CAD Manager's Newsletter #88 (July 8, 2003)

7 Jul, 2003 By: Robert Green

In the last few issues of this newsletter, I focused on career advice, such as how to maximize your performance, how to increase your value to the organization, and how to layoff-proof your job. In this issue I'll be addressing a very interesting reader response I received.

Before I take on the questions though, I'd just like to say that the reader feedback I received indicates that things are worse than I thought for CAD managers. It appears that a CAD manager's function is viewed more often as an overhead burden than a productive position within the organization. I attribute this trend primarily to a soft economy and the pressure to reduce cost. But there also seems to be some good old-fashioned technology aversion out there.

A Reader Speaks Out

My first reader response speaks volumes.

AA from Missouri wrote, "I'm actively in the role of 'CAD Manager,' but without the title of one. Management supports me to keep the CAD department's operation smooth and efficient, but I have problems working without a budget. Our CAD dept. has not had software upgrades in over three years and our HP 750C plotter has surpassed its lifespan, equivalent to a Chevy approaching 300,000 miles on the odometer. The past couple of years I have sent requests for upgrades, only to be denied. I feel my company doesn't embrace technology or it doesn't want to spend money on what seems unprofitable."

A Few Steps to Take

I bet many readers are now nodding their heads in sympathy for AA's situation. I call this the classic "all the responsibility and none of the authority" syndrome. If you find yourself in a similar situation, I recommend taking the following steps:

Step 1: Ask your direct supervisor if he/she views you as having any managerial responsibilities, such as setting policies and prioritizing budgets, or if these decisions are made by someone else.

By asking this question, you'll force your manager to confront the reality that you're being asked to do a job that you don't have the authority to do. After all, if he/she really thinks of you as a manager, he/she will have to admit that you should be able to participate in policy and budget discussions, right? And if your manager tells you that you really aren't functioning in a management capacity, then at least you'll know where you stand. Either way your management should respect you for asking.

Steps Towards New Responsibilities

Step 2: Focus first on more concrete funding requests (such as an upgraded plotter); leave uncertain requests (such as a major software upgrade) on the backburner.

Your management is more likely to be able to identify with your frustration on a piece of hardware that's 10 years old (ask them if their photocopier is 10 years old!), but they are less likely to feel the same way about the costs of a major software upgrade. By showing that the speed and reliability of printing can dramatically increase with better hardware, you should be able to win management's support. And make no mistake--winning their support on smaller items leads to winning their support on the larger budget requests!

Step 3: Approach your manager about taking on some CAD-improvement projects (such as revising standards, updating training manuals, tackling CAD document management, or archiving) and agree on a certain number of hours you can spend weekly on these tasks.

These tasks probably need to be done anyway, and you're just the right person to do them. It's hard for management to argue with someone who asks to take on the tough jobs and shows enough leadership to tackle them. Also, please notice that these tasks don't require an outlay of money for hardware or software upgrades; they simply require time and effort. Therefore you'll be getting certain crucial jobs done without asking for any additional capital. At the same time, you show that you have initiative and moxie (I've found this tactic especially effective when I was a junior CAD manager seeking recognition).

A Drastic Step

Step 4: If, after tackling steps 1 through 3, you still have no managerial clout and no budget authority, you may want to reassess the department or company you're in.

It is very common to see CAD managers, especially as they are just starting out, outgrow the CAD management needs of their companies. Some great ambitions can't be satisfied in small companies. Some companies don't need a programming expert or a fulltime CAD manager. Only by being honest with yourself and truly assessing your company's needs will you know if you're in the right career situation. If you ever do come to the decision that it is time to move on, then continue to work hard at your present position to build an excellent employment referral for your future.

Career Advice Summary

I realize that many of my younger readers have never experienced an economic downturn and that career stagnation/frustration is a new phenomenon for them. For those who've been around for a while, myself included, it becomes obvious that economic downturns are cyclical; whenever something hits rock bottom, it rises again. I've observed that those who prosper in trying times always wind up doing extremely well when better market conditions return--and they always do.

No matter what the economic climate is, it is good for your career to work smart, hard, and in accordance with the needs of your company.

CAD Survey 2003

It's hard to believe but it's been almost four years since the CAD Manager's Newsletter first appeared in your inbox. During this time, I've surveyed CAD managers twice, concentrating on the most common CAD management tasks and salary data. The surveys have been well received by CAD managers (and have even been responsible for a few raises, I'm told).

Over the past few years, business conditions and CAD software have both changed a lot, so my informal sampling of email from readers tells me that things aren't as good as they used to be. Therefore I've decided that another, more comprehensive, survey needs to be undertaken.

Take a few moments to drop by my Web site to view the proposed topics of the survey at Afterwards, let me know if you feel anything is missing or not clear. Please email me at, with the subject line "CAD Manager Survey 2003" if you want to comment on it.

The CAD Manager Survey 2003 will be conducted during August 2003 and the results will be published in the October/November issues of the newsletter. Be sure to read the next issue of the newsletter for instructions on how you can participate in the survey!

Until next time.