The Peer-to-Peer CAD Manager, Part 221 Jan, 2014 By: Robert Green
To improve your relationship with your CAD users, become a reliable resource for technical solutions and interdepartmental collaboration.
In the previous CAD Manager's Newsletter, I defined the term "peer-to-peer CAD manager" and gave some helpful strategies for those who fit the description. If you haven't had a chance to read through it, you may want to do so before you proceed.
In this expansion on the topic, I'll give some additional tips for CAD managers — peer-to-peer or otherwise — who want to build a better rapport with their CAD users. After all, even if you do have the authority to function as a CAD manager, there's still no better way to operate than by gaining the respect of your users. Here goes.
Become the Hub
In the last edition, I talked about being the go-to resource for your users. Obviously you want people to view you as a credible source of solutions for their technical problems, but to expand this reputation to your advantage, you should become the hub of your CAD user community. This means that you're not only viewed as the provider of solutions, but also as a key figure in cross-departmental coordination. What I've always striven for is this reaction: "I don't know how he figures all this out, but somehow he does."
The challenge is to find someone within every functional department who thinks this way about you. Then you can start encouraging all those people to see you as the obvious choice for a cross-departmental liaison.
When you have achieved this, you'll find yourself invited to project kickoff meetings, coordination meetings, etc. You won't have to ask to become involved; instead, they'll ask you. At that point you'll know that you have become the hub, and your transformation to CAD manager — whether you have the official title or not — is almost complete.
Those CAD managers who do not operate in peer-to-peer environments should still strive to be viewed as the hub in order to gain more respect and trust from the user community.
Make Resellers Your Resource
In the first part of this series, I encouraged you to establish user groups so that all your users could get together and let their good ideas cross-pollinate between departments. One way to take this a step further is to start coordinating with your CAD reseller. But first, let's step back a moment, and think about how a manager deals with the reseller.
A traditional CAD manager works with the reseller to obtain pricing and services that can help their users be more successful. But if you're a peer-to-peer CAD manager chartering a user group, you can work with your reseller as well. Tell your reseller that you would like them to become involved in the internal user group that you've begun. The reseller wants to keep your business, so they're motivated to provide you with good service.
One of the primary challenges with user groups is how to keep meetings relevant, and resellers can assist you by providing new information. Chances are excellent that your reseller will be happy to come in and share some tips and tricks, or to present at one of your user group's lunch meetings. Great CAD managers use their reseller relationship in this way all the time; there's no reason you can't do it as a peer-to-peer CAD manager as well. Get to know your reseller and start talking with them!
Optimize Your Image
In the previous edition, I urged you to use troubleshooting opportunities to look for better ways to achieve things, then instigate improvement in your CAD environment. While I hold to this advice, I now encourage you to take it to the next level and actively push for the optimization of CAD processes. Where a skilled troubleshooter can fix problems that arise, The Optimizer is a CAD management superhero more concerned with preventing problems in the first place.
The key to becoming the Optimizer is to jettison the after-the-fact thought process of troubleshooting and replace it with a preventive thought process. So rather than saying, "Here's how we fix this problem," the conversation becomes, "If we could just detect the problem earlier, we'd never have to fix this ever again!" Note that I'm no longer acknowledging the inevitability of fixing problems, but am taking a positive position that problems can be avoided.
By focusing on the opportunity to do things better, you'll motivate power users to improve their game, if for no other reason than the personal pride of knowing they've done so. In fact, challenging power users to find ways to optimize CAD processes by submitting suggestions (via a suggestion box) is a great way to get them involved with the process. I found that this motivational technique works much better with power users than harping on error in a negative way. Of course you know your CAD users better than I do, so you'll be able to judge better where and when to use the Optimizer persona, but I promise you the trick works.
I think of the Optimizer like the character in the Terminator movies (insert Arnold Schwarzenegger accent here), because my users always know that if something can be done better, "I'll be back!"
Peer-to-peer CAD managers may ask questions like, "Why should I take the time to become the Optimizer?" or "What's in it for me?" After all, finding the time for this endeavor is something you'll have to fit into your already busy schedule. To answer these concerns, think about the following:
First, if you can get users to do things better (optimally) simply by motivating them, you'll spend less time fixing problems. And I find motivating people to do better is far less stressful than cleaning up after their mistakes anyway.
Second, project managers love CAD managers who can optimize their processes. Admittedly you may have to do some education to make project managers understand how much better the processes in your company can flow, but taking the time to educate them always leads to their increased appreciation of CAD management. And as I have observed many times in the past, it never hurts to have project managers on your side.
Finally, many times project managers feel that CAD is a bottleneck they need to avoid or spend less time on. By driving for the optimization of processes, you'll help remove bottlenecks and save time. This is mother's milk to management teams, who will soon be singing your praises.
Does it take time to communicate all this? Yes. Is it worth it? Definitely.
I hope you've found these ideas for building rapport and respect within your CAD user community to be intriguing, whether you're a peer-to-peer CAD manager or the more traditional variety. Further, I hope this discussion has reminded us all that serving as CAD manager requires us to have a broad variety of social skills as well as technical ones.
Over the years I've found that the best CAD managers I know function like peer-to-peer managers, even if they have the full authority and job title. It seems that no matter how much power you have to be a CAD manager, it never hurts to have your users' respect!