My First Six Months Back as a CAD/BIM Manager six months cad bim management

My First Six Months Back as a CAD/BIM Manager

After rejoining Timmons Group at the end of January, this week marked my six-month anniversary back in the saddle as a CAD/BIM manager. Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, these first six months have been everything I expected them to be, while also being nothing like I thought they would be at the same time. Recognizing just how abstract and contradictory that statement is, I thought it worthwhile to take a step back to reflect on this small milestone.

My Journey back to CAD/BIM Management

Before I reflect on my observations over the last six months, let me begin by sharing some insight into the nature of my role itself. My official title is "Design Technology Manager," and I am a salaried, full-time CAD/BIM manager without production responsibilities. With no direct production responsibilities, the broad objective of my role is to help our production teams be more productive by best leveraging the firm's investments in design software.

Supporting that broad role objective, I had two goals to achieve during my first six months with the firm. The first of those objectives was what we defined as a process objective and focused on me conducting a firmwide assessment of the firm's usage of design technology. My second objective was a training objective and focused on the design technology training we provide as part of our employee onboarding process.

That's where things started in late-January. After getting settled into my new office, I spent most of February defining the process, schedule, and assets I would use to perform a firmwide analysis of how our teams leveraged design technology, namely Autodesk Civil 3D. After many meetings with my manager, our division managers, and even the CEO, it was time to begin the assessment.

I made it through my first end-user meeting before the world was turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic. Suddenly the aggressive schedule of office visits and face-to-face meetings were no longer possible as everyone started working from home. Soon after that, our CEO asked me to shift my focus to building a firmwide training program to support both new and existing employees by summer.

Seize New Coronavirus Opportunities

The coronavirus pandemic was a curveball few anticipated. In the blink of an eye, my focus on performing a firmwide Civil 3D assessment and building a foundation for our onboarding experience shifted to developing a comprehensive training program objective. In other words, my training objective went from building a couple of courses for new employees to building an entire training program. The opportunity to fast-track our training program development was as exciting as it was terrifying.

My plan was always to build a comprehensive training program; I just expected that process to take a year or more, not a month-and-a-half. Developing a training program in roughly 45-days would be akin to landing an airplane on a runway construction workers were still building as the wheels of the plane touched down.

While I was more-or-less starting from scratch at Timmons Group, I was not starting from scratch regarding training program development itself. I'm fortunate to have a robust training background spanning roughly fifteen years. In addition to my experience training, I've also hosted several Autodesk University sessions on the topic. The most recent of those being the Autodesk University 2017 session "Overcoming the 7 Deadly Sins of Corporate Training Programs" that I delivered with my former colleague Jason Kunkel.

Although the idea of building a training program wasn't foreign to me, making one in the middle of a pandemic was. In the entirely uncharted sea of a global pandemic, about the only thing we knew with certainty was our training delivery would be very different from how it had been in the past. While classroom training was, and still is, our preferred delivery style, we knew we would have to adapt to the realities of today, not our pre-coronavirus world.

With so much change thrust upon us, it's easy to become pessimistic. While remaining optimistic was difficult on more than one day, our focus remained on finding the opportunities for our new norm in lieu or mourning the training opportunities we had lost. We knew that in-person training was no longer possible, and so our focus became how to best leverage Zoom for our training.

We ultimately deployed many strategies to leverage the unique opportunities a virtual classroom provided. One of those strategies was breaking what is usually a three-day Civil 3D Fundamentals class into six half-day sessions. That allowed us to experiment with new training schedules not previously available to us.

While Zoom-based, we hosted our Civil 3D Fundamentals class for interns using our conventional three-day format. That was out of necessity, as the coronavirus pandemic shortened our intern program by a month. For our new full-time employees, we've now hosted one class where attendees gathered for a half-day session twice a week for three weeks, and a second class where attendees gathered for a half-day once a week for six weeks.

