To Prioritize Your Workload Effectively, Analyze Change and Need, Part 123 Jul, 2019 By: Robert Green
CAD Manager Column: The degree of change and frequency of need are both important factors in determining which tasks you should be tackling at work.
One question I’ve been asked repeatedly by CAD managers goes something like this: “With all the stuff going on every day, how do I know what I should be working on?” Another statement I hear often is, “It seems like I just fight fires all day and never really get anything done.” The common thread is that these exasperated parties don’t how to forecast their workload properly — in essence, they don’t know what to work on at any given time.
I’ve been revising my approach to dealing with CAD management priorities a good bit over the past five years, and I’d like to share my updated strategies for forecasting workloads. It is my hope you can use some of my ideas in your environment. Here goes.
To Understand Your Workload, First Understand Your Work Better
Let me explain what I mean by “change and need.” There are some elements in a CAD management environment that change frequently — such as software updates. Then there are other factors that are consistently in demand, and remain relatively stable — like the need to support users.
But here’s where things get interesting: Sometimes an infrequent change like a software update can really mess up something that should be stable, like supporting users. Why? Because support is always tougher when users are working through a large change of process, such as a software update. And therein lies the problem: Do you really know how to forecast what will change and when, so you can arrange your schedule optimally?
Rely on Radar Charts
Meet my secret weapon for figuring out change and need: radar charts. I’ve found that if I think about my workload in terms of how much change there is in each of my job functions and how often each function is needed, the fog starts to lift and I can understand what I’m up against. And the best way to understand it all is to create something visual like a radar chart with all your job functions, the frequency of need, and the degree of change, like the one below.
A Need vs. Change radar chart for CAD management tasks.
Here’s how to create your own radar chart:
First, catalog your job functions, like I’ve done here:
- Software Updates
- Software Support
- Hardware Support
- Project Management
(Note that you may have more or fewer functions, and they may have different names.)
Next, start an Excel sheet and create a three-column set of data:
Select the data cells and insert a radar chart:
Finally, simply adjust the formatting of your radar chart to your liking. (For example, on my chart I called my two data lines Degree of Change and Frequency of Need; label yours as you wish.)
Now that you can see the parameters of Change and Need graphically, let’s draw some conclusions. Following are a few things I’ve noticed over the years.
Sum the Numbers
If you add together the Change and Need values for a given job function, you’ll obtain a number that can be referenced. My totals look like this:
- Software Updates: 130
- Training: 100
- Standardizing: 110
- Software Support: 130
- Hardware Support: 70
- Project Management: 80
As you might suspect, a higher total value indicates job functions that will be more demanding — but let’s dig a bit deeper.
When software updates happen, they require a tremendous amount of process change — but thankfully, they don’t happen all that often. (This combination is represented by a high red value and low blue value on the radar chart.) So, clearly, software updates are very disruptive (totaling a combined score of 130 when they happen). Chances are you’ll need a solid plan for dealing with that type of disruption, right?
What might that plan be? We’ll cover that in the next installment of this series.
Training is a process that requires an ongoing effort, and is thus needed with some degree of frequency (thus the high blue value on the chart). However, the process of training requires relatively little change, since examples used for training exercises only change when software itself changes, and the tools/methods used to train users barely change at all (all of which explain the low red value on the chart).
The conclusions I’ve drawn regarding training and change include the following:
- As long as I have good tools for creating handouts, videos, and lessons for users, I can deal with new software as it comes along.
- If I document changes in new software applications as I research them, I can create new training materials almost effortlessly as I go along.
- Provided that I have good training technique, I will always be able to train users effectively.
- Any change that I must implement will always happen more quickly and smoothly if users are well trained.
- If a software update is going to occur, then I can also expect a bump in training requirements.
Standardizing your software configurations and usage procedures is something that all CAD managers must do, but in sporadic bursts of activity followed by periods of stability (thus the medium blue value on the chart). Creating new standards, however, typically requires reactions to process changes in the environment (thus the medium red value on the chart). The process of standardizing CAD is one that does require thought and work to get right.
The conclusions I’ve drawn regarding standardization include the following:
- Standardization correlates well with training — if you don’t teach users the standards, how will they ever use them effectively?
- Standardization change tends to follow software change
- Standardization is often used to fix repetitive software/process errors
- If you want to fix things, keep them fixed, and run with optimal efficiency, then standardization is the key.
User Software/Hardware Support
User software support is a need that is always in demand, yet doesn’t really require process change unless a software update has been undertaken (thus the high blue and low red values on the chart). So it seems that providing great user support really comes down to the following:
- Find the optimal way for users to contact you for support.
- Figure out how to prioritize support requests (based on urgency).
- Find the best method for replying to in-house and remote workers (in-person visit, remote login, etc.).
Project management, like training, is a process that requires an ongoing effort and is thus needed with some degree of frequency (thus the high blue value on the chart) but doesn’t require much process change, because interacting with project management staff tends to stay the same (which explains the low red value on the chart). According to my experiences with project management teams, it seems the following priorities tend to recur:
- Solving technical issues that delay projects becomes paramount.
- Dealing with software features and user comprehension is crucial for proper project execution.
- Getting tasks done in the least amount of time possible is always desired.
What jumps off the page when I read through these project management requirements is just how closely related they are to the CAD management tasks of training, standardizing, and support. In a very real sense, your ability to manage projects will be determined by how effective you are in optimizing the user experience in these three areas.
Summing Up — for Now
If you’ve created your own radar chart, you’ve already put some serious thought into your job functions, and likely recognize some familiar themes in my conclusions. In our next installment, we’ll take the information we’ve compiled thus far and provide action items you can use to schedule and control your workload better — thus answering the “what should I be working on” question once and for all.