Arguably the most significant risk of any CAD manager isn’t what they do know but rather what they don’t know. We can plan and build strategies around what we know, but we can only react to the things we don’t know. And while this is an easy reality to recognize, the more demanding thing is to figure out something to do about it.
What can we do to increase our visibility into how teams use tools like AutoCAD within our organizations? How can we identify knowledge gaps, standardization needs, and training needs?
Perhaps more importantly, how can we gain management buy-in to the changes that need to be made to better help our team?
Ask a hundred CAD managers these questions, and you’re likely to get an equal number of answers. I’m no exception. I’ve even tried many of them. Of course, by trying, what I really mean is failing. Despite such setbacks, one approach has proven more successful than the rest.
What approach might that be?
For me, that’s been something I call a process assessment.
So, what is a process assessment?
Candidly it can be anything you want it to be. However, its central purpose is to formally assess the workflows and procedures your teams leverage to get their work done using tools like AutoCAD.
If you’ve been in CAD management for any time, there’s a good chance you’ve done something that resembles an assessment once, twice, or even many more times before. This is where the importance of your assessment being a formal process is critical. By formalizing the process you accomplish two key things.
First, a formal process is something that inherently has visibility at many levels throughout your organization. It’s not just the CAD manager haphazardly going around the office talking to people; it’s a process with a name. That name is important since it defines the identity of the process as a project with clear outcomes and deliverables. Something that stands in contrast to the ambiguous outcomes of a CAD manager chatting with people.
Secondly, as a project, stakeholders know what deliverables to expect based on the stated project outcomes. More importantly, stakeholders realize it’s a process with specific business outcomes. A process that will connect the dots between two mystical worlds: the world of technology and the world of business.
At this point, you might be wondering, how can you implement some form of a process assessment within your organization?
The answer to that question will be the focus of this multi-part series on conducting an AutoCAD process assessment. In each post, we’ll explore one step in the assessment process. During that exploration, we’ll study the purpose of that step, the fundamental way to accomplish that step, and what tools I’ve commonly used to achieve that step.
To start our journey, we’ll begin in the place every successful project starts – the plan.
Step 1: Define Your Objectives
As with any formal process, a successful process assessment starts with none other than a plan.
Under plan and your process assessment won’t have enough structure to determine any actionable outcomes. Over plan, and you’ll likely introduce predetermined outcomes into your assessment, thereby limiting its overall objectivity.
The key here is balance.
To achieve this balance, my process assessment planning begins by establishing the objectives of the assessment itself. As with any good project plan, you’ll want to determine your areas of focus. To avoid introducing predetermined outcomes, think of this step as defining where you’ll look—not what you’ll look for.
Your organization should strive to find the assessment objectives that best matches its needs, not the needs of some other organization. It’s OK to draw inspiration from what other firms may have done, but this is not the project to copy others and wish for great outcomes.
For me, when defining the objectives of a process assessment, I like to begin by looking at how my organization defines the very role of CAD management.
At my company, Timmons Group, we define the role of CAD management as the intersection of “people, process, and technology.”
For us, people is mainly about the professional development opportunities we offer our teams. Process is about the structures like CAD standards we define to help our teams do their jobs. Finally, technology represents the tools we provide to our teams to be successful when doing their jobs. In our view, these three pillars are coequal, and none can successfully exist without the other two.
Building upon this, when establishing the process assessment plan for Timmons Group, it was only natural that we define the focus areas of our assessment as people, process, and technology. Establishing these focus areas allows us to clearly define where we’re looking and where we’re not.
For example, someone might share comments about office amenities during the AutoCAD assessment process. While it’s OK to acknowledge such feedback, it similarly falls outside the scope of our AutoCAD assessment. Such a comment is likely better suited for a potential employee culture assessment.
Most importantly, whatever you determine as the focus areas of your assessment, your next step is to identify how and who will actually conduct it. This is where it’s pragmatic to take a hard look in the mirror and ask yourself whether you can objectively conduct the assessment?
Suppose your answer is one of uncertainty as a measure of either bandwidth or objectivity. In that case, you’re probably not the right person for the job. Instead, you’ll probably be best served by leveraging an outside consultant.
If that’s the case for your organization, I recommend reaching out to the Autodesk Partner your organization works with. The professional services group of most Autodesk Partners offer some form of a process assessment service you can consult with them on.
Apart from approaching your firm in an unbiased way, a key benefit of leveraging an outside consultant is the perspectives they bring to the table from working with other firms.
Of course, while hiring an outside consultant will be the best answer for some organizations, your organization may decide to conduct the assessment itself. That, too, is entirely OK.
Starting Your AutoCAD Process Assessment
Should your organization choose to conduct its own process assessment, there are several things it will need to plan for. The first of those is who will conduct the assessment? The person conducting the assessment should be well-versed in AutoCAD. More importantly, the person must be someone your team trusts to objectively and anonymously report on what they observe.
This trust component cannot be overstated. If teams feel you will defend, not objectively report on what they share, those individuals will likely be very guarded in what they do share. Consequently, guarded responses will severely limit the visibility and depth of your process assessment. Put another way, this is not the time to explain your CAD standards, but instead listening to how teams feel they support or inhibit their projects.
Next, after determining who will conduct your organization’s assessment, you’ll need to determine how they’ll actually get the job done?
Your answer to this question will likely be influenced by the size of your very organization. For example, smaller organizations may very well be able to speak to everyone. In contrast, larger organizations will have to be more strategic in who they communicate with directly.
Wherever you fall in that range, you must find a way to solicit feedback from all levels of your organization. In other words, don’t focus exclusively on your production staff, project managers, managers, or leadership, but instead a blend of all of them. Part of what you’re trying to answer in this process assessment is how the challenges experienced by your production teams are shared by your organization’s management and leadership. Without speaking to each of them, it’s impossible to gain those insights.
Once you have a plan for these elements in place, it’s time to begin the process assessment itself. Conducting the process assessment, we’ll break this process into three primary steps. These steps will include collecting information, analyzing information, and finally sharing and articulating what you’ve learned.
Stay tuned for the next post in this series, where we’ll study how to collect information during your assessment.