to the entire organization. Are you confident that you can pull off a major machinery upgrade without any hassles? Why not run through this checklist to see if you've thought things through clearly:

  • Be sure your existing software works with the new operating systems and service packs that the new machines will run. Recent train wrecks with Windows XP Service Pack 2 should serve to illustrate my point.
  • Be sure that older plotters/printers, which may use specific operating system drivers, can still be supported on new operating systems.
  • Ask your computer department if any sort of new network switch gear will be installed when the hardware is updated. If so, ask if they'll be changing subnetting or any other sort of routing that could affect utilities such as software license managers. I've had more than one older AutoCAD installation stop working when new network gear was implemented.
  • Resist the urge to upgrade everything at one time, even though it might seem to make sense. I'd much rather install new hardware using my current software environment so I can debug the hardware absent any software problems.

It's always the one question you didn't ask that will bite you on hardware upgrades, so keep asking questions, do the test installations and turn over every rock you can think of to ensure your CAD environment won't suffer an unforeseen problem when your hardware is updated.

Normal Technical and Production-Related Support Tasks
No surprises here, just the basic technical and production-related support that people have come to expect from their CAD manager. Here are some things to think about, though:

  • Can you start to make repetitive questions and problems go away through use of handouts or short training sessions? After all, if you're getting asked the same thing over and over, it must mean people don't understand very well and need better guidance.
  • Can you cross-train power users in your organization to help you with common problems such as printer jams, toner changes, jammed network queues and the like? By having someone other than yourself to help out in a pinch, you'll head off problems faster and prevent huge disasters should you be out of the office when a problem strikes.
  • Can you better gather scheduling information so you'll know when production deadlines are looming, and be ready? I continue to be amazed at how many "surprise" deadlines arise in CAD managers' daily itineraries, even when key players know how important CAD support will be when crunch time hits.

Note that I've stressed having a more involved staff, better dissemination of information and a more proactive approach to sniffing out problems before they happen. I know it's easier to say than do all of these things, but if you start thinking more now about how to handle ordinary support, you may be surprised that it gets easier and less stressful as you gain control over more of the unknown variables in the support equation.

Minimizing or Eliminating Last-Minute Crises
Every year I've spent as a CAD manager, I've always promised myself that I'd do whatever I could to eliminate last-minute crises. The only thing I've found that cuts down on the firefighter mentality is being as organized and proactive as possible about planning my work environment.

I believe that if you take the time to follow my CAD action plan, you'll substantially reduce the amount of emergency support work you do. And any time you think, "I hate all this planning and forecasting stuff," just remember that the more you plan and forecast, the less you'll be surprised.

Wrapping Up
I hope you feel energized and ready to attack 2005 with a fresh, proactive approach to CAD management. I look forward to hearing from you and encourage you to e-mail me any tips you find for making your department run more smoothly: Until next time.