Sharpen Up!

11 Mar, 2013 By: Robert Green

Use the 80/20 approach to time management to hone your skills and influence.

Improve Workflows 80%. Improve Yourself 20%.I am often asked, "How can I manage everything I'm expected to manage in the time I have?" This is definitely a valid question, especially in light of the ever-increasing list of responsibilities competing for the CAD manager's attention. With software upgrades, cloud deployments, mobile computing, building information modeling (BIM), training, technical support, and IT coordination on your plate, it really is hard to prioritize. And along the way, don't we also need to continue improving ourselves as CAD managers?

In this edition of "CAD Manager," I'll share my CAD management version of the 80/20 rule. I've used it quite successfully over the years to allocate and prioritize my time and build my own skill set, and you can use it as a template for your own time-management challenges. Here goes.

Top Three Objectives

To be effective, a CAD manager must provide his or her users with three essential resources:

  • Support, so current projects are completed on time and meet quality standards.
  • Leadership and coordination to help users become more productive over time.
  • Forward-thinking guidance regarding the adoption of new software, hardware, and work methods.

I've presented these objectives in order of their importance to senior management. I feel confident that your management first wants you to ensure that projects are complete and on time; if you don't, you'll find yourself without a job.

Secondly, management wants you to focus on continually improving productivity; do so, and you'll be viewed as an excellent manager.

Finally, management expects you to stay informed about software, hardware, and other technology trends for your industry, and to forecast how changes might affect your company in the coming years. Predict the future accurately, and you'll become invaluable to your company.

The problem I continue to encounter is that senior management doesn't understand all the tasks required to meet each objective and how much time they take. I'll go into more detail on this shortly.

Time Allocation

The question becomes, How do you allocate your time so you can successfully meet all three key objectives within your workday? In addition, you must continue your own education so that you remain the most knowledgeable CAD resource in the company.

My solution is a version of the 80/20 rule. I spend 80% of my time managing ongoing projects while collecting data about how to make the process work better. I reserve the other 20% of my time for educating myself about software, hardware, and business methods that I think might be of value to the company in the future.

What I like about this approach is that I'm always picking up something new. Whether I'm learning techniques that improve current projects or getting up to speed on an entirely new technology, I know I'm bettering myself and giving my company a better CAD manager — a win-win scenario!

Improve Workflows: 80%

Let's break down the 80% into defined chunks of time and look at some helpful hints.

Provide technical support for current tasks: target 40%. This is the baseline support you must provide to keep current projects on track. Think plotter support, finding lost files, coordinating model data, producing electronic output, vendor/client transmittals, and the like. Alas, these types of chores are unavoidable. Therefore, your goal should be to spend the least time possible performing these tasks, while meeting the higher-value objectives that make up the rest of the 80% (which I'll outline next).

  • Hint No. 1:Treat these technical support issues as your top priority. If these issues don't get resolved, projects won't go out on time or they will contain errors (or both), and that's never a good thing.

Improve current processes: target 20%. Do not suffer through the same technical issues over and over. Fix them with better processes! By continually improving processes, you can help yourself, your users, and your company.

  • Hint No. 2:Whenever you provide technical support, ask yourself, "Why am I having these problems?" Keep a log of your observations, and over time you'll gain a better idea of how to fix the problems with better standards and training programs.
  • Hint No. 3:Constantly strive to see which standards work, which don't, and where you may need new standards to optimize processes.

Envision new workflows: target 5%. To get people thinking, sometimes you have to ask the question, "Why are we doing things this way?" If you can use existing CAD tools in different ways, tackle tasks in a better order, or get departments to interact more efficiently, you'll make things better — without spending any money. Apply your CAD smarts to introduce new workflows, then watch efficiency increase!

  • Hint No. 4:Engage project managers, engineering managers, and others to help you find bottlenecks in current workflows and you'll know where to start your quest.

Provide training and coaching: target 15%. That's right, 15%! I've found that the only way to improve current processes is to teach my users new techniques. Quite simply, no training means no improvement! I always encourage CAD managers to tell their senior management teams how critical it is to improve CAD users' skills in order to achieve greater efficiency. If management doesn't want you to hold formal training classes, then use lunch-and-learn sessions, videos, e-mail blasts, or good old-fashioned one-on-one coaching.

  • Hint No. 5:As you think about how to improve processes in your office, consider how you can use training to make the changes stick. By planning how I will train users in a new concept, I wind up understanding the concept better myself — always a bonus!

Improve Yourself: 20%

So, what about the 20% of our time that we want to use to contemplate the future of CAD in our organization? Here's how I spend that time.

Learn new software: target 10%. Use this time to look into software the company might use in the future. I try to select new software to learn based on its ability to solve existing problems or provide substantial time savings. You won't pick a winner every time, but this process is one of the best ways to find creative new solutions.

  • Hint No. 6:If your company is behind on software versions, hasn't made the leap to 3D, or has no BIM strategy, I'd suggest you dig in and learn the new releases your company is most likely to implement before exploring anything else.
  • Hint No. 7:When learning new software, keep track of what confused you and how you ultimately muddled through. This will provide the foundation for the training materials you prepare when you implement the software in the future.

Think about (and plan for) better hardware and software infrastructure: target 5%. Although you may not be the IT director, you (and your users) are certainly consumers of IT services. Therefore, you should think about how workstations, network tools, cloud deployments, and the like might affect your users. Whether you study technologies independently or collaborate with your IT department doesn't matter, provided you are always thinking about how to better equip your CAD users.

Evangelize and budget: target 5%. For CAD managers to get the time and resources required to do their jobs well, senior management must believe in them and fund them. If you don't sell the value of CAD management and define what you need to do the job, you'll never get funded. I've seen far too many good CAD managers forget this crucial step and suffer with no budget, no training, and no management support whatsoever. Don't let this happen to you!

For some insight about how to keep management regularly apprised of your accomplishments, take a look at my article, "Improve Your Job Security with Weekly CAD Management Reports," available on

  • Hint No. 8:Whenever you promote the value of CAD management, stress how your role increases project efficiency, time savings, and user productivity. Make sure senior management knows that the company runs better with CAD management than without it.
  • Hint No. 9:Whenever you ask for money, justify the request by spelling out what you'll save in work hours as a result of your investment. Don't say, "I want a faster rendering computer." Do say, "I want to cut our rendering times by 50% and get our renderings to clients the same day instead of the next day."

Summing Up

Obviously, everybody's work environment is different; not every item on my list will apply to you. However, I've found this 80/20 approach works well for most CAD managers, and it has served me well for 22 years now! I hope it can help you allocate your time better and achieve more CAD management success.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

Add comment