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What I Wish I Had Known About CAD Management

CAD Manager Column: If I could have a conversation with my younger self, I’d explain to him that being a CAD manager requires much more than just technical skill.

There’s a quote from the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard that has always captivated me: “You live life looking forward, you understand life looking backward.” This has made me think about the lessons I’ve learned over the years that have most helped me succeed in my CAD manager’s role. What I’ve come to realize is that there are certain principles — core rules, if you like — that CAD managers should consider before anything else. These rules for how you approach the job, communicate, and build career equity over time are the things I wish I’d known when I started this journey.

So in this edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll do something a bit different and share with you an imaginary conversation with my younger self just getting started on the CAD manager’s journey. I hope you find this a provocative way to consider new possibilities for the New Year. Here goes.

What I Wish I Had Known About CAD Management

This Job Is All About Project Management

You know, this job isn’t really isn’t as technical as you might think. Sure, you’re a great technical professional — one who can figure out most anything CAD-based if given some time to research it — but that skill set isn’t what will give you success in the end.

Instead, you’ll achieve long-term success in this position because you can manage projects and deliverables and do whatever needs to be done to achieve that goal. In some companies, you’ll need to eliminate years of disorganization; in others, you may focus more on standards or training issues. The only thing you know for sure is that the challenge at each company will always be different, and the market is always changing.

So, if you think you can become a great CAD manager by only having a technical skill set focused on a single discipline — such as BIM or MCAD — think again. You’ll do far better to develop a wide-ranging skill set that embraces project management and human factors first, then build your technical skills behind the scenes as you can.

Conclusion: Being technical without being managerial will limit your success — so think more like a project manager.

See the Big Picture

Realize that great project managers get results from diverse teams of people, so it won’t be enough to just understand how CAD users think. Think about taking a building project from concept through construction and ask yourself, “What do I need to understand to make this all work?” From that starting point, you’ll start to comprehend the big picture.

When you think about a project in its entirety, you begin to see that it isn’t just BIM that you must understand, but all the interface points and stages of the project. And since different project stages utilize different groups of workers, you’ll need to understand BIM users, estimators, on-site personnel, construction management, and QA personnel’s information requirements. Building projects don’t happen in the office they happen at the job site. And machinery integration doesn’t just happen in the office either — machinery is built on the manufacturing floor.

Conclusion: You’ll be a far better CAD manager if you understand the big picture of where CAD deliverables go and how to support all the teams that use your deliverables to execute projects.

Be a Tech Translator

Being a CAD manager is much like being a language translator, if you think about it. Consider these scenarios:

  • Explaining CAD technology to upper management

  • Explaining CAD budget requirements to accounting

  • Explaining new CAD features to users (training)

  • Explaining application requirements to IT.

In these scenarios, you must speak four unique languages: Management speak, Accounting speak, CAD User speak, and IT speak. Consider what your inability to speak these languages would mean:

  • If you can’t speak Management, then upper management won’t know what you’re doing and cannot support you.

  • If you can’t speak Accounting, your budget won’t get approved.

  • If you can’t speak CAD User, then your training programs and standards will never be understood.

  • If you can’t speak essential IT, you’ll never be able to keep up with the workstations, cloud accounts, software deployments, and other IT issues required to run CAD well.

Conclusion: Being a CAD manager is a lot easier if those around you understand your needs — and that means being able to translate complex CAD issues into the native languages of those you work with. Do so, and you’ll communicate your needs accurately; fail to do so, and others will communicate what they think you need — accurate or not — on your behalf.

You Are in Sales

I don’t care who you are, you are in sales. You’re going to respond, “No I’m not, I’m a CAD manager” — but you’re wrong!

Let me ask these questions:

  • Do the CAD deliverables provided to your customers reflect on your company’s competency and ability to gain repeat business?

  • When you speak with a client, does your attitude reflect on your company?

  • If your projects are late, will that make customers less likely to hire your company?

  • If your work has frequent errors, does that make customers question your competency?

As you can see, everything you do to complete projects and deliver work to your clients/customers impacts their opinion of not just you, but your entire company. So, if you do a great job, your company will likely gain repeat and/or new business. Therefore, you really are working in sales, even if indirectly.

Conclusion: Consider that your ultimate boss is the customer who is working with your customer. After all, if your company doesn’t sell work, you won’t get paid.

Be a Giant Killer

You — like all CAD managers — must deal with some giant issues along with the more trivial daily work. And the level of effort required to overcome these giant tasks is demanding.

From a CAD manager’s point of view, the giants include teaching users new programs they don’t want to learn, getting people to follow standards against their will, meeting complex new customer requirements, or rolling out new technology platforms that redefine how work gets done.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Will you be a giant killer, or will you meekly accept how things are and let the giants go unchallenged?

  • Will you strive to gain individual/organizational strength by taking on your giants?

  • Will you stand strong when others would rather avoid confronting the giants?

  • Will you use your technical knowledge, broad knowledge of processes, and project management skills to take down the giants with precision?

If you answer these questions with a big Yes! then you are a giant killer, and there’s no doubt you’ll make progress as you tackle the daunting tasks in front of you. Of course, it would be easier to avoid the giants, but how would that advance your career? And think how much you’ll expand and improve your skill set as you methodically tackle giant challenges! Besides, you didn’t become a CAD manager because it was easy, did you?

Conclusion: Tackle the giant challenges that others shy away from, and you'll see your career move forward as you become the CAD management giant killer.

Summing Up

My hope is that these tips I would have given my younger self may help you achieve a clearer plan for the new year. I even found some things I’m going to do differently as a result of this thought analysis!

Read more about CAD Management on our CAD Management Resource Page

As we head into 2021, I’ll be tackling the changing face of CAD management and also focusing more on the industry, spotlighting vendors, technologies, and problems that CAD managers will need to be aware of. It should be an interesting year, and I encourage you to send me any suggestions you may have for upcoming issues of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter. 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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