An Open Letter to All CAD Users

27 Oct, 2015 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager Column: You work with your CAD manager every day, but do you really understand how he or she can help you with your workload — and vice versa?

As CAD managers, we struggle to serve two key constituencies: senior managers (who fund our budget and want everything done inexpensively) and users (who want to get their work done with minimum hassle). Over the years that I’ve been writing this column, I’ve often focused on how to deal with senior management, but I haven’t devoted much time to explaining how to forge great relationships with CAD users. That omission ends now.

In this edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll begin exploring this essential topic via an open letter that you can either send to your own CAD users as is, or edit to suit your own needs. Here goes.

Dear CAD Users:

Hello from your CAD manager. I know many of you don’t know exactly what I do, so you may not realize how much I can help you get your work done while making the company’s projects more profitable. I’m hoping this letter can serve as my re-introduction, so we can start a discussion about how we can all work together to make our CAD environment as productive as possible.

What does a CAD manager do, exactly?

I hear this question frequently, so I’d like to start by explaining my job. First, you need to know that the senior management team in our company has given me a set of directives they expect me to implement. Many of these directives affect your daily CAD use, but you may not know why. Let me give you a short rundown:

Support projects. Management has made it very clear that my number one responsibility is to keep projects on track by supporting CAD users and tools. Therefore, making sure the files get finished, the PDFs get captured, and the renderings get completed will always take priority over anything else.

Keep CAD software and hardware running. This means installing and supporting the software you use, while making sure that I coordinate with the IT department on network issues and keeping up with the printers and plotters we all use every day. I may be debugging AutoCAD programming in the morning, setting up new 3D parts families in the afternoon, and creating new project kickoff training during lunch break, all while fielding numerous support calls to support printing problems throughout the day. If it ever seems like I’m being pulled in many directions at once, it’s because I am. And if I sometimes seem tense, my apologies, but the job can be highly stressful at times.

Standardize and optimize CAD operations. The goal is to have everyone on project teams working cooperatively, so that the work gets done quickly, efficiently, and with the fewest mistakes possible. When I focus on standards and getting everyone to work in a consistent manner it isn’t just because I want to, it is because I’m expected to.

Limit CAD costs. Our management wants to be sure that we keep our budgets under control. This means I’m expected to purchase only the software we really need, squeeze more life out of aging workstations, and minimize the cost of training. If you don’t have a brand-new workstation loaded with all the software you could possibly want and unlimited training to boot, please know that cost containment is the reason why. If you think about how much all those items would cost for every single CAD user in the company, you can see why management is concerned, right?

Sometimes, it is simply not possible to address all these responsibilities while supporting everybody working on a wide variety of ongoing projects. If it ever seems like I don’t have enough time to spend with you on training or talking about new technology, please understand that I only have so many hours in the day and that those hours must be focused, first and foremost, on project execution.

How can we make things better?

That’s a great question! It has a number of answers, all of which hinge upon looking at our CAD operations from a team perspective — and all of which you can be a part of! While our tasks may differ, all of us are ultimately expected to get our projects completed quickly, accurately, and at minimum expense. If I can’t make your CAD tools work well, you’ll have more trouble getting your work done. Conversely, if nobody helps me optimize our CAD tools, how can I ever help you get your work done faster? Simply put, we’re all in the same boat, and we’ve got to help each other out. Here are some ways to do just that:

Strive for detailed, calm communication. Rather than shouting, “This damn plotter doesn’t work!” when you have a problem plotting an AutoCAD file, collect your thoughts, take a deep breath, and define the problem in specific terms: “Whenever we try to plot one of these consultant files, it seems to mess up, but only on nonstandard layers.” I can always help you more effectively if I have more information about the problem — and if everyone remains calm!

Help me help you. If you view the CAD manager as somebody who simply deals with the same problems day after day, we will never realize the full value of this relationship. If you view the CAD manager as someone who can help you figure out how to eliminate problems before they begin so we can all work smarter, then we’ve got a promising future. So when you see something that could be done better to make our design processes smoother and more efficient, let me know, and let’s work together to make it happen!

Accept that standards really do make things better. I know CAD standards sometimes feel like a barrier to you, but they truly can make your life easier. Imagine trying to coordinate a task with 10 people who all insisted on doing the task their way. You would go crazy, wouldn’t you? Welcome to my world. Since we all want our CAD tools to perform better, faster, and more consistently, doesn’t it stand to reason that a degree of standardization and uniformity of work methods will be required? Let’s work together to create standards that help everyone get their work done better and faster.

Realize that rework is our common enemy. How much time and money does our company lose when we have to rework a project? A lot! And since it costs so much, you can bet that senior management wants us to avoid rework at all costs. Sometimes rework is due to unforeseeable consequences, but many times it is due to a simple lack of coordination on our part. Let’s all resolve to talk issues over and get things right the first time. When it comes to rework, it is far easier to get permission now than beg for forgiveness later.

Let’s resolve to help each other.

Moving forward, I’d like to propose that we all take time to understand each other’s situation more thoroughly and communicate more clearly. Let’s begin with the understanding of the limitations we all face (in terms of budgets and project deliveries), and work toward making our CAD environment better organized and more standardized.

I’m confident that if we all unite in the mutual pursuit of doing great CAD work and minimizing rework, we’ll all be better off. I, for one, am looking forward to getting the conversation started.


Your CAD Manager

Summing Up

Will you send a letter like this to your users? If so, what will you add to the text — or remove from it? Let me know your thoughts on how CAD managers can create a more constructive relationship with CAD users. I look forward to receiving your comments. Until next time.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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Re: An Open Letter to All CAD Users
by: basedriver
October 29, 2015 - 3:08pm
Excellent summation. Personally I would add the following in my environment. Integrate CAD applications with other IT applications. Unlike most design firms, we are also responsible for integration of CAD data into applications supporting Facilities Management, Personnel, Maintenance, GIS, and Real Property. We take a holistic view of all IT functions that are in place, or could potentially be developed and design and maintain datasets that can support IT functions both now and in the future. We address which versions of different applications work with each other, test, and implement while attempting to make transitions between the versions as transparent to the users as possible. In this role I am mainly an advocate for the customer my focus has to be on ensuring that the customer gets the data that they require, that the data is cataloged and made available through the various IT tools.
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