The Challenges of CAD Management, Part 3

In the February and March issues, I've investigated challenges that are common to CAD managers everywhere. I continue to investigate the topic this month. So far we have included challenges such as monotony, bad decisions, budget cuts, standards compliance, performance, authority, and work load. Let’s continue.

The speed of technology change

Just when you think that things have stabilized, out comes the 2010 software. Upgrades, new releases, patches, bug fixes, enhancements, and more. It never stops. Autodesk and others have a continuous parade of tools that constantly change.

The tools may get better with each release, but keeping up is tough. You have to learn new things, make new plans, teach others, support new tools, and so much more. The rate of technology changes is faster than most can keep up with, leading me to believe that more firms skip releases now than they did in the past.

You cannot do it all yourself. You need a network of people who help you stay current. This network can be formal or informal. These are the people that you talk with about CAD. Ask them to check out a new piece of technology and let you know what they think. Get some of them to test the new release and give you some feedback. Provide trial software to them to see where it might fit in to your arsenal.

There is not much one can do except to keep running. Stay in contact with the vendors to know what is coming. Go to AUGI user group meetings to find out the latest. See what others are doing. Since the CAD manager has no control over the rate of technology advancement, we have to be as proactive as we can to keep up.

The drudgery of documentation

Write it down. That is one of my mottos and yet I do not do it as much as I should. Documentation is a crucial part of a CAD manager's job. Providing guidelines, standards, how-to guides, tutorials, training material, and quick tips will make your fingers go numb just typing.

The CAD Standard is the most important document you will create, but there are so many others that should be written and distributed. Taking the time to record procedures and standard practices will increase the unification of CAD production. By providing written policy and procedure, you place boundaries on the production process that keep people moving in the same direction.

Write down the things that keep coming up. Make notes whenever you discuss the way things are done with someone. Turn these notes into CAD process documents. Take it in small chunks. Maybe the best way to create the stack of documents that may be needed is to not try and do it all at once. Document how to do one thing, get it published to everyone, and then start the next. Then, the next. When you are done, you will have a book of guidelines that can be used by everyone.

And after you have written it down, you need to get people to read it, understand it, use it, and police it. But that is a completely different challenge.

The desire to do it yourself

Face it – no one is as good at CAD as you are (or at least as you used to be). Trying to get people to understand what you are talking about, to get a new user past a bump in the road, to get a project back in line, causes you to just want to do it yourself. Asking users to step aside is often a desire of CAD managers everywhere. Taking the wheel of a careening bus to get it back on the road is the quickest way to restore project flow.

You just want to get in – get it done – and get out. After all, isn’t that what you are paid for - to get things moving again? The trouble is that the more you take control, the less other people learn. Yes, there are times when you need to ask someone to allow you to sit in their chair and fix things. You do it and explain what you have done. But I guarantee that there have been times when you were cringing while trying to get something working as you were standing over the user's shoulder, knowing that you could do it so much faster.

I have been asked to fix things by users and as I walk up to their desks, they get out of their chair. They are thinking, "just fix it." I gently tell them to sit back down and show me what is wrong. You would not believe how many fixes happen when users realize that they did something wrong while they are showing me the problem. I then stand next to them as "we" work through the problem. Their hands are on the keyboard and I am directing the flow of our work. They click the buttons; I tell them where to click. And I also tell them why they are clicking on those buttons.

The worst thing you can do is to fix something and not tell the user what the problem was. This may get past the roadblock, but it does nothing to help you the next time. Tell them what the problem was in language they can understand. They may be able to fix it themselves next time or at the very least recognize it when it happens.

Your job as a CAD manager includes passing on knowledge. The best way I know to do that is to let others hold the mouse and click the buttons. The more you can allow that to happen, the more the other person is going to learn. Just grin and bear it.

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