The Part-Time CAD Manager

12 Aug, 2008 By: Robert Green

Like it or not, many companies require one person to serve as CAD manager while also fulfilling production needs.

Over the past several years I've noticed a continuing trend toward CAD management as a part-time position. Even in large companies it seems a full-time CAD manager has become a luxury that few are willing to finance.

In observance of this trend, I wanted to pass along some information on being more effective for those who CAD manage on a part-time basis.

Who Are the Part-Timers?
If CAD managers are increasingly part time, what are they spending the rest of their time doing? What kinds of job titles do CAD managers have if they're not full-time CAD managers?

Increasingly CAD managers are technical professionals who are pressed into part-time CAD management. Their job titles include the following:

  • architects
  • engineers
  • designers
  • drafting supervisors
  • IT managers
  • IT support staffers

Most of these part-time CAD managers have less than 10 hours per week to devote to CAD management while juggling project deadlines and their own workloads simultaneously. It is easy to see that CAD managers in this predicament are stressed. In fact, the number-one concern I get from CAD managers in this position is job burnout because the workload just seems overwhelming at times.

So what can you do to better manage the part-time crunch you find yourself in? Let me give you some tips.

Accept the Situation
No matter what you may think, your management team will almost certainly not support your being a full-time CAD manager. The fact is they feel your engineering, architectural, IT, or design skills help them complete billable projects more than do your CAD management skills, and you probably won't change that thinking.

I've found that simple acceptance makes me handle the stress of a situation better because I focus on the things I can control rather than worrying about the things I can't! If you have questions about your part-time situation, you absolutely should talk to your management team about them, but realize that the situation probably won't change much as a result.

Setting/Shifting Priorities
Assuming that the part-time situation is a given, it is time to come to grips with what you can and cannot do. The reality is that part-timers can't always accomplish everything they'd like, so you need to know how to order your priorities in case of conflict. And you know that conflicts will come up! I find it very helpful to have a serious discussion with one's supervisor to see how the supervisor would like for these types of situations to be resolved. You can use the following conversation strategies to address the major priority questions that plague part-time CAD managers:

Production versus management: In this scenario there aren't enough hours in the day to meet a project deadline and be the CAD manager. You need to determine which takes precedence (it is most often production, in my experience) while warning your management that a lack of CAD management could lead to mistakes that will cause rework later.

Setup versus cleanup: In this scenario your management team doesn't want to allocate the CAD management time required to really set up project standards so that projects will get started correctly, but they always force you to clean up the mess that occurs later. It is your responsibility to sell your management on setting up projects correctly instead of cleaning up mistakes as a matter of priority. You must take the position of a CAD management advocate who is arguing that time spent setting things up properly is far better spent than time reworking things later. (P.S. You'll get credit here for saving money if you make your argument convincingly!)

Training vs. trial and error: You may find yourself in a situation where you don't have time to train or mentor staff on proper CAD usage because training "takes too much of your time." This always is a frustrating situation because the inevitable result of no training is errors! Sell your management on the idea of proactively training rather than retroactively fixing, similar to the setup-versus-cleanup topic, and see if you can gain some traction in getting some training time.

You'll notice that I've framed these discussions in a way that simply hopes to shift the amount of time you spend performing CAD management to lower errors and reduce rework, thus saving money for the firm. I've also found that by focusing on reducing errors, the job of CAD manager becomes more fulfilling and far less frustrating. The net result is that you're still part time, but the time you do spend with users is more productive for the company and you! Not a bad trade-off, right?

More Personal Productivity
If you're like most part-time CAD managers, you spend so much time doing your job that you tend to skip thinking about how you do your job. Here are a few tricks I use to get more productive time out of my day without spending more time actually working.

Think while you drive: I find I come up with a lot of great ideas driving to the airport or to clients' offices. I take my pocket recorder with me and use my drive time to make audio notes to myself for the next day. I find this method very productive because the phone isn't ringing and I'm not answering questions while I'm in the car, so I get uninterrupted time to think and plan.

Ask users: Every so often fire off an email to your CAD users and ask them what would make the CAD environment better. Sometimes you get great responses! You'll never know unless you ask.

Ask your boss: Just as you ask users how to make CAD better, ask your boss as well. Bosses who have ideas are much more likely to give you the time to work on their ideas, right? And sometimes the senior management perspective is a very valid one that a CAD manager can miss. Again, ask!

Make a plan: Take any of the good ideas you, your users, and your management come up with and make a prioritized planning document (spreadsheet) so you can work on those good ideas as your part-time status permits. This way when you do have some time to spend on CAD management, you'll spend that time on really good, productive projects!

Summing Up
I hope that those of you who are part-time CAD managers will take this opportunity to think more about your priorities. Use this newsletter as a checklist to start a dialogue with your management team and get some good ideas ready to work on.

In the next edition of CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll pass along some coping ideas I've used when stressed with too many tasks that I hope will help keep you productive and sane. Until then.

Click here to read "The Part-Time CAD Manager, Part 2."

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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