Peer-Driven CAD Management Solutions

3 Jun, 2014 By: Robert Green

How to succeed as the default CAD manager.

The OptimizerDuring the past few years I've noticed that there are more and more CAD managers who toil away at making things work even though they don't have a formal title or any real authority to manage the CAD office; they're what I call peer-to-peer CAD managers. As I've studied this issue, I've come to realize that many companies are moving away from rigid authority structures toward a more loosely managed, peer-driven structure. Because of this trend, I've been researching ways to manage CAD tools within these environments.

In this edition of "CAD Manager," I'll pass along some strategies I've helped my clients implement, in hopes that you can use them as well. Here goes.

Competency and Leadership

In the old world of corporate management, the mantra was "authority rules," and everyone understood that power structure. Under today's looser management systems, employees tend to respect competency instead, and gravitate toward anyone who has the know-how to get the job done. In my experience, users look up to the alpha software user as the person with the most CAD competency, but it takes more than just software knowledge to function as a CAD manager.

A traditional manager can make employees conform to his or her desires with simple authority, but in a peer-driven management structure, people must want to follow you. How do successful CAD leaders inspire this kind of loyalty from the users in the trenches? I'd like to note a few traits that demonstrate competency and leadership. If you perform in these ways on a daily basis, you'll soon become the next peer-to-peer manager in your workplace.

  • Become the go-to resource. It is widely understood that the person who is the best at finding solutions to CAD problems is the person others look to for help — this is where software competency comes in. Users also need to feel comfortable asking you for help, which is why the next point is important.
  • Be pleasant to work with and easy to talk to. Nobody wants to work with someone who's grouchy, difficult, or sullen, regardless of how competent they are.
  • Make your case by teaching. Think of it this way — if you want people to follow your standards and best practices, they need to understand why they should do so. By teaching, I don't mean formal training sessions, but rather casual, frequent dispensing of tips and productivity-boosting advice. When users get their jobs done faster, they'll have proof of the value of standards and best practices.
  • Don't gripe or complain. Even though all of us have wanted to scream about the frustrations of CAD management at some point, the best managers never let anyone hear them gripe. It is fine to calmly state why things aren't working, but do your best to stay positive and offer solutions rather than complain. Griping makes you much less pleasant to work with (see the second point above) and therefore diminishes the chance that you'll be able to teach and influence users.
  • Talk to project managers. Open the lines of communication early, and keep them that way! The best way to avoid griping is to tell project managers how things could be going better. Project managers do have authority, and they can help you change things if they understand why they should listen to you. Do everything you can to make your project managers your biggest fans, and talk with them often.

It's all fairly straightforward, if you think about it: Know what you're doing and explain your actions to those around you in a pleasant way, and people will come to view you as a credible leader and teacher.

Turn Problems into Teachable Moments

We all know that CAD problems are going to surface. We also know that (due in large part to our demonstrated competency) we're going to be involved in fixing those problems. As this process plays out, it is important for us to put on our manager/teacher hat and make sure that the organization learns from the problem so as not to repeat it. So instead of saying, "I can't believe these idiots have messed up again!" try, "How can we keep this from happening?" as you dive into fixing the problems.

Here is how I manage the problem-solving process:

  • Ask "Why?" as often as possible. Why did this happen? Why didn't we catch this? Why are our processes allowing this to slip through the cracks? You get the idea. You may need to ask a combination of users, project managers, IT staffers, and customers these questions to find the complete answer.
  • Pay attention to departmental boundaries. Are the problems we're having due to different departments using software tools in dissimilar ways? Do our departments talk with each other? Asking these types of questions can help you understand whether your problems are simply due to communication and standards issues.
  • Teach somebody as you fix the problem. Once you know why the problem happened, you can fix it — but as you do so, make sure you teach others what you're doing. Then they'll be equipped to help you detect and fix similar problems that arise in the future.
  • Briefly write up what you find. It doesn't have to be formal, but take the time to jot down what happened and how you fixed it. Then send it to the users, departments, and project managers involved so they know what happened and learn how integral you were to getting things fixed (which goes back to demonstrating competency).

As you fix problems with your peers, you'll be demonstrating a clear leadership persona by trying to make the company run better. Senior management will be delighted that an employee is bettering the operating environment for all involved. Wouldn't it be great if everybody had this sense of ownership?

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About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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