Standards Psychology for CAD Management 3.0

7 Apr, 2020 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager Column: Some users will follow standards willingly; for others, you’ll need a strategy that incorporates education, audits, and a basic understanding of human nature.

One of the main problems we all encounter as CAD managers is dealing with standards, right? And in the age of CAD Management 3.0, I find the problem has become much worse due to the number of branch offices and remote workers we must now manage. (Author’s note: This newsletter was planned prior to the COVID-19 lockdowns around the world — which, oddly, has made the topic even more relevant.)

In this edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll start the discussion about managing CAD standards in a new age by discussing the very foundation of CAD standards: managing human response. As the series progresses, we’ll examine more specific strategies for a range of challenges. Here goes.

First: Acknowledge Human Nature

If I had to summarize the psychological standards “dance” I’ve gone through with thousands of CAD users over the years, it would go something like this:

        Me: Here's the standard way to perform Task X in the CAD system.

        User: Yeah, but I can do it my own way, right?

        Me: No, this is a standard and you need to follow it.

        User: So this is a recommendation to use if it suits the project?

        Me: No, it’s a standard and you need to follow it.

        User: I don’t like being told how to work, can’t everybody else just follow the standard?

        Me: If we all follow the standard, we’ll all reduce errors and save time.

        User: I like my way better.

        Me: facepalm

afxhome /

OK, maybe I’m taking a few creative liberties here, but this is more or less what the process feels like every time. The bottom line is, humans don’t like to be told what to do, and they’ll push back if you try to change their behavior.

Psychology tip: Know that the tendency to resist authority is just part of the human condition and don’t take it personally.

Second: Realize Your Disadvantage

In today’s world of remote workers, branch offices, and the very high ratio of users to CAD managers, there are a few simple facts we must acknowledge:

  • We can’t keep our eye on everyone.
  • There’s very little way to know how projects are truly progressing.
  • Standards violations are easily concealed unless we look for them.
  • If people know we’re looking, standards compliance goes up.

The fact that practically the entire planet is working remotely at this point makes it nearly impossible to know what is going on until a CAD deliverable is actually submitted, right? So the question then becomes: How can we seek out standards problems — and find them early — without having to totally micromanage the process?

Psychology tip: When users know that standards are being checked — even if only intermittently — they are much more likely to follow the rules. This, again, is simply human nature, and should not be taken as a personal affront to your authority.

Third: Explain, Yet Again, Why Standards Matter

I know that all of us understand the value of standards, but believe me when I say that not all users do. From a user’s point of view, standards can actually seem counterproductive. Why? Consider these user complaints:

  • I have a process that works already, so changing to another way will make me slower!
  • These standards don’t fit how we work in our department.
  • The people over in [fill in the blank] department never follow standards, so why should I?

You have to admit that these complaints are often valid. So how do we counter them? We evangelize the following truths:

  • Standards enable work to flow from department to department with zero/minimal reformatting.
  • Standards increase consistency and thus build high-quality work processes.
  • Standards mean we can cross-train employees to understand more jobs and work on more projects.
  • Standards allow us to gain efficiency over time, which means profits go up.

Nobody can argue with these conclusions about standards, right? So keep evangelizing, keep speaking up, and keep pushing these concepts every chance you get. You need to be the “standards whisperer” in your organization.

Psychology tip: When talking standards, there is a human tendency to value individual flexibility over group productivity. Understand that this is so, and that you will only start to win over users’ hearts and minds by repeating a consistent, correct message.

Fourth: Audit

Given that you can’t be everywhere, and you can’t check every model, drawing, and assembly, how in the world can you audit and enforce standards? There are several partial answers to that question that I’ve found to be effective, including:

  • Random checks. Just a random inspection of “how things are going” with various team members usually exposes standards problems. Quite often users will admit errors if they know you’re going to look.
  • Department interface checks. If the electrical team gives drawings to your fire protection department, as an example, then fire protection will tend to find standards problems in electrical drawings because they are the end of the process. Standards tend to be exposed at departmental interface points.
  • Team checks. Periodically get the design team leaders together for a coffee and ask them how standard processes are working (and not working) on their projects, and just sit back and listen as they speak. If you care to listen, they’ll tell you where the problems are.
  • Use errors to your advantage. If a standards problem arises and needs to be fixed, use that as an opportunity to speak about how following the standards would have prevented the issue. The point here is not to embarrass or single out anyone, but to illustrate why standards are needed.

The goal of these exercises is to gain insight into where standards violations happen, why, and who to talk with in order to make the violations go away.

Psychology tip: Understand that nobody likes being “caught” in a violation. My goal is to handle the violation as a “teachable moment” in which the violator learns how their errors affect others and how much time is wasted in the process. Do not be angry, don’t take it personally, and always handle it with calm professionalism.

Fifth: Enforce

If you handle the auditing process as I’ve outlined above, enforcement is often accomplished by simply making the violator own the problem and then fix it. That’s of course the best possible outcome, but what if it doesn’t work? For stubborn violators, the following conversational process seems to work:

  • Confront. “This is the third time I’ve spoken to you about this and the problem keeps coming up.”
  • Question. “Is there a reason you can’t follow the standard?”
  • Listen/evaluate. If a valid complaint is presented, perhaps a standards update is in order — but absent a really good reason, you’ll need to move to elevate the issue.
  • Elevate. “This problem is becoming a sore spot with project management and other departments on the job. I’m just letting you know that you’re going to start having some angry people asking why you can’t follow procedure.”
  • Report. Let project managers know you’ve had the conversation, and that you expect them to help you enforce the standards.

Psychology tip: There’s no fun or easy way to confront someone who refuses to follow the rules, so this may be a bit uncomfortable. You can turn the tables by saying, “This isn’t personal on my part — it is my job to make the company more efficient, and enforcing standards is just part of that.” Calmly and professionally tell the violator what the problem is, and elevate to management as needed.

Summing Up

These tips for managing standards in the disconnected/remote workplace are key for survival in the CAD Management 3.0 landscape. Take some time to consider your strategies, and use the psychological perspective presented here to work with human nature — rather than against it — to make standards simpler to manage. In the next edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll share some strategies for conveying and automating standards. Until next time.


About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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