CAD Manager's Newsletter #89 (July 17, 2003)

16 Jul, 2003 By: Robert Green

A CAD Manager's Puzzle

One of the questions I'm asked regularly is how to deal with casual CAD users (typically senior engineers, architects, or managerial staff) who don't use CAD enough to be proficient yet do need to make modifications to drawings or models on an as-needed basis. This is a tough problem for the CAD manager for several reasons.

Over the years the idea that the engineer or manager should do his or her own CAD work has gone in and out of vogue. I've observed that most engineers who've learned CAD in college view it as an additional skill rather than a burden, as some senior engineers and managers do. Another interesting trend has been that many engineers now see making minor CAD changes as something they can do themselves faster than passing around markups and waiting for CAD operators to do the work.

So if you're going to have occasional users vying for your support time and management expertise, how can you best serve them while keeping yourself sane? That is the question I'll endeavor to answer in the next few editions of this newsletter.

Defining the Major Problems

The problems I've found with supporting the occasional CAD user, in no particular order, are as follows:

Problem 1: these users typically don't report to the CAD manager, who, because of this, has no authority over their final CAD product.

Problem 2: they usually don't see as much need for adhering to standards (such as filing practices, fonts, dimstyles, and so on) as a production CAD user would.

Problem 3: these users have a harder time taking direction because they feel they are senior-level personnel who shouldn't have to take direction from the CAD manager.

Problem 4: due to lack of use, skills are harder for these users to retain simply because they don't have as much time to work with the software.

Please note that the common thread in many of these problems is more psychological than process oriented. You should be prepared to deal with these issues with a combination of tact and respect so you can win the casual user over.

Some Fixes

I've found that the following ideas are particularly effective in solving the problems introduced by casual CAD users. Consider these ideas as guidelines you can adapt to your particular situation.

Problems 1 & 2: Since the engineers, architects, or managers who occasionally use CAD don't report to you, they will have no fear of violating your standards and may have problems taking direction from you. I've always dealt with this problem by talking with the users directly about the problem and trying to make them understand that working with the CAD manager can have some real advantages for them.

For example, if engineers work with you to master certain CAD tasks and follow accepted company standards, they will not only gain some valuable job skills, but they'll set a great example for other casual users. By appealing to these users' desire to be trendsetters and by patting them on the back for a job well done, you can frequently motivate them to do things your way.

I've also dealt with this problem by honestly telling them that although I don't have any authority to make them follow CAD standards or practices I'm still held responsible for the work they produce. When casual users understand that they can damage my reputation by not complying with common standards and practices, they're more likely to work with me, if for no other reason than respect.

Note that in the above cases I strive to establish a personal relationship with each user that is based on respect for both of our time. It stands to reason that if I spend time working with these users, they should value my time by making an honest effort to work with standards and practices.

The Business Case

If you're still having trouble getting your senior technical or managerial personnel to follow CAD standards and practices, why not utilize the business case for CAD standards? In this scenario you appeal to their sense of business by asking them why everybody else should follow the rules when they refuse to? After all, if it is good business for every CAD operator in the company to use a certain layering standard, why should a senior engineer or architect be any different, right? You can point out what it costs to have a CAD operator rework a drawing due to lack of standards compliance as a perfect monetary reason why standards should be followed.

If you make the business case in a persuasive way, you'll plant the following ideas in the casual CAD users' minds. Their internal dialog might tell them you're right. Or, on a more negative note, they may even think that they're not going to let the CAD manager make them look stupid.

Obviously it would be great if everyone followed CAD standards voluntarily, but in those cases where you can't get voluntary compliance, I've found arguing the business case is the most effective way to motivate these users.

Summing Up

In the next issue of the CAD Manager's Newsletter I'll continue my examination of bringing CAD to the casual users with some additional motivational ideas and some practical hints for creating documentation and custom tools to lessen your workload.

Career Feedback and CAD Survey 2003

To the many of you who've emailed me regarding the recent series on career questions, I'd like to thank you for reading and replying so positively. I do need to point out, however, that I can't offer specific career advice based on a casual email. Also, I'll try to reply to as many of your emails as is humanly possible.

I've also received a lot of feedback regarding the proposed questions for the CAD Manager's 2003 survey, which I'll be conducting in August. I'd like to thank everyone who's taken the time to respond, and I invite any other readers who wish to pitch in to drop by my Web site to view the proposed topics of the survey at

After reviewing my proposed survey questions, let me know if you feel anything is missing or not clear. Please use the following email address:

Email to: Subject: CAD Manager Survey 2003

I'll be taking a couple more weeks to integrate the suggestions readers have sent in to adjust the final text of the survey. In the next issue of the CAD Manager's Newsletter I'll give you a URL you can use to take the survey.