Use the Force: Learn 4 Management Skills to Build a Tight CAD Jedi Team

by Shaun Bryant
- Aug 7 2013 - 6 min read

A long time ago, in a drawing office far, far away, I was a CAD manager for a team of roughly fifteen CAD operators. Back then, the Internet was primarily bulletin boards and text-only forums via a 56k dial-up modem (showing my age again).

You couldn’t hop on Google to check what the error message meant on your license of AutoCAD. Windows were what you looked out of on a sunny day, wishing you weren’t in a stuffy, non-air-conditioned room full of expensive computers kicking out loads of hot air. (And, sometimes, it wasn’t just the computers kicking out the hot air, either.)

So, how did we seasoned, weary CAD Jedis manage back then? Well, young CAD Padawans, it was like this….

1. Learn the Product “Old-School.” We had no online video training, no GoToMeeting, and no LiveMeeting, so we used what we had: Our skills brought from the drawing board. What’s a drawing board you ask? Our drawing boards were our lightsabers back in the day. An old-fashioned tool of choice that taught us gentlemanly CAD conduct but also taught us how to lay out our drawings to proper CAD practices, such as isometric projection and BS1192: Part 5 (in the UK). So as we worked on the earlier versions of AutoCAD, we were pioneers in our craft, the Wild West cowboys of our time, you might say.

Those old-school skills have kept us in good stead today. Our CAD drawings remain organized, cohesive, and, most importantly, coherent. I now consult and train on AutoCAD to empower CAD users with these old-school skills. Although you are working on a computer-aided design system, you still have to be organized. As a CAD manager, make sure you impart your old-school skills to your team—newbies and seasoned alike.

2. Standardize. Even back then, CAD standards were the “force” when it came to managing a CAD team. Just like an army, your CAD team needs to be disciplined and skillful. CAD standards make sure that each team member is working toward the same ends. Make sure you adhere to a recognized CAD standard (BS1197 in the UK, National CAD Standard in the U.S.), and don’t deviate from it. Consider incorporating a national or international standard into your own internal CAD standards. Form a CAD committee to represent your views to higher management, and make sure you have—at the very least—monthly meetings to discuss these standards. No one ever moved forward by standing still.

3. Practice Makes Perfect. Training existed back then (I’m not that old), and normally you were sent on the standard three-day AutoCAD beginner’s course. And if you were really lucky, you got sent on the intermediate course, too. That gave you a great base from which to work. But, as I always say when I provide training now, your training in the classroom is your training wheels (stabilizers in the UK) on your bicycle. You only start to really learn when you take them off, when you go back to work to use your newly learned skills. So what did we do back then? We practiced. Over and over.

management skills

I used to run lunchtime brainstorming practice sessions for my CAD team. We had one a month, which increased to bi-weekly as they became so popular. We just sat down in the CAD room and bounced questions off each other. Anything of merit then went to the CAD committee, and, if necessary, was incorporated into the internal CAD standards. To be quick and fast at any skill (CAD included), you must practice. Roughly speaking, you must do 10,000 hours of practice to excel at your chosen skill. And no, that is not expected immediately. But keep a record of your time spent practicing—something like a pilot’s logbook of hours spent flying. To get AutoCAD Certified Professional status, it is recommended you have 400 hours of live work experience on AutoCAD before you take the examination. Practice and keep a record, then you will know when you are ready to make that move toward being a CAD Jedi. Simple.

4. Manage Your Team. The directive to the left may sound somewhat condescending, but if you are a CAD manager, you have to manage. You are the link between your CAD team and the higher management levels. The buck stops with you. With experience comes responsibility, and you are the responsible person. So come up with workflows and processes that make managing easier. Don’t be an autocrat and try to do everything yourself; delegate tasks out to your team.

Here’s one I used to do, which was purely social. We had a coffee fund that paid for the items needed to make coffee for the team—coffee, milk, filters, etc. I made sure that each member had the chore of going to the CAD team to collect each team member’s “coffee club” contribution, and it was done on a rotating basis. It was great for new team members to meet the other members on a social level, plus it saved me about half an hour each Monday morning. That half an hour allowed me to check my emails from upper management to see if there was anything outstanding on any projects that needed to be addressed that week. You see what I mean now about management? It’s not just about CAD standards and getting drawings out on time.

Again, with regard to your management skills, play nice. You will be remembered for the nasty things you do to your team, but you will be respected for the nice things you do. Buy those doughnuts when a project is completed and out of the door. Organize cakes for birthdays. Maintain a level head when everyone else is losing it. My view as a CAD manager was, “Rome was not built in a day.” Sure, there will be external pressures from the higher echelons, but go back to them with reasoned argument. They got to where they are by listening to their teams below them. They will do the same for you if they have respect for you. Build that respect by managing well. Go that extra mile. Do that small favor for the VP of marketing, for example. You just never know when you might need to call that favor in some time in the future.

CAD management is not just about CAD. It’s about people, processes, and workflows. Sure, CAD is fundamental to that, but take a higher viewpoint. Look at the big picture. You are also a member of the team.

I can’t teach you everything there is to know about management. There, I’ve said it. The reason for that? All people are different. All your team members are different. Personalities, skillsets—they are all different. The trick to managing that is to get them to work to their strengths, improve their weaknesses with coaching, use learning and encouragement, and, most importantly, remember that they are people. They all have lives outside of work, just like you. Empathize with your team and respect them. Then, you are at least ninety percent of the way there.

Being a CAD Jedi is all about imparting the knowledge that you have to your team of CAD Padawans so that they, in turn, become CAD Jedis, too.

As Jedi Master Yoda said, “Always pass on what you have learned.”

For more tips of how to be a good CAD manager, check out Cadalyst’s What Makes a Good CAD Manager?

Do you have any advice you can share about managing a small team? Please share in a comment below.


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