Reporting to Management-Why and How (CAD Manager Column)31 Jan, 2007 By: Robert Green
Helping management understand your job will help you perform better in the long run.
With all the tasks you juggle as a CAD manager, the last thing you want to worry about is writing reports to management, right? I sympathize. Writing reports can be a drudge, but you have some very compelling reasons to do them. Specifically, CAD managers enjoy better communication, fewer misunderstandings and generally better rapport when they engage senior management via good reporting.
A Sample Report
My challenge in this month's "CAD Manager" column is to convince you that reporting is a vital function that you should embrace, as well as to impart some tips to make it as painless as possible.
Let's Get Real
Be honest, you're the only CAD manager at your company, and nobody else really understands what you do that well. This lack of understanding means you operate in a vacuum in which you—and only you—know why you're doing what you're doing. When nobody else understands your duties, those around you can form misperceptions that can make you job even more difficult.
To target which facets of your job to report, you must combat the incorrect perceptions that exist in your company. Of course, each case is different, but the common misperceptions I've seen CAD managers suffer through include the following:
CAD management is easy. When people don't understand the details of what you do, they will almost always underestimate how hard your job is. And when users and management think your job is easy, they'll try to load more tasks on you, thus reducing your effectiveness even more.
CAD management is only a software issue. When management thinks that CAD management is just about software, it clearly doesn't know how many training, support, negotiation and human-resource problems that CAD managers face.
Not understanding upcoming dangers. Let's say you have a large-volume plotter that is outmoded and has a maintenance problem, but replacing it will be expensive so you keep putting off the issue. If you and only you understand the consequences of having a major plotting failure, then everyone will be in shock when the problem actually happens. And believe me when I say that they'll ask you, "Why didn't you tell us?"
CAD management is all overhead. When manage-ment thinks that CAD management is all overhead, it starts to question why CAD management is needed at all. And when senior management questions if they even need you, there's clearly a misperception of what you're actually doing.
Why Reporting is Crucial
So what should you do if you'd like to avoid all the nasty consequences of management misunderstanding your job? You should educate them with the right types of reports so that they never again mischaracterize what you do, that's what! Therefore, you should find ways to keep your man-agement in the loop using the most economical reporting format you can—more on that shortly.
Remember, you're the only person who can report on what's happening with CAD management—if you don't do it, who will? In fact, the biggest reason that CAD management misperceptions exist is precisely because most CAD managers don't report in a regular format that is easy for senior management to understand. Let's see how to make reporting really work for you with minimal effort.
A Format that Works
A simple way that I've found to report involves using a rolling diary-style format (see sidebar "A Sample Report,") on a weekly basis. Using this reporting scheme, you track what you've done and what you plan to do in a brief one-page memo and publish it to your management team on a predetermined day each week (Monday or Friday tends to work best).
The advantages of this reporting style are that you:
- 1. form a diary of tasks that documents the wide range of material (it will also serve to reinforce your value when it's time for your performance review);
- 2. get the benefit of seeing what you've actually achieved each week (it also keeps you focused on what you're trying to accomplish, and this sort of mental discipline is hard to maintain when fighting the common fires of CAD management);
- 3. raise the awareness of what CAD management really is and how valuable it is by just listing your tasks (in a sense you can brag about yourself without actually bragging if your weekly report shows how much you do); and
- 4. demonstrate to senior management your technical skills by documenting technical tasks, while the very report you write demonstrates your management prowess (again, this sort of self-promotion just tends to happen when you present a well-crafted weekly report).
The advantages of this reporting style for your management are that it can:
- 1. keep up with a lot of information very quickly because the report is very brief;
- 2. track how the tasks you work on affect projects because your report is written chronologically (remember that management is probably more worried about how technology problems affect schedules than it is about how you actually resolve the problem);
- 3. gain all these benefits on management's own timeframe, wherever senior managers may be (this means that when you meet with management in person, you'll be able to really focus on key issues rather than having to answer a bunch of task-based questions that you've already reported); and
- 4. start to understand the huge range of tasks you work on and come to understand that you have one foot in CAD space, one in production and yet another in management (they will come to this realization as they read multiple reports over a fairly long time span, but the realization will sink in, trust me).
In addition to educating management about what you're doing, it's important that you address the issue of billable time versus overhead. Because many CAD managers are working engineers, architects and designers, the battle over what's overhead and what's job-billable will always be an issue. One way to reduce your overhead is to make CAD management tasks report to jobs and to demonstrate that in your reports.
To make the concept of overhead reduction clear in your reports, take care to emphasize which tasks in your report facilitate job production versus which ones represent overhead. You'll note in my sample report (see sidebar) that even for tasks such as standards formulation or project kickoff coordination, I've stressed the job with which the tasks are associated. By stressing CAD management tasks that actually facilitate job completion, you'll be more able to bill the time to actual jobs instead of to overhead. And even in cases where you can't, at least your reporting is showing management that your overhead activities do have a positive effect on billable jobs.
The CAD manager's job is hard enough when management knows what you're doing and supports you, but it's darnnear impossible when they don't. So rather than complaining about management not knowing what you do, why not use reporting techniques to fix the problem and gain support simultaneously? I've found that the regular, diary-style reporting format illustrated in this column allows CAD managers to stay on track, manage the details of their job, educate upper management and earn managerial support all at the same time. And from the standpoint of time management, isn't achieving all these results in one task a good thing?
So why not try to implement a reporting scheme along the lines of what I've presented and watch your organization get better while management supports you more? I promise it'll happen if you keep at it.
Robert Green performs CAD programming and consulting throughout the United States and Canada. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.