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Short-Staff CAD Management Strategies

CAD Management Plan Staff October 27, 2021

CAD Manager's Column: As COVID-19 continues to tighten the labor market, find out how you can manage your staff and keep projects on target.

As much as I hate writing anything about COVID-19, we simply can’t ignore the staffing problems this pandemic has caused. Besides the remote work issues that we’ve all dealt with, qualified workers are now harder to hire and, in turn, it is easier for people to go elsewhere, meaning that retaining the good people already on your staff is critical. As a result, many companies are now working with a smaller staff than before the pandemic. This short-staff problem creates real challenges for many companies. The bottom line seems to be that we are all under pressure to get more done with fewer people while at the same time doing everything we can to retain the good staff we have — this is not an easy task. In this edition of the CAD Managers Newsletter, I’ll share some strategies for survival in a short-staff environment that makes sense for CAD managers. Here goes.


Image source: fatmawati/stock.adobe.com.

It’s All About Efficiency

Of course, CAD managers are always concerned with efficiency, but with today's new staffing reality, it’s even a bigger worry. We are no longer able to increase our work output simply by increasing staffing because it is so difficult to find qualified workers. In the end, we are compelled to get more work done per person. Efficiency is no longer something we should try to achieve over time, but a mission critical undertaking that must be achieved right now. So, how can CAD managers ramp up efficiency? Let’s explore.


Set the Tone

The headache of trying to coordinate difficult projects with some people in the office, some people at home, and some people in different time zones, is something most of us are familiar with already. I’ve taken the approach that acknowledging the difficult situation and inviting everyone to get creative to help make things better is best. Don’t say, “This stinks, but we have to live with it,” say, “This is our chance to build our ideal work environment,” instead.

Think back to the pre-COVID days when we had enforced office hours and procedures we had to follow. Now consider how those hours and procedures need to change. The good news is that we can be more flexible in how and where the work gets done, but the difficult part is regaining control after the initial free-for-all of working from home. As a manager, it is our responsibility to convey this message of control.

Should staff shortages become a problem, then the same concept of setting the tone realistically works as well. It is better to say, “We're shorthanded and we're going to have to get smarter about how we tackle these projects,” instead of remaining silent and watching projects flounder. My expectation is everyone should be professional enough to understand the situation and work to be a part of the solution.

The goal in setting the tone is to get everyone to buy into the challenge of doing more with less as an active participant in the process. I realize that as a CAD manager you may not have the authority to drive this type of change, but your boss does and they should be willing to help you achieve this objective.



Want to get more done? Get standardized! After all, if everyone is standardized, then we will experience fewer errors, greater consistency, and more output per person than we would otherwise. As a CAD manager, you’re no doubt a fan of standards already, but when short staffing hits there is often pressure from upper management to “just get it done” and bypass standards. You and I both know that less work will get done if standards are not followed, so a strategy must be put in place to make following standards paramount.

Delivering consistently error-free work is the only way to survive being understaffed and standards are the only way to make that happen. If anyone tells you to ignore standards, inform them that they are undermining everything you’re doing to increase efficiency. Keep repeating the standards mantra until it sticks.


Do NOT Cut Out Communication

When we have fewer people to get the work done, you might be tempted to cut out communication exercises such as training or coordination meetings. But, in fact, this is exactly the opposite of what you should do because people who aren't trained or coordinated make more mistakes. So, if your boss is pressuring you to, “Stop with the meetings and just get things done!” you must convince your boss otherwise. I offer these strategies:

Stand-up morning meetings. For those employees in the office any meeting should be conducted using stand-up methodology. By this I mean exactly what I said — everyone should stand up. There is no better way to keep meetings short than to not let people sit down. Anyone attending these meetings remotely via Teams or Zoom should also stand up in solidarity with those in the office. The goal is to convey the information required for a productive day of work first thing and to only spend 15 minutes doing so.

Single-topic trainings. Ask yourself what is the bare minimum you need to train your CAD staff to be optimally productive on any given day. Some days you may not need any training at all but other days may present project standards issues or repeatedly observed errors that merit a quick training session. The training should be on-topic, brief as humanly possible, and ruthlessly focused on increasing standards compliance to raise productivity. You may find that you can get more results from a single 15-minute stand-up training session than anything else.

Constantly stress consistency. In all meetings and training sessions the concept of consistent work practices must be stressed. Say, “The only way we’ll get all this done is if we’re all singing from the same sheet of music,” rather than, “Follow the standards because I said so!” Consistency is actually the answer to short staffing, although some people may need to hear the message over and over before it really registers.

Group dynamics with no opt out. Coordination meetings or training sessions should be performed in groups so your time is only spent performing the activity once. The other benefit of doing these activities in groups is that everyone hears the same questions and experiences the same training so a collective “hive mind” of consistency can form. There is a reason that meetings and training are conducted in group settings in offices, so there's no reason to do it any differently with blended teams of in-office and at-home workers. If the training or meeting is important enough to deliver, then it is important enough for your staff to attend. And, since you'll be keeping it brief, the time demands placed on everyone will be minimal.

Management presence to convey seriousness. As you begin your stand-up meeting and single-topic training deliveries, have management attend the first session and drop in periodically. Attending will only take 15 minutes of their time, but the message sent is crucial. Especially in an environment where you are being pressured to get things done with fewer staffers, it is all the more important that management delivers the message that they support you.


Implement Informal Peer Review

As more work gets done faster by fewer people, the opportunity to review the work on an ongoing basis declines. In my experience, this means that more errors make it further through the design and checking process than would otherwise be the case — especially so with remote workers. To combat this problem, I’ve found that peer reviews are very helpful.

The reality is that your peers understand what you do and therefore they can help you find mistakes more quickly than anyone else. The old adage that two sets of eyes are better than one is a key concept that peer review makes possible. The key to making peer review work is to make it non-threatening and simply a chance for people to catch their own errors rather than a customer or management.

I go out of my way to make peer review a friendly process that uses confidentiality as its key component. When everyone feels comfortable letting others check their work, then we’ll all find our mistakes sooner and spend less time fixing them. That is a much less stressful way to work!


Establish Rewards

If we’re all striving to get more done with fewer people, then it stands to reason that a reward is in order for everyone, right? A rewards program is one of the best things any company can do to retain good employees and it really doesn’t have to cost much. Here are some ideas:

  • Online shopping gift cards

  • Coffee gift cards

  • Pizza Fridays at the office, and pizza gift cards for at-home workers

  • Small desk upgrades like nice wireless headsets, ergonomic mouse pads, etc.

  • Project incentives (a substantial gift card at project completion)

None of these things cost much, but they all go a long way towards saying, “Thank you for working hard,” so your staff feels valued. So, go to your boss and get approval for some of these items and start rewarding your star performers liberally — especially when project workloads are demanding.


Summing Up

It seems that harder-to-manage staffing environments and lower head counts will be with us for some while yet. I hope you can use some of these strategies to navigate through the process. If you have any other ideas for dealing with the short-staffing issue, drop me an email at RGreen@GreenConsulting.com. Until next time.


Robert Green

Robert Green performs CAD programming, standardization, and consulting services globally. He is the author of Expert CAD Management: The Complete Guide. Reach him via his website (greenconsulting.com/).

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