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CAD Management When You Do Not Have the Time
Co-workers at computer

CAD management is such a unique position. Rarely a full-time gig, you are reliant to pull bunnies out of your hat while working on other things, all with limited resources! 20+ years in this industry has taught me a lot. I have lost some battles but have fortunately won more than I have lost. I have turned a start in the Autodesk reseller space into being a successful CAD manager and a go-to-leader who is relied on for fixing the difficult issues. How? What is the secret? This article contains the things that I have done, and continue to do, to manage the CAD and other items that fall under the CAD Management umbrella. It has been a constant evolution and continues to change as I adapt to new technology, trends, age, and changes to our business.

The Challenges of CAD Management (Robert Green)

The authority challenge—You have none

Constriction of having no control—You don’t control costs, time, resources

Ambiguity of your duties—Everyone thinks they know what you should do

The smartest guy in the CAD room—It is a shootout every day

A CAD meltdown—You have to clean up the mistakes of others

The blame game—It always seems to be your fault

Change is bad—No one wants to embrace any kind of change

Don’t Fix What Ain’t Broken

Know Your Role

The Rock is famous for saying “Know your role, and shut your mouth.” It is not only appropriate for a CAD manager but really, for any position. Ask yourself the following key questions and, if you do not know the answers, figure them out or start asking questions until you find the answers. (And keep reading as there are some suggestions below.)

1. Where is the coffee?

2. What should I be working on?

3. What is my long-term plan?

4. What should I not to be working on?

5. What are my resources (budget, hardware, software, people, etc.)?


A great place to start is with Pareto Analysis (also known as the 80/20 rule). This decision-making technique selects the limited number of tasks that produce a significant overall effect. This principle states that 80% of the failures are coming from 20% of the causes.

Look at your task list or the list of issues in your department/company. Start by addressing the 20% that is causing 80% of the inefficiencies, errors, etc. Another way to look at this is to analyze the outputs of the time you spend (inputs). Why spend 80% of your time to only move the needle 20%. Eliminate (or put on hold) all but the tasks that provide the most potential for change. I start every week by asking myself, "What's the stupidest thing I'm wasting time on?"

The third way of looking at 80/20 is effort versus reward. When we undertook implementing a new ERP system, which impacted the entire company, we used the 80/20 rule to dictate when we were done a task. Once we felt that we had solved 80% of the possible situations, we moved on. You might be surprised by how often the last 20% will take more time and resources that the first 80%!

Find the Real Value

If you can identify (and resolve) the bottlenecks, you can increase productivity. Think of a pop bottling line. Where are the bottles accumulating? That is the bottleneck. The process that accumulates the longest queue is usually the bottleneck. The cause could be from many factors: the people are swamped (lack capacity), the hardware/software crashes frequently, the operators need training. To resolve the bottleneck, you always have two options: increase efficiency or decrease input.

A great question to ask is, “What causes stress in your day?”

According to Six Sigma, which is a set of tools and techniques to improve processes, reducing variation will solve process and business problems. Your business is made up of a series of interacting processes, the activities that use resources (people, machines, computers, etc.) to transform inputs into outputs. The output of one task becomes the input for the next. At some point, you need to stop and smell the roses. Examine these processes and eliminate the waste and inefficiencies.

Eliminate waste—The unnecessary (unneeded) steps, the repetitive steps, the “just cause” steps. Insure all steps add value. If a step does not add value, why are you doing it?

What is the cost of poor quality?—These costs would disappear if the processes were perfect. Quantify the negative outcomes due to waste and inefficiencies.

Why?—Identify the problem and working backwards keep asking, “Why is this occurring?” until you reach the root cause.

I like using the Six Sigma modeling steps to help find the waste in a process. Basically, it is a four-pass process starting at a very high-level outlining the process and finishing with the documentation, instructions, and procedures required to improve and streamline the process.