Our core strategy behind the non-continuous schedule was to make the class less like drinking from a firehose, and more like drinking from a garden hose. It's still a lot of information to take in over a relatively short period, but students not only receive less information at once, but they also get to apply what they learn between each class. Feedback for both six-session courses has been positive, but we've chosen to stick with the six-week schedule for the class we'll start next week.

Separation from IT and Alignment with HR

During my previous tenure as a CAD/BIM manager, my role, like most other CAD/BIM managers I know, was a function of IT. Everything ultimately rolled up to the Director of IT, who then reported to the COO. In my mind, that was the hierarchy of CAD/BIM management in a nutshell. You can probably imagine my surprise when I learned the Director of Human Resources would be my new manager.

Initially, I questioned how CAD/BIM management even remotely aligned with HR, but six months later, I wonder why it's so often a function of IT?

Fundamentally, HR focuses on the people of an organization, and IT focuses on the technology used within that organization. While CAD/BIM straddle both sides of the fence, I believe the role of CAD/BIM management is more about people than it is technology. The most successful CAD/BIM managers I know go well beyond software configuration, but also find a way to motivate their workforce to leverage it. Although people before technology has been a longstanding belief of mine, it was a belief I struggled to articulate in the right way.

That was until I came to learn of a role HR professionals call Organization Development (OD). The central tenet of OD is helping organizations improve production capacity by developing, improving, and reinforcing strategies, structures, and processes. Is that not just another way of stating the objective of my role and CAD/BIM management in general; to help our production teams be more productive by best leveraging the firm's investments in design software?

If like me, the concept of Organization Development is new to you, I'd encourage you to do some research into the topic. I think you'll begin recognizing many of your lofty aspirations as a CAD/BIM manager encapsulated in a job title your HR department knows by a different name.

Regardless if you find yourself going down an Organization Development rabbit hole or not, I believe my alignment with HR was key to our training program successes. That alignment also gave me direct access to my firm's leadership as I started my program development work by understanding their needs and motivations behind training during the middle of a pandemic.

Not having to navigate traditional institutional barriers was a catalyst to quickly scaling our training program to focus on more than just CAD/BIM. The program we now have in place includes a mix of technical skills and soft skills like public speaking and project management.

Don't Forget to Document

While the overall Civil 3D deployment I inherited was maintained and in working order, very little of it had was documented. Luckily the key players who kept the CAD ship floating since our former CAD/BIM manager left the firm roughly seven years ago are still with the firm. I genuinely couldn't do my job without the team I have assembled around me. Each member of what I've started calling my Advisory Council represents the power users of the power users of my firm.

Thankfully my Advisory Council is forthcoming with that they know. While we have a great relationship, the reality is, much of what they know is tacit knowledge. Very little of what they know is written down, so converting the wealth of tacit knowledge to explicit knowledge has become its own project on many fronts.

With this reality in mind, the good news is we're currently planning our Civil 3D 2021 upgrade. Rather than aimlessly wandering through our existing Civil 3D deployment, the upgrade project has provided a clean slate to begin documenting. While authoring documentation is not the most exciting task, my expectation is it will prove invaluable as we sit down to plan our next upgrade after Civil 3D 2021.

Recognizing there's more to document than anyone will reasonably have time to author, I'm focused on establishing two documents. Those documents are a well-defined Civil 3D upgrade project plan and a comprehensive technical specification of our deployment. While authoring those documents is slowing our progress today, my expectation is it will allow us to more rapidly complete Civil 3D upgrade projects in the future.

Here's to Another Six Months in Our Strange New World

So many of my plans for starting a new CAD/BIM manager role focused on having face-to-face interactions with our production teams. Like so many, the coronavirus pandemic completely redefined all of that in what seemed like an instant. I have no idea how it will shape the next six months, but I'm confident it will be no less exciting – albeit certainly challenging.

I'm fortunate to work with an outstanding team and feel even more fortunate to be able to help that team grow in new ways. Especially as my company upgrades to a new version of the software, I expect training to remain a cornerstone of what I spend many of my days doing. What I'm unsure about is the long-term impact the coronavirus pandemic will have on our training program and the way we support our team.

