CAD Management: Planning for Progress

CAD managers live in two different modes. The first is the tyranny of the urgent and the second is the desire for the future.

The tyranny of the urgent keeps you hopping from day to day, from fire to fire, from crisis to crisis. I addressed Crisis Management in the June 2008 issue of AUGI HotNews. You could read that as a starting point before you read this.

The second mode is planning for progress. We long for the day when our systems run smoothly, employees know what to do and how to do it, standards are in place and followed, and the environment we have created is progressing from milestone to milestone.

The second mode takes planning. Longer range planning. defines long range planning as:

Exercise aimed at formulating a long-term plan, to meet future needs estimated usually by extrapolation of present or known needs. It begins with the current status and charts out a path to the projected status, and generally includes short-term (operational or tactical) plans for achieving interim goals.

A long-term plan is merely stringing together short-term plans with an overall destination in mind. It is like planning a vacation: you plan each day, one day at a time, with the overall goal of seeing everything you want to see. Some days may be just travel days and others may be sightseeing days, but string them all together and you have a vacation.

The destination of your travels can be crafted by taking a long-range look at where you want to go, how you are going to get there, and what you are going to do once you arrive. Successful vacations take planning; successful CAD environments do as well.

Defining where you want to go in CAD takes into account where you are and what resources you have. You may not plan a driving vacation if your car has more than 200,000 miles and breaks down just driving across town. You may not plan to visit Tahiti if you are on a shoestring budget. First you must take an honest look at what you have to work with before planning your destination.

When it comes to CAD, you need to honestly assess your team, talent, resources, and budget before setting out a long-range plan.

Team and talent

The makeup of the group you are working with will impact your ability to reach a goal. Do they have the training needed? Are they excited about change for the better? Are they easily disheartened? Do they have the skills they need to advance? Do they follow the standards? Do they share what they have learned? Can you count on them?

Resources and budget

Do you have the needed access to management and are they behind your efforts? Do you know people in the industry who can give you insight? Can you create communication methods to expand your impact? Can you get approvals on purchases? Is there a line item for CAD software that may need to be purchased?

Dream a little dream

Once you have assessed the current situation you can start dreaming of tomorrow. You may already do this and have some idea of where you need to go. Does your firm need software upgrades? Do they need more training? Is there a training budget? Are there culture issues that prevent you from making progress in one or more areas? Do others stand in your way of making progress?

Taking everything into account, select one or two targets to start your thinking and planning. Choose high-level areas such as training, standards, purchases, production methods, hardware needs, or process refinements. Start with a large area of concern.

Planning for progress

Let's take hardware needs. Everybody wants better hardware, but it takes budget. Without a plan, no one will be willing to fund your initiatives. Hardware is a tangible asset and management wants to know what it will get for the money, how it will be spent, who will get what and when.

So thinking about hardware, you need to define these things at a high-level target. Here is an example: In a perfect world, we have the best hardware that money can buy. This translates into: Upgrade all hardware platforms for those using (fill in the software title here) so that we are not hampered by (fill in the issues here) and we can start (fill in the improvement here).

To further refine it: Upgrade all of the PC's RAM so that Autodesk Inventor does not freeze up on large files and our team can reduce the time lost dividing workload.

And even further to: Upgrade all PCs from 2GB of RAM to 4GB so that Autodesk Inventor does not freeze up on files over 100MB and our team can reduce the four hours per week lost dividing workload.

So you have moved from the high-level conceptual to the practical. By doing this you start having a plan for getting there. Now add the timeframe and cost: Upgrade 10 PCs per month from 2GB of RAM to 4GB so that Autodesk Inventor does not freeze up on files over 100MB and our team can reduce the two hours per week lost dividing workload. Completion of all 40 PCs will be done in four months at a cost of $1,200 per month. ROI based on four hours per person per week at $35 per hour will be less than two months.

Taking a statement like that to management will assist in getting the needed funds and move your environment ahead.

In mode one – tyranny of the urgent – you run around trying to help everyone avoid the two hours or perfect a method to reduce the 2 hours to 1.5 hours.

In mode two – planning for progress – you identify the longer range plan to eliminate the problem altogether.

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