Resolutions for a Success as a CAD/BIM Manager

After nearly 9.5 years with CADD Microsystems, last week was the start of a new chapter of my career. That new chapter is marked by my decision to rejoin Timmons Group as their Design Technology Manager. Just as during my previous tenure at the firm, the people of Timmons Group are outstanding, and I couldn’t be more excited to get back in the trenches helping production teams better utilize design technology.

As with any transition, I’ve invested a lot thought into what will drive success in my new role. Conventional CAD/BIM management wisdom might define success as something related to the technology itself. While I appreciate the logic of such an assessment, it stands in contradiction to one of my strongest opinions about CAD/BIM management.

In my opinion, CAD/BIM management is a people management role disguised in a technology management wrapper. Put another way, I find the people who have the hardest time being effective CAD/BIM managers role are those who focus on the technology, not the people using the technology.

Recognizing this paradigm, my essential question became how can we drive success by more effectively focusing on people?

Like most things that focus on people, not technology, I found the answer to that question to be more internal than external. In other words, the change required to be a more effective CAD/BIM manager starts with us, not the end users we support, or even the leadership we report to.

With all of this in mind, I’ve compiled a list of seven resolutions I believe all CAD/BIM managers should challenge their self to embody in some way. None of us will ever be perfect, but I believe the principles represented by these resolutions only stand to make us better at the job we do with each passing day.

Resolution 1: Don’t be Judgmental

Several years ago, I worked with a CAD manager who said to me, and this is a direct quote, “users are idiots.” Given my own CAD management battle stories, I did not think much of the comment at the moment. It was not until I began working with the users he supported that I came to appreciate the full scope of the seemingly inconsequential comment. Working with these so-called “idiot” users myself, it was apparent to me the users shared a similar unfavorable opinion of the CAD manager himself.

Though an extreme example, the CAD manager had metaphorically shouted from the hilltops what he thought of the users he supported. That judgment was reciprocated by the users their self, and as you might imagine fostered an incredibly counterproductive environment where neither party felt supported by the other. Because of this dynamic, knowing they were being judged at every turn, users evolved to sharing only the bare minimum with the CAD manager. Accurate and complete information is the lifeblood of an effective CAD manager. While it is not necessary to be personal friends with every user you support, it is critical every user is comfortable coming to you, and a mutual respect between user and CAD manager maintained.

Resolution 2: Volunteer in your Community

Overcoming the 7 Deadly Sins of CAD/BIM Management,” the class I co-presented with Jason Kunkel, was named the top-rated industry talk or panel at Autodesk University 2019. While it’s an accomplishment I’m certainly proud of, I’d be remiss to ignore the place I first developed the skills necessary to deliver such a presentation.

That place wasn’t a professional setting, but instead a volunteer one. More specifically, it was through my volunteer efforts in the Boy Scouts of America I learned how to plan and execute my very first training program – a statewide leadership conference. It was through similar volunteer efforts as a member of the National Boy Scout Jamboree staff that I found myself on stage before an audience of 60,000+ instantly conquering any fears of speaking to large crowds of people.

Now perhaps public speaking and training program development aren’t your cup of tea, but perhaps improving your writing or project management skills is? While you may never be given the opportunity to practice those skills on the clock at the office, there’s a good chance you can gain such opportunities in a volunteer capacity.

When the currency is time, economics allows for greater risks, and therefore greater opportunity than when budgets and deadlines are on the line. Even if your objective isn’t to develop new project management skills or something similar, volunteering allows you to make a positive impact on the world around you, not to mention meet likeminded people in a way that expands your personal network of connections.

Resolution 3: Avoid the Curse of Knowledge

The Curse of Knowledge is defined as a cognitive bias that occurs when an individual, communicating with others, unknowingly assumes those individuals have the background to understand. In my experience this is a curse that affects CAD/BIM managers in both directions; working with the end-users they’re entrusted to support as well as the executives they must elicit a necessary level of corporate support from. Chances are, you’ll lose either audience if you start telling either audience just a fraction of what you know about network deployments.

When getting my start as a CAD manager, I recall growing frustrated at how little executive leadership seemed to care about the design technology their own teams used to complete projects. How could they care so little about the primary hammer used to build the roof over their heads?

What I eventually learned was they did care. More than I ever gave them credit for. The problem was in the way I relayed the information to them. Our executive team had no need to have an intimate understanding of AutoCAD (that’s what they hired me for), but what they did need to know was the business reasons behind my recommendations.

My best advice for avoiding the curse of knowledge, is to imagine talking to yourself ten years ago. While it can be difficult to forecast what someone else knows, you know you better than anyone in this world. Crafting a message you would understand ten years ago is one of the most effective first steps to avoiding the curse of knowledge.

Resolution 4: Turn Enemies into Friends

Returning to the office after a planned vacation many years ago, I found myself in a meeting with the group/division manager of the department I worked almost as soon as I walked through the door. Turns out a deadline for the project I had helped another team with before vacation was missed during my absence. Also during my absence, the person I transitioned the remaining project tasks to (plus provided my personal cell phone to) shifted all blame of the missed deadline onto my shoulders. Suffice to say, though I avoided being terminated over the ordeal, my working relationship with this person was left in an incredibly toxic state.

