When the Problem is Senior Management. . .

28 Apr, 2021 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager Column: Use the right communication tactics to make sure senior management supports and helps you, rather than hinders your CAD management strategies.

In prior issues of The CAD Manager’s Newsletter, we’ve discussed dealing with problem users at some length. Users that won’t follow standards, won’t attend training, won’t keep their files in order, etc. All these user scenarios cause issues for CAD managers to be sure, but perhaps the biggest problems that many CAD managers deal with are actually from the managers we report to.

Whether it is senior management’s take on budgets, your lack of authority, or project managers who cut corners, dealing with issues caused by management can be a unique headache for CAD managers. In this installment, I’ll share some tried and true methods for dealing with management staff when they make our jobs tougher than they should be. Here goes.

CAD Manager’s Newsletter: When the Problem is Senior Management

Image source: panumas/

Their Perspective is Very Different

I think we all agree that senior management doesn’t necessarily view things the way we do. We tend to think about CAD tools, IT tools, and how to get users up to speed on these tools so that work can get done. This is in stark contrast to senior management who tend to focus on financials and sales.

In my experience, these are the goals that management cares most about:

  • Getting projects done ASAP,
  • Getting projects done at minimum cost,
  • Making customers/clients happy, and
  • Making sure all projects are profitable.

By extension, it stands to reason that management tends to have two rules when they think about CAD:

  • Management Rule #1: Anything that supports the goals above is viewed as good.
  • Management Rule #2: Anything that impedes the goals above is viewed as bad.


Translation? What Does It Mean?

Given management’s emphasis, you can understand why as the CAD manager, we must consider how CAD tools and IT technology can help get projects done faster and more profitably, and in turn articulate this information to senior management. This leads me to my first strategy:

  • Deal with Management Rule #1 by speaking calmly and logically in senior management’s language — emphasizing faster, cheaper, more profitable.

The second strategy is a little harder to arrive at, but it is also relies on linguistics. If a CAD manager relates details that are too far “in the weeds” or riddled with CAD/technology minutia, then management will zone out. To make it even more important, I have found that senior management often believes that if they can’t understand something, then no one can understand it and it must be slowing down projects. My second strategy is:

  • Deal with Management Rule #2 by making your case using just enough detail to stay on level with management and save the minutia for the CAD users who really need to understand it (and want to!).


Take Stock, then Talk

Now that we understand how to better communicate your CAD management needs to senior management, it’s time to take stock of your CAD management priorities and start asking the following questions:

  • What can CAD management do to speed up projects?
  • What can CAD management do to reduce errors/rework?
  • What can CAD management do to produce higher quality work?

Now, of course, the answers to these questions are likely to include the following:

  • Standardize CAD practices.
  • Speed data flow between departments.
  • Use templated projects to speed startups.
  • Use peer review and training to reduce errors.

These are probably rules that you’re already trying to execute, which begs the question: Why are they so hard to implement? I’m willing to bet you haven’t brought these items to your management’s attention using the communication styles I’ve used above.


For the Win: Successful Communication Example

Let’s break this down. Below you’ll find a wrong way and a right way to frame a CAD standards discussion to a senior management team. Admittedly this example is dramatic, but it illustrates the methods you need to use to get management’s attention:

The wrong way: “The fact that our architects and engineers don’t follow CAD standards drives me crazy! We’ve got two different groups using derivative families and a complete lack of standardized driver parameters for the PDF capture and collation of construction documents. It’s all a huge mess.”

What management is probably thinking: “I don’t understand what was just said, but our projects get done and the customer seems happy. So, what’s the problem? Each department seems to have a solution that works for them, so why should we waste time trying to change how both departments work when we’re doing fine as is? I wish this CAD manager would quit whining!”

Note: The mistakes made in this example include technical terms (such as families and drivers) that management doesn’t understand, plus it has an emotional opening/closing argument rather than a calm, logical, data-driven argument.

The right way: “Because our architects and engineers refuse to use our family and construction document capture standards, we spend an average of 47 hours per project on rework for no reason. At $55 per hour and an average of 35 projects per year we are spending $90,475 annually (derived from 47 * $55 * 35) because these two departments refuse to use the standards. This money is simply lost profit.”

What management is now thinking: “Wow! Really? Are we really wasting that much time and money? If you can prove what you’re saying, I’ll go pound on some desks and make people follow the rules.”

Note: This example requires me to collect some data, but once the data is presented, there’s simply no arguing with it. The more logical and budget-focused that you can be when presenting your case, the more management will listen.

I’ve found that this is the only way I’ve ever been able to get senior management’s attention. It works for all types of software, in all types of companies, and in any type of business (other than government agencies).


Build Your List & Evangelize

Your challenge now is to think of all the CAD management techniques you can that can increase efficiency. Consolidate these ideas in a spreadsheet and start some rough calculations to see what you can save if the techniques are used. As the list starts to take shape, talk with your senior management and show them what they could be saving.

Conversely, if you have a CAD management idea that doesn’t save time, doesn’t save money, and doesn’t really grab management’s attention, then put it as a low priority item on your list.

If your goal is for management to support you, empower you, and stop undercutting you, then you’ll achieve your goals far more quickly by aligning your CAD management plan to address management’s more financially oriented goals.


Time Well Spent

As you promote your CAD management agenda to senior management based on cost and profitability metrics, you’ll observe the following interesting changes over time:

  • Management will start to believe you,
  • Management will back you up,
  • Users will view you with more authority,
  • Management teams will see you as an engine of savings, and
  • Your career will benefit.

When senior management has your back, CAD management gets a lot easier. When CAD management gets easier, you’ll accomplish more. This approach has worked everywhere I’ve ever worked or consulted, so I know it’ll work for you.


Summing Up

I realize that reprioritizing your CAD management process into a management friendly, financial framework can be counter-intuitive for technical managers, but it is the only way I know of to make your senior management team an integral part of the CAD management process. Believe me when I say it is far better to have management empowering you to solve problems, rather than continuing to be a problem.

If you have any other tips for turning problem management staffs into CAD management allies, I’d love to hear them. Until next time.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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