As we navigate the entirely uncharted seas ahead of us, new discoveries seem inevitable to me. While I think we'll ultimately be better for it, I do not yet know in what way that will be. I see a bounty of unrealized opportunity in that unknown, and I can't wait to discover what they might be.

Choosing the Best On-Demand Autodesk Training

How to Choose the Best On-Demand Training for Autodesk Software

During a recent industry group discussion, I was asked to provide insight regarding the best Learning Management System (LMS) for Autodesk software training. Like many things, best is a relative term. What works best for my firm may not work best for your firm, and vice versa.

When implementing an on-demand training solution, you have two basic choices. You can build something from scratch, or you can choose an off-the-shelf solution from an online training provider. A solution you build from scratch has the advantage of being a solution built specifically for you, whereas an off-the-shelf solution has the advantage of granting access to a robust course library economically, and with little effort.

Despite the advantages each method offers, both share one indisputable truth. Without a plan, both solutions will fail.

Cool Your Jets

As someone who has provided training on Autodesk software for nearly fifteen years, training is something that excites me. Like many, I often fall into the same trap I see so many others fall into. That trap being you get so excited about the training you’re going to offer, all the great things you know its capable of delivering to your team, that you skip over the first and most critical step.

That step is none other than pausing for a moment to create a plan.

You’ve probably heard about the “7 P’s” before. For the indoctrinated, the 7 P’s are typically defined as; Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance.

There are several other variations of the 7 P’s, but they all boil down to one reality. Without taking a moment to plan and prepare, failure is far more likely than success.

Identify a Training Champion

Just as important as creating a plan is having someone there to oversee it. If you’re reading this post, there’s a good chance that person is you. Regardless if the champion is you or someone else, the important thing is to identify who will be the training program manager.

Whomever your organization selects will be instrumental in crafting the overall training plan based on objectives identified up front. Once the training plan is implemented, the Training Champion/Training Program Manager will be the one who not only promotes the training program, but also the one who makes sure the content of your training program remains in alignment with the training objectives of your organization.

Crafting an On-Demand Training Plan

Training is not a field of dreams. Just because you build it, doesn’t mean they’ll (your learners) come. That’s the reason creating a plan is so imperative. Before building your own LMS or purchasing an off-the-shelf course library, you need to ask yourself several questions.

Recognizing every organization is unique, the only wrong way to answer these questions is to not answer them at all. Likewise, there’s a strong possibility answering the foundational questions about training will reveal several transient questions about training.

What do you expect to achieve from training your employees?

Training can accomplish all sorts of things, but all the things training could deliver your team doesn’t matter. You need to define what you what it to provide to your team. Is training about driving profitability for your organization; is it about developing entirely new skills; is it about bridging gaps in existing competencies; is it something else entirely?

Again, there’s no wrong answer here, but if your objective is to bridge knowledge gaps for AutoCAD, and the on-demand catalog you’re looking primarily focuses on how to begin using AutoCAD; that catalog probably isn’t the one for you.

Why are you looking to offer training at your company?

This overlaps a bit with the previous question, but what is the compelling event that has you looking at training in the first place. Did your company lose a job because of skill gap it has recently, and a principal is asking you to fill those gaps? Are employees growing frustrated because they don’t know the best way to use the software? Is the lack of training causing employee retention issues?

The list of reasons companies offer training to their employees is endless, and that’s okay. What’s not okay is neglecting to align your training program with those reasons. Failing to do so will result in tension between your training program and the goals of your company.

A Reality Check on Autodesk Software Training

Speak to almost any in-person or on-demand Autodesk training provider, and you’ll likely hear a remarkably similar story. The provider will likely talk about how the training they offer is better than the training another provider offers. In my opinion, better is a relative term here and is among the key reasons you need to know why you’re training and what you hope to achieve BEFORE talking to a training provider.

