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By Robert Green
This article was developed by the editors of Cadalyst, a magazine and web site devoted to providing software and hardware information, advice, and tips for CAD managers and users. It is published here with permission of the publisher.
If your company will be implementing new CAD software soon, then you know your life as CAD manager is about to become hectic. But in the interest of preserving your sanity while making the process go as smoothly as possible, is there a best way to go about the implementation process?
In this whitepaper, I’ll present my best practices for deploying new CAD software releases, including a chronological process and diagnostics to help you to build an implementation plan for your unique environment. Let’s get started.
To implement any new piece of CAD software — whether a simple update to existing tools or a radical departure — you’ll need to cover a series of key steps, or best practices. Following is a chronological list of procedures that I recommend for success. I’ll dive into the details of each in the sections that follow.
Implementing new CAD software absolutely must be preceded by a thorough trial deployment. As outlined in the article, CAD Manager’s Guide to Successful Software Trial Deployment, it is imperative that you verify software functionality, installation kits, configuration, IT issues, and usability with the help of a controlled group of test users so you know your new software is ready for the real world.
And, assuming you do decide to proceed to implementation, much of your pre-implementation work will be simplified thanks to the results from of trial deployment. The conclusion is clear: If you want a smooth, error-free CAD software implementation, there’s simply no good reason to skip trial deployment!
Changing software versions or introducing new tools in the middle of an on-going project can delay project execution. Besides training and workflow disruption, upgrading software tools often renders the new files incompatible with prior versions of software that may still be in use by coworkers or clients. Clearly, the time to roll out new software is not in the middle of a project.
Instead, start with a new project that is on the near horizon. Rather than just jumping in on the first project that comes up, consider which project will be the best fit for the new software implementation. The attributes of a successful first project typically include:
Without these key factors in place, the implementation will very likely fail. As CAD manager, identifying an optimal first project is your best bet for completing a CAD software implementation quickly and efficiently.
Based on the results of your trial deployment, you’ll probably have ideas for how to best standardize software use. The trial touched on everything from standard blocks/families/libraries to project filing procedures, so now you can translate what you learned into formalized standards for software use.
Where should you put the needed standards to manage your first project? Use this checklist to make sure you have everything covered:
Modifying standards during a software implementation will only add to the project’s already complicated and stressful nature. Avoid this entirely by firming up your standards in advance.
Here’s where it all starts to come together — that is, a plan for introducing users to the new software and building proficiency. Based on your observations during the trial deployment, you must create a training strategy and topic list that will guide the process along in a disciplined way.
When compiling your list of training topics, keep in mind the following do’s and don’ts:
I know from experience that if you pay close attention to these do’s and don’ts, your training will have positive results. Keep a copy of the list on your desk as a reminder during the training process.
There are many conflicting opinions on the optimal way to train users, but I’ve learned that training success is best ensured by picking the right group of initial trainees. If the first staff you train does well, then the remainder of the implementation always seems to go better.
Here are the qualifiers that I use to select my first group of trainees:
Use these questions to build a small group of motivated, driven users who can apply their new skills to project work immediately. This first group won’t ask a lot of support questions due to their self-motivated nature and will become proficient quickly.
Bonus: After training this group, collect feedback about your program so you can improve future sessions.
I hear you asking yourself, “How can I roll out new software without getting overwhelmed by support demands?” The answer: gradually. Phase in the software project by project, group by group, building proficiency at the pace allowed by your company’s workload. Let’s dig into some considerations for developing a workable strategy.
Project load. How many projects does your company start per year? This number should give you a decent idea about how long it will take to train your entire user base trained on the new software version.
Phased training. After your first training group has achieved some results with a real project, you can proceed to the next training group when the next new project starts. The next group will simply be your next-most-qualified group of candidates. Of course, the second training group may be slightly less motivated or self-reliant than the first group you chose, but now you have the benefit of experience on your side — and you’ll have the first group of trained users to help mentor the second group.
Timeline. How long will each training session take? How long will your users need to assimilate the new software? How many projects will have to start before everyone is trained? Your answers will tell you everything you need to know to build your training timeline. Develop the timeline with special care because it will also be a critical part of your presentation to management when you seek approval for your training and CAD implementation plan.
Handling objectors. Renegades. Cowboys. Doubters. Complainers. You know who these users are, right? They are the users who avoid new software for any number of reasons — real or perceived. I train them last because, by the end of my phased implementation, I’ll have the ammunition to rebuke their classic objections. For example:
At this point, the stubborn user will have to agree to learn the new software or admit that he or she simply isn’t able to learn — which no one will ever admit. I’ve found this approach to be bulletproof!
Now that all your testing and planning is complete, it’s time to talk to your users and your boss about the changes to come and the timeline. This period of communication and consensus building is absolutely mandatory for the following reasons:
Setting everyone’s expectations before implementation is critical. Only when things go as expected are people happy, and the only way for that to happen is to inform, educate, and articulate how things will go as early as possible. Here are some tried-and-true tips for managing the discussions.
As soon as you train your first group of users and embark on the first project with your new software, you’ll need to manage the experience and deal with problems as they arise. As you address each issue, be sure to communicate the solution to all users and update your processes as needed so the software implementation will get better.
The following steps can help you manage the process most effectively:
If it seems like implementing new software is a complex process, that’s because it is! The good news is that by following these practices & developing a solid plan that anticipates all the variables and issues you’ll encounter, you’ll be prepared for almost anything. And when you get your management and user teams to support your plan up front, you’ll experience much less stress as you execute the project.
Robert Green performs CAD programming and consulting throughout the United States and Canada. He is a contributing editor for Cadalyst magazine and the author of Expert CAD Management: The Complete Guide. Reach him via his web site, www.cad-manager.com.