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How to say no when workload exceeds your CAD/BIM management bandwidth

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Rejoining Timmons Group as their Design Technology Manager, I’ve found myself in a lot of meetings. The context of these meetings has ranged from standup chats with our production staff to formal meetings with our leadership team. Getting to know my new colleagues is exciting, but also an exercise of endless introductions.

Introductions allow us to articulate something about ourselves. For many, this means sharing our name, and perhaps a couple of anecdotal stories about our family and past role. While these actions do great things to build rapport with our new colleagues, they leave one of the most significant opportunities ignored.

A Journalistic Connection

There’s a saying in journalism, control the story before the story controls you. Although you probably don’t author newspaper articles, you do manage the CAD/BIM programs at your firm. Put another way, if you don’t control the program, the program will quickly control you.

Chances are the list of things you could do is longer than the list of things you can do. Finding balance in an environment of excess demand is one of the most critical CAD/BIM management skills no one talks about. This becomes especially tricky when the personality of CAD/BIM managers is to help their teams and say yes to the many requests that come across our desk each day.

The Disproportionate Demand of CAD/BIM Management

With demand out of balance, how do we bring balance to the programs we manage?

The simple answer is we learn how to say no. Trouble is, our DNA is to help our teams, and we support those teams by saying yes – right?

Well… not so fast.

Saying yes to everything will likely translate to you accomplishing little to nothing you answered yes to. While it’s difficult to say no, saying no is far better than saying yes and never achieving what you agreed to. Establishing trust between you and the staff you support is critical to your success. Leaving tasks, you’ve agreed to open in perpetuity is a surefire way of breaking that trust.

Focus on Planned Accomplishments, Not Today’s Tasks

So back to our initial question. How do we manage our CAD/BIM programs before they manage us?

The approach I’ve adopted is to focus on talking about what I am going to do, not the things I know I don’t have the bandwidth to achieve. My method for achieving this seemingly impossible goal is to boil everything I am doing right now into the fewest number of objectives possible.

My use of the term objective instead of task is important. The term task places the focus on what I am doing, not what I’m aiming to achieve. On the other hand, the term objective focuses on what I’m aiming to achieve, not what I’m doing today.

Articulating things in this way is an important strategic decision. When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. By focusing on what I’m aiming to achieve versus the tasks I’m working on today, I set clear boundaries with the people I interact with. Since saying no is a weakness of mine, setting boundaries in this way helps me avoid situations whereby I have to say no.

Establishing and Enforcing Boundaries

The boundaries established with objectives are formed in a manner whereby you are never genuinely saying no to a person’s idea. Instead, if an idea doesn’t align with one of your current objectives, you’re not saying no but rather not right now. This allows you to stay focused on the things you’ve worked with your manager to determine most important while also acknowledging the value of everyone’s ideas.

Filling a role that was vacant for more than seven years, there’s no shortage of things I could do. Forget about the things I could do, just the list of things that need to be done far exceed my personal bandwidth for the foreseeable future. This has only increased the importance of defining objectives during the first several weeks in my new role.

My Objectives in Practice

So as a new employee, what are my objectives?

To keep things simple, I’ve defined a total of three objectives for myself. The first is one to articulate the objective of my role itself, and the final two the things I’m actively working on today.

Objective 1: Help our design groups be more productive by best leveraging the firm’s investments in design software.

Objective 2: Assess how our production teams leverage our design software today and identify opportunities for future productivity improvements.

Objective 3: Determine essential onboarding training needs and develop a training program to support new employees.

From the CEO to our newest entry-level engineer, I’ve echoed the same three objectives to everyone I’ve introduced myself to. Doing this has allowed me to have future-looking conversations with members of our team without derailing what I’m focused on in the here and now. Having learned a lot in the month I’ve been in my new role, I’ll soon introduce new objectives, but doing so will be both measured and calculated.

In summary…

Finding and maintaining this balance has been essential in managing the design technology program at my firm in a manner the design technology program doesn’t manage me.Like most things under the umbrella of CAD/BIM management, there are many ways to approach the often disproportionate list of tasks of what you could do versus the tasks you have time to do. What strategies do you employ to balance this deficit? Share your thoughts and strategies in the comments section below.

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