The inconvenient truth of Autodesk software training is that what most providers call Fundamentals, Essentials, or Complete Guide is all pretty much the same from a content perspective. There’s a good reason for this. First is Autodesk’s Autodesk Authorized Training Center/Provider program, and the second is Autodesk’s Certification program. Fundamentally, both are standardization constructs that reputable training providers craft their Autodesk software training classes around.

This standardization is a good thing, as it insures if you leverage a reputable provider of Autodesk software training, you’re going to receive a well-crafted class that’s going to cover the topics proficient users of that software need to know. The other side of that is because Autodesk has defined what makes an AutoCAD training class through things like Autodesk Certification Objectives, an AutoCAD class from two training providers will be more alike than they are different.

Choosing an Autodesk Software Training Provider

If the training content offered from reputable Autodesk training providers is more-or-less the same, how do you pick the provider that’s best for your organization? In a sentence, you find the provider whose product best aligns with your training objectives.

While the basic topics covered by courses from providers like LinkedIn Learning, CADLearning, Pinnacle, and Global eTraining are all very similar, what varies is how each delivers its content to learners. Which of these is best is not a matter of opinion, but your organization's training objectives. Since the objectives my company defines for training varies from the objectives your company defines, we are likely to consider different providers as best.

Again, this is why I can’t emphasize the importance of knowing why you’re training and what you expect to achieve with training before starting a conversation with any training provider. Doing just a little bit of upfront planning will go a long way not only in making your conversations with training providers more effective, but it will also help you better quantify which one is best for you.

Building Your Own Solution

While there are many advantages of choosing an off-the-shelf training solution, there are times where building your own solution might be more advantageous. The primary benefit of building your own solution is the final product will align specifically to your organization’s training needs. While custom solutions have the advantage of best aligning with an organization’s needs, the other side is they require the most work to build and implement.

Despite requiring the most work to build and implement, building your own LMS could be the best choice for firms looking to provide training that’s highly contextualized to their organization. Such a need stands in contrast to organizations whose primary training need is for fundamentals/essentials-level training. The bottom line is a training company is often able to provide baseline training more economically than your firm can reinvent the wheel. By contrast, it would be exceedingly difficult for a training company to acquire the institutional knowledge of your company to create and produce content that’s highly contextualized to your organization.

In Summary…

The function of training means different things to different people. Chances are that your vision for training in your organization contrasts with the vision others in your organization have for training. I believe this contrast in opinions is valuable during the planning phase but is detrimental any later than that.

Use the planning process to evaluate contrasting ideas for training in your organization and build your training objectives around what you collaboratively find are the best ideas. With stakeholders on the same page, you can be sure everyone is evaluating each LMS you consider based on the same basic metrics, not each person’s own agenda. This alignment is what will pave the way for a successful implementation later down the road.

Autodesk Offers Free Access to Cloud Collaboration Products autodesk covid 19

Autodesk Offers Free Access to Cloud Collaboration Products

Here in the United States, the last week has seen practically every aspect of daily life turned in its head. Schools closed, public places have closed, and instead of driving to work, many of us now walk to work as a matter of social distancing. Of course, calling it walking to work is but an attempt to put a normal wrapper on the obscurity of commuting to an actual office, to the new reality of working from home. In practically every way imaginable, life, as we knew it a short time ago, has changed because of the global pandemic known as COVID-19.

We’re each finding our own way to navigate this strange new world we find ourselves living in. Amidst all that madness, one thing I feel blessed by is the technology that similarly defines our world. Tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams let us narrow the gap of social distancing, and maintain some level of human connection with friends and colleagues.

Working from Home with Autodesk Software

Of course, while there are plenty of tools to bridge the human gap of social distancing, bridging the gap of design data is another challenge altogether. The data created by tools like Revit and Civil 3D is unique. Not only are the files far more extensive than your everyday Microsoft Word file, but the inner structure is also far more complex. Revit has Worksharing, whereas AutoCAD has External References, and Civil 3D has Data References.

Each of these, while critical to support the way project teams assemble projects, adds to the complexity of finding a suitable method for project teams to work from home. Of course, while remote working solutions do exist, most not only cost money but take more than a few days to implement. With the economic impact of COVID-19 still unknown, teams need a solution that is both simple and affordable to implement.

