Win Over Your Users

24 Feb, 2010 By: Robert Green

As a CAD manager, getting the hearts and minds of your users on your side will make your job easier, and your efforts more effective.

CAD managers are often charged with controlling user behavior. You may find yourself having to impose standards, create training programs, resolve problems, coordinate between departments, or any manner of other tasks that involve dealing with the CAD users in your company. And as many of you have discovered, coordinating a diverse group of users with varied priorities is not easy.

So how can you not only deal with your company's CAD users, but win them over and make them your fans? This is the question we'll explore in the next two issues of the CAD Manager's Newsletter. Here goes.

Examining User Interaction

Let's start the conversation about winning over your users with a few questions, some of which you may have already asked yourself. As I propose my answers to these questions, I hope to provoke you into thinking about your own answers as well.

Can you make all users happy all the time? No. It just isn't realistic to believe that you can make everything perfect for everyone all the time. And if you do strive to create a utopia for your users, you'll become frustrated and discouraged as you realize it can't be done.

Should you strive to make most users happy most of the time? Absolutely! If you succeed in creating an environment that most users enjoy working in, you'll notice less arguing about standards, better productivity, and lower error rates — all things that you want anyway, right?

Can you provide technical solutions to user problems that will allow the users to get their jobs done faster? Typically, yes. Simple customization, job-specific tools, templates, and automated procedures are just a few ways that you can leverage CAD technology to achieve time savings. And usually, when users finish their work faster, they're happier!

Is it worth your while to try making your users happy? Within reason, you bet! Happy users typically equate to a happier CAD manager, which is just fine with me — and you, no doubt.

Shouldn't users just do their jobs and follow the established standards without question? In theory, yes, but in reality it never works that way, does it? The bottom line appears to be that users will do whatever they think will get their work done faster, whether you like it or not.

Tips for User Interaction

Once you've resolved to start working more with your users to make them happier and more productive, what do you do next? Here are some tips that I've employed at client companies; they've always helped me win over the users, so I think you'll find them useful.

Become a User Advocate

Often, CAD users feel that the computing environment and CAD software they work in hinder their productivity. Users often make comments like "the management doesn't know how messed up this is" or "these standards slow me down" out of frustration, but many times, those complaints don't reach decision makers. By becoming a CAD user advocate you can carry user complaints to the IT department or project management teams, where you can actually make a difference.

When users realize their CAD manager understands their concerns and is trying to help them, the grumbling will turn into a conversation between you and the users. CAD managers should rejoice when users actually share what their core frustrations are, because the users are giving you great ideas for improving workplace productivity — something senior management should like.


Listen and Learn

When your users tell you about the frustrations or productivity barriers they face, listen carefully to what they're telling you. Then delve into the problem more thoroughly by probing into their frustrations, so you'll know what to do about them. This sample conversation illustrates the constructive use of questioning in such a situation:

User: I can't ever find the project standards I need! Trying to get the right title frames, correct part naming conventions, and standard symbology I need for the XYZ project we're working on is driving me nuts! I wind up making up my own standards as I go along, even though I know I'll probably have to rework the project later.

You: Well, we keep those standards on the network in the Q:\XYZ directory, so what's the problem?

User: I know, but our project manager got together with the project manager from XYZ Corporation and decided that they would need alterations to our existing standards. They're so busy batting all this back and forth that I can't get a concrete answer about what I should be doing.

You: Aha! I need to set up a conference call with our internal staff and XYZ's staff to delve into this. I'll get you a revised standard as soon as I can get the call arranged!

In this case we learned that users complaining about standards are really upset about ill-defined project coordination. By delving into the actual problem, you were able to figure out that some CAD management coordination was needed to make the situation workable for the users. You'll be a hero to the user community, and you'll win the trust of the project managers too!

Strive for Simple

The noted computer scientist Dan Bricklin was quoted as saying, "Users aren't stupid, they're busy" — so true. Whenever you create a standard, modify a procedure, or install a new software tool, remember the three main rules of CAD management:

  1. Make it easy.
  2. Make it easy.
  3. Make it easy.

Strive for convenience, simplicity, and ease of comprehension in everything you do, and your users will love you for it.


Want to get your users to follow standards better or adhere to project guidelines more closely? Make those standards and guidelines easy to read and follow.

Remember Your Past

Remember how you felt when you first learned a concept, and strive to communicate in a way that made sense to you the first time. Do this and you'll be well on your way toward communicating in the simplest, clearest way possible.

Also remember that you weren't always a CAD manager; you used to be a regular CAD user too. Dig into your memory and recall what confused you, what types of communication worked best for you, which leaders you admired, and who you thought best represented your interests.

Summing Up

I realize that the concept of "serving users" adds yet another task to the already full plate of most CAD managers, and I understand that some may view these techniques as "coddling" instead. I would counter with the observation that until I have the trust and confidence of my users, I can achieve very little as CAD manager.

I'd recommend that all CAD managers think about making their users happy as a core part of being a truly effective CAD manager, and adjust their work strategies accordingly. Remember that you're ultimately judged by how productive your users are, and that happy users are always more productive than unhappy ones.

In the next edition of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll give you some ideas for enlisting your user base to help you make things better. Until then.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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