I Am Worth Something—Be the Leader

Have a plan, short-term and long-term, and let everyone know. People want to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Especially if the change is difficult, give them a target and a reason to not give up. Tell people why. No one likes a directive without information. Be transparent, always.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Do not invoke change, just for the sake of change. Keep an open mind. Just because you have always done it one way does not mean it always needs to be done that way. Be on the lookout for the new shiny, sometimes it can pay big dividends. Be the motivator. Be the reason the people and the business are moving forward. Get people involved. Those with a vested interest will feel appreciated and take a higher stake in the success of the initiative.

Admit when you were wrong. Be honest. Learn from your mistakes. Always give credit. Giving credit encourages them to help again and it makes them feel good.

Be the Expert (Where It Makes Sense)

Becoming an expert overnight just isn't going to happen. You are going to have to put a lot of work and dedication into becoming an expert. Do not stop learning. Study, read, take courses, watch videos, attend seminars, follow social media, work through tutorials, learn from others. There are so many resources. I aim for 4-6 hours a week of learning, even though most of it occurs on my own time.

Practice makes perfect. Do what you are preaching. By doing you can work out the kinks and solve problems. Kill two birds with one stone. Present your expertise. Let others know about the trials and the resolutions so that others can learn from you. Teaching what you have learned to others will push you even further toward your goal of mastering your skills.

However, do you need to be an expert in every aspect of the systems and processes you manage? The answer is no, if you know how/where to get an answer or have an expert in that field to rely on. Being a jack of all trades, master of none is okay in many instances. You might dabble in many areas rather than becoming an expert in only a few. Just be careful. You do not want to say “I don’t know” too often. You want to be the person people can rely on. If you do not know, make sure to get them an answer promptly.

Fake it until you make it. Imitate confidence, competence, and an optimistic mindset until you get there. Science has proven this tactic works! But faking it only works when you correctly identify something that is holding you back and you have a goal to correct it.

Acting "as if" is a common prescription in psychotherapy. If you want to feel happier, do what happy people do—smile. If you want to get more work done, act as if you are a productive person. Just do not get caught up in only changing other people's perceptions of you.

Learn to Say No

Your time is valuable, and it is not free. You need to put a price on your time. Saying no is okay. It allows you to focus on the important tasks (see 80/20 rule above). You set boundaries and expectations daily. Do you want to be the pushover who always says yes? Do you want to be the path of least resistance who says yes, even when overloaded? It's okay to say no, but offer an alternative approach or alternative time frame. Instead of saying no, be honest about when you can take on the task. Saying no is about professional integrity, integrity is about trust, maintaining trust is about being honest and respectful to yourself and others. Why take on a task that you know you do not have the time to dedicate properly to it? Why take on projects or tasks that are counterproductive or impact the performance of your core responsibilities?

Say no when:

• The request is outside your skill set or your area of responsibility. Better to saying no might be, “I am not the best for this job, have you considered Paul?”

• You are at the tipping point where nothing is getting done or getting done well. Or when you have been assigned too many responsibilities, do not have the bandwidth, or are without enough resources. Saying yes and taking on another task can damage your reputation when you fail, and it damages the success of your current projects or tasks.

• The request does not match your short-term or long-term goals Or, instead of saying no, teach them to fix their own problem. Feed a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he feeds himself for a lifetime. If you do not have the time or the task does not fit into your priorities, delegate it.

Organization and Time Management

Find Your Champion

You cannot be everywhere all the time. You have limited resources. You do not have any direct reports to can delegate tasks too. Now what? Find your champion. You need someone who will be your voice when you aren’t there. Someone who will speak up for you or back your goals behind closed doors. Your champion is your walking spokesperson. Your champion is someone who “buys in.” Someone who is excited by tech. Someone who wants change as they want better. Someone who is willing to take on tasks and help you promote the change. Ideally this person has a strong desire to learn new software or processes. Someone who remains calm when confronted with problems and can communicate clearly. They should have the desire to follow through until finished Trust me, you need a champion or two.