Introducing the Autodesk Extended Access Program

Recognizing these factors, Autodesk announced on Thursday, March 19th, they would make extended access to several products and services available to customers at no charge. As part of Autodesk’s response to COVID-19, customers can get free extended access to BIM 350 Docs, BIM 360 Design, Fusion 360, Fusion Team, AutoCAD Web and Mobile, and Shotgun.

Like all of us, Autodesk is also monitoring the ever-changing impact of COVID-19 on business as usual. At the time of writing, Autodesk has promised to make the Extended Access Program available to customers until May 31, 2020. While that timeframe will not contract, Autodesk may choose to extend it as the needs of their customers warrant it.

As a CAD manager focused on finding the best way to support our team of surveyors and engineers, I sincerely applaud this move by Autodesk. Just as we’re each trying to maintain business as usual during these uncertain times, we should expect the same from Autodesk.

Defying Expectations

Just as we still expect our clients to pay us for the work we perform, Autodesk has similarly reasonable expectations that customers pay for the products they use. During these extraordinary times, Andrew Anagnost, the CEO of Autodesk, has chosen to do what I believe is the morally conscionable thing by helping their customers as best as possible.

From the time Andrew Anagnost hosted a dinner for employees impacted by California fires in 2017 to this response to COVID-19, I see this as a reminder the people behind the software we use every day aren’t too different from us. They’re just people trying to provide for their families like you or me.

Therefore, it’s through that lens I extend a sincere thank you to Autodesk for taking action to support teams as we collectively find a way to overcome COVID-19. And finally, with the shadow of COVID-19 lurking atop all of us, I pray for each of you to stay well and remain safe.

Task Management for CAD and BIM Managers

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

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.

Resolutions for a Success as a CAD/BIM Manager cad bim management resolution scaled e1580703780892

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.

Influential Leadership

Enforcing CAD Standards Without Authority

There's a myth among CAD and BIM managers that authority is the secret to success. A common belief is unless you are given the authority to enforce what you create, the odds of being successful are stacked against you. Struggling to get my firm to adopt the standards I had developed for it, there was a time where I too subscribed to this belief. I thought to myself (and sometimes out loud), the company's CAD standards will remain a dream of unrealized opportunity until I'm given the authority to enforce the standards.

Like so many I've spoken to over the years, the mystery I couldn't solve was why the company had made it my responsibility to build CAD standards but not given me (or anyone else for that matter) the authority to make sure they were used properly? How could a company I admired for its history of smart business decisions fail so badly with this one?

Focused on solving this mystery, I tried everything I could think of to convince the company to give me the authority I needed to make pure awesomeness happen with respect to our design software. I did everything I could to navigate the corporate hierarchy both above and laterally to me; making my case to anyone who would listen. Still, days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months, and while I got the politely cooperative head nod affirming the merits of my arguments - I made very little progress. Put simply, the company had a CAD standard that no one used because no one had the authority to make sure it was used. Or at least that's the version of the story I firmy believed in.

That belief didn't change until I finally took a step back to reevaluate what I was asking for. After all, didn't Albert Einstein say the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results? By every objective measure I could think of, I was a certifiably insane CAD manager.

In taking a step back, I quickly realized I was asking for and pursuing the wrong thing. What I needed to enforce our CAD standards was influence, not authority. Some might say influence and authority are synonyms, and in many ways you're probably right. The net result from each of these terms is largely the same; having the power to affect the way people use design software at my company. Who cares what you call it so long as people use the software the way they should be?

Frankly, not many people should care what you call things, and fewer than that probably do care inside your firm. My advice to you is not to waste your time trying to promote your definitions of the words authority and influence. Afterall, wasn't it a series of tell and ask assertive behaviors that got you here in the first place?