About a year later I was promoted into a CAD management role, responsible for supporting all end-users at my firm – including the colleague who nearly got me fired by throwing me under the bus. The wounds certainly hadn’t healed at this point, but my new boss wasn’t going to accept that excuse as a reason for me to provide an inferior level of service to this individual.

This was my first big confrontation with the human elements of CAD management.

I had a decision to make. I could harbor the resentment that existed between me and the person who nearly got me fired, or find a way to move on. Every now and then, we all have to eat a slice of humble pie. This was one of those moments.

At the end of the day, choosing to harbor the resentment I had for this person only stood to impede my success as a CAD manager.

While I certainly hope you don’t encounter a situation as polarizing as the one I experienced, you’ll inevitably establish some enemies along the way. Though incredibly difficult to address, there will likely come a time where harboring a toxic relationship will limit your own advancement.

Resolution 5: Radically Rethink a Long-Held Opinion

As a CAD manager faced with the Curse of Knowledge, it’s not uncommon to establish very deep-rooted opinions about the way things should be. There’s no shortage of polarizing topics among AutoCAD experts; the Classic interface verses the Ribbon interface, shape-based (SHX) fonts verses True Type fonts, what to set LTSCALE variables to, external reference strategies about attach verses overlay, just to name a few.

Like many CAD managers, I began work on new standards for my company after making the transition from a production role. Because of my experience not only as an AutoCAD user, but also as a former designer at my firm, my opinion for the way things should be was as definitive as it was polarizing. At the time, I believed establishing standards was a core responsibility of any good CAD manager. Still, despite my best efforts, I was not making the progress I felt I should be, and I couldn’t figure out why. That was until I took a step back myself.

It was through that exercise my long-held opinion about the role of a CAD manager with respect to standards evolved. Putting myself in a frame of mind where I was open to evaluating an opinion different from my own was incredibly difficult. I had find ways to disconnect many hard-wired opinions about the way good standards were created. My first couple attempts were failures, but progress was finally made when I truthfully allowed myself to rethink my long-held opinions related to standards. That evolved thinking is the approach we ultimately took to develop new standards for my firm. Though I haven’t worked for that firm in nearly a decade, the basic standard I helped create is still in use today. I’m not sure that’s a statement I would be able to make if not for the conscious exercise of rethinking my long-held opinions about standards.

Resolution 6: Do Something That Scares You

Just about everyone I know has at least one school subject they were horrible at. I was no different, and for me that subject was English. Incidentally, I started The CAD Geek out of a desire to stop forgetting things I learned about AutoCAD, not to become a blogger (or better at English). Still, those early blog posts were enough for a friend to suggest I volunteer to write some articles for AUGIWorld magazine. As you might imagine, my first reaction was to resist the suggestion of my friend. It was one thing to write blog posts on a website no one read at the time, it was another to write something that would be printed and shipped to AUGI members across the world. Despite my fear, I finally reached out to the AUGIWorld editors, and you could say the rest is history.

The sum of my blog and those articles played a major role in receiving an offer to write six editions of AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT: No Experience Required, which collectively served as a catalyst for my career.

Resolution 7: Become a Technical Evangelist

Chances are, you didn’t enter the world of design to become a CAD/BIM manager. Instead, things probably began with you being among the best software users in your company, that evolved to you being the person who everyone went to for help, and all of that led to you one day being named a CAD manager. While I understand why companies call their CAD/BIM managers, well managers, it’s a role whereby what you manage is technology, not people.

Considering those who become CAD/BIM managers typically do so from an inherent love for technology, this dynamic between technology and people makes sense. Chances are, in the eyes of your friends, youre the one who gets far too excited about technology. Although your friends are quick to consult you when they need advice about technology, they probably tune you out any other time you talk about technology.

While it might be impossible to make them as excited about technology as you, how do you get them to at least listen in some capacity?

Getting others to listen is the very craft evangelists of any discipline learn to master. In the simplest of terms, they find a way to compel people to listen or read about a topic they have little interest in. But what’s their secret sauce?

The secret sauce is simple. They solve a problem. Sometimes it’s a problem people already know they have, sometimes it’s a problem they were unaware of until your presentation. No matter where on that pendulum a presentation rests, the presentation solves a problem.

Whenever crafting a technical presentation, I apply what I’ve coined as a PBS framework. I begin the presentation defining what the Problem is, I then define the Benefit of solving the problem, and only then do I progress to offering a Solution to the problem. The key principle in the PBS framework is every step of the process is focused on solving a problem.

Wrapping Up

Every organization is different, and because of those differences, how each organization defines the role of CAD/BIM manager often varies as well. Despite the many dissimilarities of the role, one universal similarity I’ve always found is the expectation for a CAD/BIM management role to be one focused on service.

The bottom line is you are there to serve end production staff of your organization, not the other way around. Likewise, nothing will make the already difficult job of CAD/BIM management more difficult than a user base that loathes you. It’s for that reason, I believe the most important skill to develop as a CAD/BIM manager is that of leadership. And as easy as it can be to shift blame elsewhere, becoming a leader starts with no one other than yourself.

What are some of the resolutions you apply to your work as a CAD/BIM manager? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.

Donnie Gladfelter
Donnie Gladfelter

Donnie is author of the book and Autodesk Official Press, AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT: No Experience Required, a columnist for AUGIWorld Magazine, Autodesk University speaker, and former member of the AUGI Board of Directors.

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