Saturday, September 16, 2006

CAD Mgmt Toolbox: Two Essential Skills

Most CAD Managers I know have (or had) very good technical skills. They could draft well, design well, and somewhere along the way they learned to “tech” (i.e., troubleshoot) well. So in the infinite wisdom of the Peter Principle, they were promoted, reassigned, advanced, laterally moved, sworn in, knighted, christened, or duped into the official or unofficial role of “CAD Manager” (see Typical CAD Manager). Now, in addition to the skills which brought them here, they must develop two essential skills not covered in a drafting class or a users’ guide.

Back in 1991, Bob Keefer, AIA and I spent some time observing the “state of CAD.” We presented our observations at the NAAUG Conference that year (anyone remember NAAUG?) We titled our presentation “CADvantage or CADastrophe” and proceeded to describe the advantages and disadvantages of CAD at that time. Tom Conti of Walt Disney Imagineering took the stage and summarized our message as “educate management” and “train users”. Well, that was succinct and pretty accurate. We could have saved everyone a lot of time if he had said that before we got on stage, but then everyone would have missed our obligatory 3D spinning logo .fli on the screen.

Some things don’t change very much. The two essential skills are the same; I just refer to them in different terms today. Have you ever tried to “educate” your manager? You might succeed once or twice, but don’t make a habit of it. Generally your effort to “educate” someone higher in the company org chart will not be well received. Instead, consider the term “negotiate”.

You’ll need negotiation skills for more than your next budget discussion with your boss. You’ll need negotiation skills when purchasing hardware and software. You’ll need negotiation skills when introducing Layer Guideline changes. And you’ll need negotiation skills whenever your attempt to innovate.

Now what about that second essential skill? “Train Users” needs some revision as well. Elsewhere in this blog I have referred to the tendency to use the term “user” as profanity. Drop the term – the “us vs. them” mentality it provokes with those “users” isn’t worth the hassle. Remember, these people are either your “coworkers” or, if you are a consultant, they are your “associates”.

It only takes teaching one class to quickly realize that you aren’t going to “train” everyone. Some adults refuse to be trained and, in my opinion, some adults (brace yourself for a totally politically incorrect statement) can not be trained. Your second essential skill is to “facilitate”. You create an environment where adults can choose to learn. You offer classes, seminars, and documentation to facilitate their education.

So your two new essential skills are “negotiate” and “facilitate”. Where are you going to develop those skills? They aren’t something you can learn in a day. You can’t simply proclaim “I am now a negotiator and facilitator”. These skills are studied and they are practiced. So, as I hope I’ve asked before – what books are you reading and who are you hanging around? The answers to those two questions will assist you in determining your next step in developing these two essential skills.

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