CAD Manager's Newsletter #123

23 Feb, 2005 By: Robert Green

Uncertainties of the CAD Manager, Part 1: Addressing concerns from the field

I receive a good bit of e-mail feedback from newsletter readers, but my recent two-part CAD Manager's Action Plan for 2005 generated more than usual. Most feedback was related to economic uncertainty and the changing face of CAD management. I can tell there's some insecurity out there. Rather than cover specific questions (which I've already replied to individually), I'll try to address the trends I see in reader feedback and draw a few conclusions along the way. Most of the questions can be categorized as follows:
  • Economic uncertainty
  • Increasing productivity
  • CAD operator/drafter obsolescence
  • Outsourcing

Each of these topics could merit its own dedicated newsletter! Please bear in mind that answering questions regarding future business and economic conditions requires me to draw conclusions that may or may not prove to be right. I'm also aware that some of these issues can arouse emotions, but I'll strive to analyze them based on business metrics and time-tested economic truths.

Economic Uncertainty
Questions such as, "Should I plan on staying in CAD management?" or "Will the CAD field be a good future for me?" continue to trickle in, but not nearly so many as during the 2002-2003 recessionary period. In the past, improving global economics usually yielded good cheer and optimism about future success, but today's increasingly globalized labor market and concerns about outsourcing seem to be fueling some ongoing pessimism in the CAD-management arena.

When asked if CAD management is still a good career path, I have always and will always respond with this: "As long as things are being designed, built, mapped, maintained, overhauled or conceptualized, there will be a need for CAD. And as long as there's CAD, there will be a need for CAD managers."

Though the need for CAD tools and management of them won't go away, the job description and skills needed to be a CAD manager will change. The underlying computer and software technology we use will certainly change, and the need to keep up with shifting management requirements that embrace distance working and collaborative teams will tax us. The bottom line is that CAD management will require constant determination to keep up with the changing technical and business environments, but we'll all still be working because there are just too few good CAD managers out there.

So the next time you feel pessimistic about things, ask yourself how many people in your company could do your job? What would be the effect on staff productivity if you were gone? Think of how few truly good technical managers you've encountered, and you have to be optimistic about the future of our profession.

It's rare to have the mental tool palette needed to be a CAD manager. The effective CAD manager will never go out of style, regardless of economic conditions, as long as he or she maintains a current skill set and the desire to help his or her company effectively implement CAD technology.

Increasing Productivity
In my CAD Manager's Action Plan for 2005 series, I pointed out that increasing productivity will be a key factor in the coming year. I've received a number of responses that take me to task for always advocating increased productivity. Some accuse me of being a workaholic, some say they can't work any more hours, some say that constantly increasing productivity makes their work life miserable. A few readers agree with me, but I receive far more negative than positive responses when the issue of productivity comes up.

Here are a few things I'd like to clarify with respect to increasing productivity.

More productivity doesn't mean more hours; it means more output per hour. Think about an automobile manufacturing plant that needs to produce 10% more cars. If the plant goes on overtime to produce more cars, the company will have to keep workers on overtime pay, which costs more and burns out the workforce. The real answer is to figure out ways to work smarter so the plant can produce 10% more cars in the normal work shift. Management will need to figure out where existing work processes are inefficient and make changes to streamline operations.

Comparing an automobile production facility of today with one from 50 years ago, we see the combined results of decades of increasing productivity. We might not see as many assembly workers as before, but we would see a small army of robotic and controls engineers and technicians that keep the factory working. So while job functions have changed, the jobs are still in the factory.

I see CAD departments as a technological parallel universe to our imaginary automobile plant, with the CAD manager the primary managerial and technical interface that coordinates the computer, software and processes required to allow more work output per CAD user.

Productivity Conclusion #1: True productivity is achieved by working smarter, not harder!

Increasing productivity requires management and production attention. Again using our car manufacturing analogy, we can see that finding ways to streamline the manufacturing process will require a collaborative dialog between workers and management. The workers know where the inefficiencies are, but it will take management approval to make the changes. In environments where these collaborative relationships exist, productivity goes up and jobs remain secure. In environments where labor and management have an adversarial relationship, productivity stagnates and jobs are less secure. My point here is that increasing productivity is in everyone's interest and should never be construed as a management-only problem.

Productivity Conclusion #2: The CAD manager is the one person who drives the changes required to work smarter, thus making that person crucial to the company's success.

Wrapping Up
I'm hoping you feel a little more optimistic about the future of CAD management and how you can become a key driver in your company's success. I truly believe that the CAD manager has a unique opportunity to serve as the conduit from technology implementation to upper management as businesses strive to find every bit of productivity available to them. I'm optimistic about CAD management as a viable career now more than ever.

In the next issue of CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll complete my examination of these economic issues and address more reader feedback. I invite you to e-mail me your thoughts on these issues at Until next time.