What Management Really Wants25 Jan, 2023 By: Robert Green
CAD Manager's Column: Approach your job in a way that meets management’s expectations so they value you and your CAD team more.
I recently spoke to a group of CAD managers in the Philadelphia area and noticed that one of the topics I usually touch on — management expectations — generated a lot more questions than usual. I handled the questions as best I could at the time but wanted to share with you a more structured version of our discussions that day.
It’s not that management expects you to do everything, but they do have expectations that I’ve found remarkably consistent over the years and it’s important to know them. In this edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll pass along my best tips for meeting management’s expectations as a CAD manager. Here goes.
Image source: GoodIdeas/stock.adobe.com.
Expectation: Communicate Like a Manager!
Senior managers are presented with a wide variety of problems every day and almost none of those problems have to do with CAD. So, it stands to reason that when CAD problems arise, management will appreciate a CAD manager who can communicate with them in a quick, unemotional, and easy to comprehend way so they can get to work fixing the problems.
Now, let’s put this in a CAD manager’s context by making the following communication recommendations:
State the problem and the proposed solution: If you must report a problem to your management team, explain what it is as briefly as possible and propose a solution. I’ve learned over the years that when problems strike, management wants to understand the problem’s cause and then solve it rapidly. By offering a solution while stating a problem, I’ve found that problems are generally solved more quickly.
Bottom line: Tackle problems head on and propose solutions right away.
Write shorter reports: Write in a short, executive summary style. View your writing as a “conversation starter” that grabs senior management’s interests so you can confer with them in detail later. It is better to get them interested with a quick email than bore them with a long, detail laden one that they’ll never finish reading.
Bottom line: One written page max! Less is more.
Keep your budget updated: Whether you are responsible for a formal budget or not, make sure you communicate what you need — particularly if expenses will be going up. It is better to tell management about cost increases today (even if they don’t listen) than to admit you missed something later. If there is a spreadsheet or official format for submitting budget items, take time to get acquainted with it and use it.
Bottom line: CAD managers who stay on top of their budgets are taken much more seriously by management.
Give great presentations: Whenever you give a talk to a group of managers, make sure you have a few “conversation starter” slides you can use to make key points. Steer clear of long presentations with lots of bullet points — it is better to have fewer, less specific slides. Just like shorter written reports lead to better dialog, shorter presentations lead to more innovative and meaningful discussions.
Bottom line: When presenting to management the goal is to demonstrate competency and build confidence.
Review progress regularly: Whether you’re reviewing your own performance, other employees, project teams, or how well a new piece of software performs, make sure your management team knows you’re on top of the details.
Bottom line: When management observes that you monitor key personnel, systems, and teams, they see you as a management peer which makes you more credible.
Expectation: No Bits and Bytes!
I often tell the story of the greatest compliment I ever received from a senior manager. The CEO of the company I was working for said to me, “For a computer guy, you speak English.” What he meant was that I was the first computer professional he’d encountered who spoke in a way that business managers could comprehend. I told him my philosophy was to “ungeek how I speak” and he laughed in agreement.
This experience led me to one of my most firmly held views on CAD management: When communicating to upper management, don’t use technical jargon but, rather, a business-focused way of describing the problem.
Don’t say, “The subcontractor we’re using keeps exploding block symbology and losing attribute data when they translate from MicroStation, which is a real pain for our roadway design staff.”
Do say, “The subcontractor we’re using isn’t following our standards which is costing us 25 work-hours a week in redo.”
Bottom line: By taking the technical details out and putting the financial details in, senior management will listen to you because it’ll save them money! Speak money!
Expectation: Motivate and Develop Staff
CAD managers are in the position to influence every CAD user in a company on an almost daily basis. And, whether you are a user’s boss or not, you can still make them a better CAD user and employee. Senior management knows this and wants to see you act. Here are my best tips to help you interact with staff members whether you are their boss or not:
Motivate indirectly: Say things like “we can do this better” or “let me save you time” or “let me make your life easier” as you propose new tools and methods. This way you appeal to user’s desires to get done faster so they’ll motivate themselves. I use this approach especially with CAD standards which many users don’t want to follow. Motivating users is about making them want to better themselves.
Train: To the extent that you motivate users by recommending new tools, methods, or standards, then you must expect to provide training. After all, you can’t ask people to use something they don’t understand. In my experience, the best way to improve employees is to train them, so strive to make training part of your ongoing effort to motivate users.
Note problems: As you interact with your users, note what causes them problems and work to eliminate them. When users see you as a CAD advocate who helps them eliminate problems, they’ll listen to you more (which is a nice bonus).
Keep it rolling: By motivating, training, and removing problems you’ll create a CAD equivalent of a rolling snowball that builds speed and momentum as it goes. When you see your motivation, training, and problem solving efforts starting to work don’t stop — do more and it will really motivate and develop staff.
Expectation: Be Business Focused
Does your company employ you because they think CAD is really cool and they want you to play with lots of neat software? Answer: No!
Does your company employ you so you can make CAD run well so the company can finish projects faster and make higher profits? Answer: Yes!
I’m constantly amazed at how many CAD managers don’t ask themselves these questions or understand the answers. Simply put — you are the CAD manager to make sure the tools work, projects get done, and profits are made. There’s no other way to say it.
The best thing you can do to be business focused is to use the mindset I advocated for staff motivation and development. Always strive to make things easier, faster, higher quality, and save people time as you do so. If you make CAD a time-savings tool everybody — users and management alike — will see you as a time and money saving machine.
If you handle the CAD management job using the recommendations I’ve made above, not only will you meet management’s expectations, but they’ll see you as a valuable asset who is helping the company achieve great things. While they may never understand the technical issues that you face with print drivers, PDF utilities, DWG exports from Revit, discipline coordination in BIM/Civil models, or moving STEP geometry between mechanical modelling tools, they will know that you’re a communicative, action-oriented manager who’s getting the very best performance from their users. Until next time.