CAD Management: When to say NO

Most CAD managers provide services that encourage others to create, empower, develop, and maintain consistent output from CAD. These managers teach and train everyone in how to do the right thing and how to do things better. They push ahead when others are uneasy and forge trails in software use where no one has gone before.

"Yes" is the operative word for most CAD managers. Yes – we can train you. Yes – we can install the software. Yes – we are moving to the new release. A bounty of Yesses makes your firm go forward. You are preparing yourself before the question is asked so that Yes can be the answer. But there may be times when "No" gets the job done better.

I have strategically used "No" in order to get something done. No communicates better than Yes. Constraints may work better than unfettered freedom. Let me give you an example. This is a true story, but I have changed the names and scenario enough so that I can share it.

There was a project manager who never cared about CAD standards or making quality CAD files. He would just tell his people to make things work, give him the plots, and keep quiet. The CAD team for his projects lived in fear of not making him happy, so they generally followed his every whim. When they got in a jam, they called on me to fix things. I would dutifully do so and also tell the PM what was wrong and how it could be avoided in the future. He ignored me for the most part and continued to do what he liked. Bad file names, bad folder structure, bad layer naming... inconsistency ran rampant.

Well it got to the point where he continued to tie the files into a CAD knot and almost every day became a challenge to get things to work. I would inform his superiors (in a nice way) that his projects were costing extra money that was not needed. They were happy that he was making money and getting the job done, so they also tended to look the other way. They (in principle) knew I was right, but did not want to "impede his progress." I asked them when they would back me up so that he would get in line with all the others and they would always give me some date in the future.

Finally, after working with the PM I got him to agree (in principle) that the CAD standards should be followed, but they never were. I warned him of my concerns that one day the system would fail and we would not be able to get his job out the door. I asked when he would comply, which he agreed to do, but he always pushed it off to the next project.

Here comes the No part

I was fed up with lip service to the standard with no real compliance. Why was this one PM allowed to get away with this when all the others complied? Why would management not force him to work like the rest of us? Internal politics and personalities came into play. Everyone agreed to do what was right, but no one actually did it. Everyone promised to work it out, but it never happened. I was frustrated, but not angry (don't react in anger – that is not good).

We were nearing a deadline and the files were giving the team problems. Files would not plot, Xrefs would not resolve, things were in a mess. A team member came to me and asked me to fix it. I said NO. The person chuckled and said, "Come on, just fix things." Again I said NO. I reminded him that the PM knew this might happen and now it had. The project was broken. The person said, "Come on, you're not serious." I said, "I will not fix his problems." The person left my cubicle and I glanced at my watch thinking, “How long will it take until the PM pays me a visit?" Not long.

Within minutes the PM was at my door. He ranted and raved about our lousy system and the failures of CAD and then asked me to fix it. I said No, I would not fix it. He stormed out. I again glanced at my watch.

In comes senior management to have a talk with me. The team, the PM, and senior management were at my door. I was shaking in my boots, but had to get the message across. My well-placed NO was having an effect. Good news travels fast; bad news travels faster. This all took about eight minutes from my first "No" to the senior manager standing in my office.

"Now that I have your attention" was the thought in my head. I may even have said it aloud. I explained that I was fully ready to fix the files, but that they all needed to know that a major failure could happen at any time based on the haphazard approach to CAD that was in place. I then began to remind them about the troubles that I had tried to get them to avoid. I reminded them of their agreement that projects needed to change and come in line with the standard. We discussed the need for compliance and how it would make everything work consistently better. I had them backed into a corner and I knew it. It was the only way that I could get them to pay attention. And they did. We all agreed – together – that the next project would be according to standard. Once that was done, I fixed the files.

A well-placed No can be effective, but you must use it sparingly and with great care. I knew that I would not be fired on the spot (if you are not sure, don't try this). I knew that I carried a large level of authority and that this was one of the last holdouts to the old method of chaotic CAD. I knew that I was ready to fix the files even though I said No. This was not a power grab or a tyrant's method of control. It was a wakeup call to the concern about file failures.

Sometimes a well-placed No carries a lot more weight than a hundred Yesses.

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