CAD Manager's Newsletter #91 (August 21, 2003)

20 Aug, 2003 By: Robert Green

In the last two issues of the CAD Manager's Newsletter I tackled the topic of casual CAD users and why the CAD manager must use a combination of kid gloves and different motivational techniques to deal with these managerial/administrative users. While much of the reader feedback I received confirmed many of my assertions, a few of you raised some good issues. I'd like to address them in this final installment.

CAD Operator Obstacles

GH, a project manager and design engineer who is trying to beef up his CAD skills, illustrates another side of the casual CAD-user debate in his letter: "I am working hard to learn and do CAD work on my project but find some CAD operators feeling threatened. I ask them for their help when I get stuck, but it looks like they think that only they--not project managers--should do CAD work."

There are several observations I'd like to make about GH's scenario.

1. It is clear that there is no formal CAD management to help GH take his CAD knowledge to a higher plane.

2. It is equally clear that the CAD operators at GH's employer are territorial, thinking of the drawings as their property rather than company's property.

Conclusions. The CAD manager must recognize that when the part time CAD user starts going to CAD operators for help, problems won't be far behind. If you permit a culture where some users go around you to other CAD users, then you've lost control of the situation in general.

Experienced CAD users who find themselves in the position of having to teach casual CAD users might understandably become disgruntled; it really isn't their job to train somebody else. The larger problem for the CAD manager will be explaining to other managerial personnel why employee X is taking so much of employee Y's time when the CAD manager is supposed to be taking care of that task. Make no mistake: if you aren't proactive in educating the casual CAD users or setting reasonable limits on how often CAD operators can be interrupted, you will have problems to deal with!

A Motivational Strategy

CL, an engineering manager, shares some interesting insights into getting casual CAD users to conform to standards and participate in training even though the CAD manager doesn't have the authority to discipline these users if they don't: "Get all of these people together at the same time and label the occasion as productivity and security training. Start out by explaining how everyone's billable productivity and company security will improve by following standards. By having everyone together at the same time, as a group of peers, they will feel compelled to conform. You may have to get a little creative on how you make the case, but I have had 100 percent success using this method. Anyone who did not conform was encouraged to comply by their peers."

CL makes an excellent case for the use of peer pressure to create an atmosphere of self-discipline among the casual CAD users. By utilizing a public gathering everyone knows who was at the training and, as an additional point, anyone who didn't attend the training was exposed as not taking the time to participate. This strategy removes a major authority/enforcement issue for the CAD manager while providing a great way to make users push themselves to learn CAD skills, since their entire peer group is participating.

An Opposing Point of View

A number of CAD managers emailed me to say that in their firm they've given up on having engineers/architects do CAD. They cite savings on software upgrades, lower training costs, and generally less hassle as the rewards of not having to deal with the casual CAD users.

In some ways, having only a number of CAD-literate employees may make sense for companies with a largely non-CAD senior staff. On the other hand, CAD illiteracy in today's workplace is a severe liability that can hamstring a company's ability to conduct business with digital design data. My opinion is that casual CAD users will be forced to learn CAD as time and costs force us to rid ourselves of outdated work methods such as paper markups and endless checking cycles. Like it or not, I think every CAD manager should have a plan in place for dealing with casual CAD users before it becomes too late.

CAD Manager's Survey 2003

I wanted to give you a brief report on the status of the CAD Manager's Survey. So far I've received 284 responses to the survey and can report an average annual salary of $50,880. I haven't delved into interpreting any of the data yet, but I have found it interesting that the percentage of full time CAD managers (as opposed to part time) has dropped dramatically since I began surveying three years ago. I'll have much more data for you in upcoming issues of the newsletter, so please keep reading!

To take the survey you'll need to refer to my Web site at The survey should take no more than five minutes of your time and you have my personal assurance that your information will be kept in complete confidence.

Summing Up

I hope the series on casual CAD users has made you think about how to deal with the broader deployment of CAD tools in your workplace. Feel free to pass along any tips.

In the next issue, I'll begin a short series on changes in the computer employment landscape as it relates to CAD. I've received enough questions regarding how job displacements and outsourcing North American and European jobs to India and the Pacific Rim will impact CAD users that I think the topic needs to be examined. If you have information you'd like to share regarding this topic, please email me at within the next few days, so I can include your comments in the upcoming series. Until then ...!

Relevant Links

CAD Manager Survey 2003: