Succeed by Teaming Up with Project Managers13 Feb, 2018 By: Robert Green
CAD Manager Column: Start thinking about common CAD management problems from the project manager’s point of view, and you’ll be on your way to building a win–win relationship and more authority to execute your own priorities.
In the previous edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I talked about the difficult — and unfortunately common — situation of being a CAD manager with no authority. Among the coping strategies I suggested was working with project managers to find common ground on issues such as technical support, training, and CAD standards.
This time around, I’ll unpack the idea of working with project managers (PMs) to a much greater degree, give you more techniques for gaining authority as a CAD manager, and lay out a some essential action items. My goal is to help you become more productive, via collaboration with PMs. Here goes.
PMs: Who Are They?
PMs exist solely to stay on top of project details and ensure that projects are completed accurately, profitably, and on schedule. Whether it’s an engineer overseeing the construction of a building, a shop floor captain overseeing the creation of a custom retrofit for a vehicle, or an on-site surveyor completing a job for a homeowner, all PMs have the same mantra: Do it right, do it fast, make the customer happy.
Using this broad interpretation of a PM should help you realize that almost any company you work in has PMs, even if that isn’t their formal title. So who are the PMs in your company, and how can you interact with them more frequently and effectively?
Action items: Make a list of who the PMs are in your organization, and prioritize those who seem to have power/influence over CAD issues. Resolve to work more closely with these individuals.
Understand Their Unique Power
Since PMs must make so many daily decisions to keep projects on track, it is imperative that they have decision-making authority. If they couldn’t make key decisions on a timely basis, projects would fall behind, and mistakes would be made. Senior management staffs understand these realities, and therefore give PMs a wide range of authorities to “get the job done.”
So if you’ve ever wondered where the real authority is on any project, it resides with the PM. And since only those who already have power can grant it to you, it only makes sense that a close relationship with the PM is in your best interest.
Action items: Think about which PMs are most interested in the disciplines relevant to you. Who is the building information modeling (BIM) advocate? Who is the most interested in production drawings? Who understands CAD in construction? Next, create a plan that states which CAD management issues you’ll strive to collaborate on with each PM you’ve listed.
Build Authority by Solving Their Problems
Of course, PMs encounter all sorts of problems, but few things upset them as much as having to rework a job due to CAD/BIM hang-ups. Every time CAD/BIM mistakes are made, the PM must allocate more labor hours to the project. And since every hour spent fixing a problem translates to money that could have been saved, PMs see CAD/BIM problems as reducing project profitability.
If you can shine a spotlight on where the CAD/BIM problems exist and demonstrate how much time is being spent on fixing these problems, you’ll have a strong reason to talk to the PM. To illustrate how to start a dialogue, here’s a sample conversation between you (the CM) and the PM that deals with the all-too-common problem of users not following standards:
CM: “I’ve just spent three hours diagnosing the problem with those construction PDF files you asked me about. We’ve wasted about 100 man-hours fixing this problem on the past few jobs, and I know how we can prevent this from happening again. Do you have a minute to talk about it?”
PM: “I’m all ears. What can we do better?”
CM: “The core problem is that users aren’t paying attention to the modelling and CAD standards we have in place, so by the time we must create the PDF files, the error is baked into the model. This is a classic case of a few people causing problems because they don’t know the rules — or just don’t follow them.”
PM: “OK, so how do we prevent this in the future?”
CM: “If you’ll call a training session meeting with your staff and make it clear that they are expected to attend, that’ll be a great start. At the training, I’ll go over the problems and solutions, then you’ll send the clear message that you expect everyone to follow the rules. Does that sound doable?”
PM: “If this will keep us from having these rework problems in the future, then I’ll make it happen.”
CM: “Excellent! Let me know when the training session will be, and I’ll get prepared.”
Action items: Think about which problems you could most easily tackle with some training and PM intervention, then imagine the conversation you’ll have with that PM. Note that to get the PM’s attention, you’ll need a solid estimate (in hours) of how much time is being wasted.
In the example above, please notice that the CM controlled the conversation by doing the following:
Make a strong opening statement focused on time savings. By stating what the problem is, what the cause is, and the magnitude of the potential time savings, you’ve touched three issues that PMs are keenly interested in.
State a call to action. Don’t gripe about users in general, or denigrate anyone in particular. Simply describe the lack of standards or adherence to best practices, and the problems caused by it.
Suggest a solution. Be specific about what you need to do to fix the problem.
Make a request for implied authority. Make sure the PM understands that they must tell users that training attendance is mandatory, and that standards must be followed. You’ll need the PM to send a clear message to users: “You will do as the CAD manager instructs — no exceptions.”
Action items: Pick a problem and a PM that you will approach first. I recommend selecting a relatively simply problem, with a solution that is easy to train and implement. The goal is to make your first PM interaction a quick and rewarding success for both parties.
Turning Action into Trust
If the PMs in your company start to identify you as a cost-saving problem solver that helps them get projects done, you’ll become a trusted resource. And if you continue these types of interactions, you’ll find that PMs will listen to you before problems arise — giving you a proactive source of authority to deal with CAD/BIM issues.
The trick to continuing your collaboration with PMs is to think about common CAD management problems from the PM’s point of view. Here are a few examples:
Focus on rework prevention. As our sample conversation above illustrates, any time you investigate a problem and find the cause, be sure to communicate it to PMs so you can prevent problems rather than fixing them. Whenever you can prevent rework, you’ll have the PM’s attention!
Make training the PM’s best friend. To solve rework and errors in CAD/BIM processes, training is often required. When you convince PMs that training saves time, rather than costing it, you’ll be given the authority and resources you need to train users.
Action items: Create a plan for how you can use your daily activities to create a work relationship with the PMs that’ll help you become a more empowered CAD manager.
If you’re a CAD manager struggling to gain the authority to do your job effectively, I hope you’ll give some of the PM-related strategies I’ve suggested a try. Even if you already have the authority you need, I hope you’ll consider aligning yourself with PMs to best focus your CAD/BIM management resources.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that highly effective, empowered CAD managers are the ones who work well with PMs. Aim to become one of them!