Although the net result is the same, the difference between authority and influence is how you receive the power you need to oversee the use of standards inside your organization. The quest for authority is just a disguised way of asking for this power to be given to you as a singular action. By contrast, the quest for influence is a form of authority earned through a series of actions. Put another way, authority is something given by your superiors, influence is something you earn from your peers.

As a CAD/BIM manager you're expected to be as much a leader as you are a technical expert. Strong leaders know authority is something that's earned, not given. I suspect it's for this reason so few company's give their CAD/BIM manager the authority to enforce standards. They instead leave it to the CAD/BIM manager to find ways to lead the use of things like standards within a orginization.

There are numerous tactics one can employ to earn influence within a orginization. I'll share some of my own thoughts into that topic in future blog posts. In the meantime, let me know in the comments whether you were given the authority to enforce standards at your company, or if it was something you had to earn? What tactics did you employ to earn that status within your company?

Integrated Communication - Why BIM doesn't require Revit image5

Integrated Communication - Why BIM doesn't require Revit

image Chances are if you’re an AEC professional and haven’t heard about BIM; you probably don’t have a pulse. As I continue my job search there’s one question that consistently amuses me; do you have any experience with BIM software? From that question alone, I know the person asking it has a limited knowledge of what BIM is. Simply stated BIM is process not software; products like Revit, Civil 3D, Inventor, even vanilla AutoCAD are simply tools that help us to execute that process. Backed by the right process, I’d argue that one could create a BIM workflow using nothing but AutoCAD LT. I say that because BIM is not defined by drawing files; instead by the way the people responsible for those drawing files choose to integrate them and use them in an asynchronous manner.

It was this underlying concept that caught my eye while reading a post on Baskervill’s Blog entitled IMC and A/E/C = Perfect Harmony. The acronym IMC is defined as Integrated Marketing Communications, and is used to describe the asynchronous use of several delivery mechanisms to broadcast and reinforce a consistent message. While the post is understandably focused on marketing, it brings up several points that I feel transcends nearly all professional disciplines.

Training Program Reinforcement Part 2

image In my last post I spoke about the power of reinforcement in the world of education. My point to making the connection between academia and corporate learning is that reinforcement is no less important in academia than it is in a corporate learning environment. But without report cards, parent-teacher conferences, and other staples of academia, how does one reinforce corporate training?

It’s as simple as this. Corporate training shouldn’t end when your employees leave the classroom. In all likelihood your employees will come back from training excited about all the cool things they were shown in training, but how much of it did they actually retain? Fact of the matter is this, you have no clue what your employees did or did not retain.

A comprehensive training program will follow-up on the classroom learning offered to your employees. You can choose the best way to quantify what your employees truly learned in training. You may choose to create an assessment customized to your company, and the way it does things. On the other hand, you may choose to have your employees take one of the Certification Exams offered by Autodesk. The method isn’t the important part here; it’s the reinforcement you’ll be able to provide as a result of your employees taking an assessment.

Training Program Reinforcement Part 1

image It’s hard to believe, but 3 weeks ago I started my employment with Ronald A. Williams. Last week was quite exciting as I got to meet a number of our customers for the first time at a CTE conference. For those outside the education world, CTE stands for Career & Technical Education, and is perhaps better known as vo-tech. I must say, getting to chat with the teachers who are in the classrooms training the next generation of CAD professionals was quite interesting. Frankly, the inner-geek in me just couldn’t help but start comparing the world of education to industry.

One topic I found especially intriguing was the profoundly different ways education and industry measure success of their students/employees. Companies pour thousands and thousands of dollars into training their staff, but how is success primarily measured? Typically success in industry is measured by the dollar; Return on Investment. If I invest x-dollars in training, how much will new efficiency gains make me back over time?

Eagle Scout

The Noble CAD Manager - A Servant Leader

image As many of you may already know I am proud to say that I am both an Eagle Scout and Vigil Honor Member in the Order of the Arrow (Scoutings National Honor Society). Most recently, my local council (Heart of Virginia Council) has been leading an initiative to form a local Eagle Scout Alumni Association. Just last week the council hosted its first alumni association event at which I had the distinct honor and privilege to speak at. The subject of my speech was simply to share what I felt it meant to be a lifelong Eagle Scout.

