Product Design

The Realist’s Guide to 3D Implementation, Part 1

25 Mar, 2008 By: Robert Green

For a successful transition to 3D design, forget the marketing hype and prepare for the real task ahead.


In the last installment of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I covered the latest versions of Autodesk's upcoming 3D software releases including Revit, Inventor, and Civil 3D from the CAD manager's perspective. At the conclusion of the newsletter, I opined that the excitement of slick 3D technology often masks the reality of complex learning curves, hardware upgrades, and disruptive process changes that make the technology vexingly hard to implement.

In the next two issues of the newsletter I'm going to take a realistic look at what it takes to get 3D design software integrated into a 2D working environment to help you plan better for the transition.

It's Not That Easy
If you read all the marketing literature for 3D software systems, you'd think the software would run itself. Everything is described as "easy" or "simple" or — my personal favorite — "intuitive." I've been working with 3D CAD software implementations since 1986 using SDRC Ideas, CALMA, Pro-E, SolidWorks, Mechanical Desktop, and Inventor, and I can confidently say it has never been as easy as the marketing people would have you believe.

Over the years I've developed some truisms that have helped steer me through 3D implementations, which I'll share with you here:

  • The best CAD manager in the world cannot implement 3D without the support of upper management, including funding and the time to succeed.

  • If senior management has an unrealistic expectation of how easy, fast, and cheap it will be to implement 3D software, even the best CAD manager can never live up to those expectations.

  • The best implemented software in the world will never be accepted if the hardware and/or network systems of the company aren't up to the task of running it.

  • The greatest software in the world can never be implemented if users aren't ready to make the changes necessary to use it.

  • No matter what you do, renegade users can always torpedo your 3D implementation. If you've ever dealt with this type of person, you know what I mean.
The Expectations Game
What all my truisms have in common is a component of expectation. By this I mean that everyone comes into the 3D implementation process with an idea, right or wrong, of how things will go. Some users will have expectations of a negative experience that will require a lot of change on their part. Many times management teams will expect implementation to be easier, faster, and cheaper than it really will be. And in some cases IT departments will underestimate how much more taxing 3D applications can be on hardware and network infrastructures.

If you combine all these erroneous expectations, you can see that nobody is going to be happy when the reality of 3D implementation sets in. And if nobody's expectations are met, then you — the CAD manager — are in for some rough sledding and unhappy people.

Adjust the Expectations
As I've made my way through various 3D implementations, I've come to believe that adjusting everyone's expectations before 3D implementation happens is critical for my success. People are happy only when things go as expected, and the only way for that to happen is to inform, educate, and articulate how things will go as early as possible.

Of course you, the CAD manager, will be the one to figure out how things will actually go in your company, and you'll have to be the person who manages all the user, management, and IT expectations.

Expectation Checklist
So how do you manage expectations? Let's look at a checklist I use that always helps me achieve control:

Talk to management first. Even though 3D implementation affects users more than senior managers, it is management who must back you up, fund your budget, and provide the authority for you to proceed with implementation. Therefore having management buy into your plan for 3D is critical and must happen first. If you can't get them on board, why even bother?

Understand IT needs. If the expectation is that you'll go from AutoCAD 2004 to Revit, Inventor, or SolidWorks on three-year-old, single-processor machines with 1 GB of RAM, you're going to have some unhappy users. Now is the time to get a plan in place for new hardware (dual processor with 4 GB RAM minimum) because you know it'll take longer than you think to get the new hardware approved.

Do user acceptance testing. To make sure you'll have a critical base of users who will want to learn the new 3D tools, you'll need to expose them to the new software and collect their feedback. Take your trusted power users to a vendor seminar or load up new software on some laptops and go into a conference room for a mini training session. The point is to get users enthusiastic about learning and get their honest feedback before the implementation occurs.

Prepare for unhappy users. As you perform user acceptance testing, you'll no doubt encounter those who don't like the new software. Note their reasons for not liking the software and note who has the most negative attitudes so you can modify your implementation plan to avoid problems (more on this in the next newsletter).

Talk to management again. You should now have user and IT expectations adjusted to reality, so it is time to go back to the management team and make sure they know what you've done and what you've learned. You'll now be able to report on realistic time frames for training, IT purchases, and user acceptance. Management will have a clear idea of how hard you've worked at assessing the situation, and they'll be impressed with your preparation.

This multistep process has really helped me to build trust with users, IT departments, and senior management alike. And as you work through the process, you force all parties to confront reality and adjust their expectations accordingly. Try it — it really does work!

What's Next
If you're facing a 3D implementation of some sort, it is time to do some homework. Go through the checklist I've provided for setting expectations and see how much work you need to do in your organization. I promise that an hour spent on planning will reward you later with happier users, faster hardware, and management teams that like what they see.

Wrapping Up
In the next CAD Manager's Newsletter I'll conclude my realistic guide to 3D implementation by helping you set up timelines for implementation that will keep you sane and keep the company's projects running. Until then.


About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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