5S – Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize, Sustain

5S is a workplace organization method. Originally developed to assist with Just in Time manufacturing, I find that it helps me keep my working area organized and my life straight.

Some things to do in your working area:

• Reduce time loss looking for an item by reducing the number of items. Remove unnecessary items and stop the accumulation of “stuff.”

• Reduce the chance of distraction by unnecessary items. Keep your workstation clean and uncluttered.

• Arrange all items so they are easier to access, have a place for everything.

• Follow the first come, first serve workflow.

• Be disciplined about maintaining order in your work.

The Basic Requirements for Getting Things Done

To master the art of relaxed and controlled engagement, you need to implement a few basic activities and behaviors (from Getting Things Done, a must-read).

These work together to not only get you organized but produce a wonderful productive state of being present amid all the complexity.

Three steps to managing commitments:

1. If it’s on your mind, your mind is not clear. Anything you consider unfinished must be captured in a trusted system (collection tool) that you know you will come back to regularly.

2. You must clarify exactly what your commitment is and decide what required actions will make progress.

3. Once you have decided on the actions, keep reminders of them organized in a system you review regularly.

It is important to capture what needs to be done and collect these effectively. In order for your mind to let go, you have to know that you have truly captured everything that might represent something you have to do or at least decide about. With all your stuff collected, now clarify it. With each task, ask: What is this really about? Is this actionable?

Eat the Frog First

“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” –Mark Twain

I struggle with this one and it is a constant battle to change my habits, but you should start every day with your biggest, most important task… do not procrastinate, do something about it. They do not pay you to stare at the frog! Have two frogs? Eat the ugliest one first!

Dwight D. Eisenhower, former president of the United States, used a system of prioritization now known as the Eisenhower box. He prioritized things into four categories: Important-Urgent, Important-Not Urgent, Urgent-Not Important, and Not Urgent-Not Important. Anything in the Important-Urgent category is your frog. Similarly, you have things you do not want to do, but actually need to do and things you want to do and actually need to do. The things you do not want to do are your frogs.

Use the Eisenhower box method to your advantage to be more productive:

• Anything that is important and urgent are the tasks you need to do immediately (DO).

• If the task is important but not urgent then schedule a time to do it later (DECIDE).

• If the task is unimportant and urgent then consider finding someone else to do it (DELEGATE).

• If the task is unimportant but not urgent then eliminate it (DELETE).

It can be difficult at times to differentiate between important and urgent. A good rule of thumb is if it feels like you need to react quickly, then it is urgent. Important tasks typically contribute to your short-term and long-term plans and goals. Ask yourself, “Do I actually need to be doing this?” If it does not align with your plans, mission, or goals then it is okay to remove the task. There is no faster way to do something than not doing it at all.

When you have your tasks organized into one of the three buckets (Do, Decide, and Delegate—you removed the ones in the Delete bucket, right?), take a step back and reflect on the whole picture. At least weekly I scan all the defined actions and options ensuring my priorities are correct.

Mike spent the first 12 years of his career in the Autodesk channel working for an Autodesk reseller as an application specialist. During his travels, he was fortunate to help solve many issues utilizing Autodesk software. Mike has been using AutoCAD since R13, cut his solid modeling teeth on Mechanical Desktop, and has been using Inventor since before it was known as Inventor. Now he is the technical services manager at Prairie Machine, a mining equipment manufacturer. Reporting to the general manager, Mike is responsible for overseeing the company's technical operations and the strategic technical growth.

Companion Class

You now have the responsibility to manage CAD within your department and/or organization, but your job title does not include CAD manager. You do not or cannot dedicate your time full time to this task. So how do you do this? We will use my transition from reseller to mining equipment manufacturer in an examination of how to get buy-in from management, how to get participation by the users (and your peers), where to start, and how to proceed. Let us talk standards, processes, procedures...

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