My Trail to Eagle

Looking back upon my Trail to Eagle, I couldn’t help but notice the number of scout skills I learned on my Trail to Eagle, that are especially poignant to my “real-world” CAD Management job. Most poignant of which seems to be a leadership principle I learned as a member in the Order of the Arrow (OA). Dr. E. Urner Goodman, founder of the OA, was once quoted “For he who serves his fellows, is of all his fellows, greatest.” The quote is a fundamental building block to a leadership concept taught in the OA known as “Servant Leadership”.

The CAD Manager

This leadership concept I learned long ago has proven itself invaluable as I have entered into the realm of CAD Management. Like many other firms, CAD Management is seen as an IT service, and IT is seen as a support service for the firm. Given the fact my role includes things like end-user CAD support, training, license servers and the like – I can’t necessarily argue this placement. Even still the separation between our production staff and IT introduces an interesting dynamic when one sets out to do something like implement CAD Standards.

Quite simply as CAD Manager you are responsible for developing and implementing CAD Standards, but yet you have little direct authority over CAD production staff. Conversely, a project manager typically has a great deal of authority over the designers for which he supervises. And so the diary of a mad CAD Manager begins: I’ve been trying to implement these standards, but no one will adhere to them…

Like most things in CAD Management, there’s no single answer on how to successfully standardize a company. Things like managerial buy-in, CAD committees, etc are each integral parts to the whole process, but I’d argue the most important factor is you. How you personally approach the standardization process will have an overwhelming impact on the end result of your CAD Standards.

You could certainly choose to become the dictator of CAD Standards, effectively stating “it’s my way or the highway”. Of course if you have ever worked under such a CAD Manager you know how miserable that can be. The other option if you can become more of a coach, conditioning your team to win the World Series of CAD Standardization – become the servant leader.

Servant Leadership Defined

Wikipedia defines the concept of Servant Leadership with 10 points; listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of others, and building community. To me – these are more than the ten points of being a Servant Leader; it’s more like the ten points of being a successful CAD Manager.

  • Listening: While you should strive to become the resident expert, you will never know everything there is to know about the dynamics of your firm and the work it does. Recognizing that fact, and being sincere with the folks who are kind enough to share their knowledge with you will get your further than you can imagine.
  • Empathy: There will come a time where you are in fact right about a point, and the user on the other end is wrong. Regardless if the person really is a moron, you certainly can’t say that to their face and expect them to have any longstanding respect for you. Instead you will foster a much stronger relationship with you users by helping them through their CAD difficulties than reprimand them for not knowing.
  • Healing: Taking an empathetic approach with some users just isn’t going to get you very far, and so a more blunt approach may be required. Maybe you have already coached someone on how to adhere to the file management standards a dozen times, and yet they still refuse to use them.Just as a good coach will likely fuss at a baseball player for improperly fielding the ball during a game, during the next practice he will also include exercises to help that player properly field the ball. Sometime after fussing at a user for breaking the standards you need to follow-up to make sure they know how to “field the ball”.
  • Awareness: Your users look to you to fulfill the role of resident expert. When so much of our lives as CAD managers is spent using Microsoft Office it can be hard to keep our own AutoCAD skills sharp. A CAD Manager has to have an intimate knowledge of both the CAD package your firm uses, and the firm you work for. Possessing this knowledge will allow you to better align the abilities of your CAD platform with the abilities of your firm.
  • Persuasion: As the old saying goes you can attract more bees with honey than vinegar. You could certainly say “here’s the standard, now use it”, but you probably won’t get too far. If you instead say “here’s our brand-new layer standard which if everyone uses will make it so we can share xref’s between departments”. Quite simply, people want to know “what’s in it for me”, or “how’s this going to be better than x”. You are much more likely to see your companies CAD Standard adhered to if you can answer those questions.
  • Conceptualization: Before you start a training program, assemble a CAD Committee, or begin writing your CAD Standards – you have to have a defined plan. It’s tempting to take pictures first, and build the frame to show those pictures in second. You must resist the temptation by building your frame first, and then composing the perfect photo to place in that frame.
  • Foresight: Just because something isn’t practical in your firm today, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t begin turning the ship today. Moving from Land Desktop to Civil 3D is a perfect example of this. For most firms implementing Civil 3D in a week or even a month isn’t a very practical ambition. There are a lot of small things that have to happen leading up to a Civil 3D deployment. As a CAD Manager you have to have the foresight to make those things happen 1-year, 6-months, 3-weeks before your deployment.
  • Stewardship: CAD Managers lead a peripatetic existence. They travel from user to user, department to department, sharing a philosophical vision on how to make CAD work both individually and corporately. While we may familiarize ourselves with the micro-environments (departments) in our firms, our true focus is more macro in nature, fostering initiatives which are for the well being of the firm as a whole.
  • Building Community: Building a CAD Committee, hosting regular user group meetings are each especially important communal building functions all CAD Managers should do. Beyond that however the random non-technical “water cooler chats” are in my opinion some of the most important chats you can have with a user. Although a person’s dog, the weather, or even the stock market has little-to-nothing to do with “work” it achieves an important goal for any CAD Manager. It builds rapport with your users!

