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Tech Manager—Developing a Strategic Plan, Part One

In previous artiles, I presented information on a Start/Stop/Continue process that gets you thinking of what might need to be addressed in your tech environment. That leads us to the next step, a more formal, written Strategic Plan. The need for a Plan may not seem obvious, but it is a needed effort. If your firm does one for the entire organization, see if you can participate or feed into it. You need to have your own for design technology even if you do not have one for the entire firm.

NOTICE: This material was developed for and presented by me at Autodesk University 2010 and also posted on my caddmanager.com blog. It fits well in the progression of my articles and so I present it here in abbreviated and updated form. If you have heard/read this before, you can read it as a refresher...

Without a Strategic Plan…

What would you see as the impact of operating without a Strategic Plan?  If there is not much impact, then why bother with the whole effort?  Let’s look at what your processes and progress will look like without a Plan in place.

  • Your budgets will be difficult to get approved because each line item will not tie to another.  They will just be scattered acquisitions that are seen by management as “going nowhere.” The Plan focuses.
  • There are teams of people who ignore your advice because they do not share your end goal. They think your perspective is just another in the mix of scattered opinions that the firm has. The Plan unifies.
  • Random silos of technology are competing for attention and you have no way of shouting over the noise. The Plan give you a voice.
  • Projects march to their own drummer and adopt technology that does not mesh well with other tools. The Plan helps production.
  • Someone else will “sell” management on their vision because it appears you do not have one. The Plan presents the future.

With a Strategic Plan…

If you have taken the time to develop a written Strategic Plan, then you will have begun the unification process of getting everyone on the same page.  Here is what is more likely to happen if you have a Plan in place.

  • You increase your credibility with the business leaders because they see you as a peer in their process of getting the firm going in the right direction.
  • You gain closer alignment between technology and business objectives because you have included their goals as a target for yours.
  • You improve teamwork between tech and internal business partners such as design and production.
  • Your efforts are easily visible to others because they appear as firm-wide successes.  You have outlined what you will be doing and how you are going to get there.  When you succeed, everyone knows it.

What I Won’t Try to Do Is…

I am not trying to define the perfect planning method.  There are so many out there that this would be tough to do anyway. What I am going to do is discuss what I have done in the past and keep it as simple as possible. I will not try to cover the grand scope of planning.  I will not try to discuss every option and critique current wisdom.  There is too much to cover.  With the expansive concepts and ideas and methods for planning that exist, it would take too much to cover them all.

What I Will Try to Do Is…

I will give you a starting place.  I want to provide a spot to start or some additional thinking about getting started.  Where to start is sometimes the hardest thing to define.  People get caught up in the overwhelming scope of things and freeze up.  Starting simple is key. I will seek to give you a framework for creating a Strategic Plan.  It will be simple, but workable. I will try to set you in motion.  I will talk about where to start and how to get moving. And finally I will let you define your processes.  I will encourage you to make it your own.

Here is a basic process for Strategic Planning in a nutshell.

Step One: Look to the Past – where have we been – what got us here – what has worked – what has failed.

Step Two: Look at Now – what are we doing now – what are we doing that works – what needs to be addressed (think Start, Stop, Continue).

Step Three: Look Toward the Future – what could we do – where might we go – time to dream.

Step Four: Define your Goals – what can we rationally expect to achieve.

Step Five: Identify Initiatives/Actions – in general, how are we going to do it.

This article, Part One, will get through Steps One, Two, and Three. We will cover Steps Four and Five next time and then wrap it up.

Let’s Dive In

Step One: Look to the Past. A quick or long look back will help frame the whole process. By getting a proper perspective on what has previously happened, we may be able to either repeat the successes, build on them, or avoid the failures of those that came before. You need to be asking some questions about your firm and team and environment that will be used in framing steps four and five.

What is the CAD history at your firm?

Did your firm jump into the CAD or BIM arena quickly? Did it get dragged into the latest release begrudgingly? Did it have any major failure points in the past that might cause some to have concerns if you attempt something new? How quickly does your firm embrace new technology? What were the challenges faced and how did your firm handle those challenges? Are the circumstances that caused these challenges still the same? Are those challenges still around? What have you learned through past changes and progress efforts?

The Product of Step One:

You will know you have finished this step when you can write a good narrative or list of what has happened in the past, how you got there, what you learned, and what you would avoid in the future. If you think you are done and have not written it down, then stop and create a document. Don’t just think you are done because you have it in your head. Writing it down will force you to think through the issues and personalities that surround the issues. You may not share this with anyone or it may be a collaborative effort. The document is just a method of getting it all assembled in your head and then on paper to make sure it captures everything. Don’t just think that if you spend a few hours thinking about the past that you have completed this step. Writing it up is part of the process of completing this step.

Step Two: Look at Now. What is happening at your firm right now?

You need to review the following areas at a minimum.

What’s Working; What’s Not – take a hard look at what people are embracing and what they are rejecting. What is improving and what is floundering? What made one project a success and another stumble?

Team and Talent – the makeup of the group you are working with will impact your ability to reach a goal. What is your team good at? Where do they need training?

Resources and Budget – the availability of tools, budget, and hardware will frame the scope of your planning. Do you have all the tech you need? Is money tight? Is hardware showing its age?

The Product of Step Two:

You will create a short written list of possible and probable areas of opportunity.  It will include constraints and resources, key people and tools, and other important items from your review. A list of strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Think “SWOT” analysis (search it on Google if needed).

Step Three: Look Toward the Future. Now you can start dreaming a little.   Now you can think outside the box.  By working through steps one and two, you have framed the reality of what you might dream about. Thinking about the future should be done by keeping in mind what the past has taught you and where you are now.  Don’t let it specifically limit your thinking—just allow it to define the issues related to the dreams you may have.  Drawing on the data and knowledge you have obtained from steps one and two, create a picture of how you want your environment to be. Build a list of 20 or more “possibles.”

Think now about the long term. What vision do you have for your environment in one year? Three years? Think about what your users might want or just ask them. Think about your firm and what they are trying to get done. Talk to others about what they are hearing, where they would like to go, and what buzz might be going on in their circles.

When you have your 20 or so, then go back and prioritize them. Put the most important at the top. Move the ones you think you can reach up near the top. Put the ones that have to be done near the top. Force yourself to have the 5-7 most important at the top of the list. Keep them all, just get them listed in priority.

The Product of Step Three:

  • A coalescing vision of what you want to do going forward.
  • A list of 20+ “possible,” then narrow it down to 5-7 “probables”—targets for review in Step Four and possible action.
  • Others who in general agree with your targets since they help define them.

Next time we will look at Step Four and Five and then wrap up the Planning portion of your thinking. In the meantime, start thinking and working through Steps One, Two, and Three.

Ending with a side note: now I can add CIM Manager under my umbrella term of Tech Manager for those that oversee and manage technology. So there is CAD/BIM/CIM/CAM… the list keeps growing. Did I miss any? If you need to know what a CIM Manager is, go back and read the article by Todd Rogers in the August 2019 issue of AUGIWorld.

Mark Kiker has more than 25 years of hands-on experience with technology. He is fully versed in every area of management from deployment planning, installation, and configuration to training and strategic planning. As an internationally known speaker and writer, he is a returning speaker at Autodesk University since 1996. Mark is currently serving as Director of IT for SIATech, a non-profit public charter high school focused on dropout recovery. He maintains two blog sites, www.caddmanager.com and www.bimmanager.com.

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