CAD Management is unquestionably unique in the way that few of us have hire/fire authority over our users. Since the direct consequences for not following the companies’ standards are well – minimal, as CAD Managers we have to employ a much different approach to “management.” Today I look back upon my Trail to Eagle, and quickly realize the full breath of Dr. E. Urner Goodman’s quote “For he who serves his fellows, is of all his fellows, greatest.” In the role of CAD Manager that translates to building rapport with, listening to, and overall serving the needs of your users.


For those curious about my involvement in scouting...

I achieved the Rank of Eagle Scout on April 12, 2000 in the Heart of Virginia Council (then the Robert E. Lee Council). As an arrowman in the Order of the Arrow (Scoutings’ National Honor Society) I also earned their highest honor – the Vigil Honor. When you receive the Vigil Honor you are given a “Vigil Name” by your peers. Translated, my Vigil Name was “Tall Diligent Noisy One”. These days I still remain active in the scouting program, currently serving as the webmaster for my council.

Convincing Management to Upgrade

Brian Benton of CAD-a-Blog recently commented on my last post Engineered Efficiency offers Unlimited Live Training, telling a story I hear all too often. Let me summarize; in short his firm upgraded to Civil 3D 2007 a couple years ago, but aren’t using Civil 3D – instead they’re running “Civil 3D as AutoCAD”. Doing that is like buying a BlackBerry, and ignoring the all powerful e-mail abilities of the device. Consequently the kneejerk reaction is nothing less than – what are you thinking?

There’s no two ways to say this, other than the economy is nowhere near what it was just a year ago. Companies are looking for ways to save money and streamline workflows. As CAD Managers we look at inefficiencies in workflows and solve them with technology. CEO’s and COO’s will oftentimes look at the same inefficiencies and solve them with staffing/manpower. But why this separation?

Multi-Disciplinary Plotting Made Easy

image Plotting is a topic so simple in theory, but yet so difficult in practice. Looking no further than my own firm, I can attest for the difficulties users encounter while plotting. Prior to standardizing the plotting process within my firm; a typical week of support contained 2-3 requests about plotting. Today those requests have been all but eliminated, with only 1 or 2 every couple months. But I need not sell you on the idea of standardization; we all know that saves us in the long run. Instead what I’d like to discuss is the added complexities of plotting within a multi-disciplinary firm.

We have the super-firms out there, with Architectural, MEP, Structural, and maybe even Civil out there, but in that mix is also smaller firms. Maybe you work in a smaller MEP or Civil/Survey firm. Regardless the firm size, the challenge is the same, referencing another department’s work and plotting it is flat out difficult. Doing this typically means going through some sort of rogue procedure just to make the plan look good.