Break the Bottleneck

9 Jul, 2014 By: Robert Green

Diagnose where the bottlenecks are in your company’s CAD workflow so your users can work more efficiently.

Irrefutable Truths

Stepping through the components of the CAD ecosystem, I'll offer some certainties about them that I've learned from years of experience. I'll relate each of these to their bottleneck potential for many companies.

  1. The users. If your users don't know what they are doing, nothing else matters. The bottleneck potential here is huge, especially if a user is thrown into a new CAD program without training.
  2. The input devices. Great input devices allow users to get information into their CAD software and visualize complex 3D systems with the least amount of wasted time — but they're not all great. The bottleneck potential here is larger than you might think, especially when trying to collect huge 3D point clouds with a too small/slow laser scanner.
  3. The workstation and network. Workstations and networks that run software briskly with no noticeable delays, glitches, or crashes keep your users happy and productive. The seriousness of bottlenecks from hardware and networks that are old, unreliable, and constantly crashing can't be overstated.
  4. The standards and training system. This component can't be separated from the first component — the user. After all, users who are well trained and work in a standardized environment will always be more efficient than those who aren't. A bottleneck here can undermine everything that you do right.
  5. The software. The right software makes work progress efficiently; the wrong software turns work processes into drudgery. Surprisingly, the bottleneck potential here is very low, as most companies really do use the right software for the right tasks.
  6. The output devices. This is how your clients judge you — by your final product. The bottleneck potential here typically arises from using slow or low-volume output devices in high-throughput environments.
  7. The iteration/revision process. The more you have to iterate and revise, the more time your users spend on each project, and the more any bottlenecks you do have are magnified.

So, simply stated, the CAD manager can manage the CAD software tools perfectly, but is still doomed to fail if he or she must deal with incompetent users, outdated hardware, or non-functional networks.

Find Bottlenecks and Attack Them

Now, here's the fun part. You need to be brutally honest in your assessment of which component in your CAD ecosystem is slowing you down the most. Is it slow hardware, lack of training, or some combination of other factors I've not identified? Nobody but you, the CAD manager, can make these judgments, so you must analyze your company's workflows and determine where the bottlenecks are.

Once you've located them, it is time to start fixing them. Your job is to focus on the worst bottlenecks and wipe them out first. You may find that a combination of some or all of these techniques is required:

  • Explain your findings to your boss
  • Convince your users of your findings
  • Get permission and budget approval to fix the bottlenecks
  • Explain ecosystem changes to users
  • Labor to put fixes into place.

The great thing about going on the attack in this organized manner is that you'll address the worst problems in your ecosystem with laser-like focus, and fix problems with a sense of purpose and productivity. I actually enjoy fixing bottlenecks, as it gives me a sense of accomplishment and purpose and keeps the job interesting every single day. Your users will appreciate the new training, hardware, or output device that makes their work easier, and your boss will like the productivity you bring to the workplace! Eliminating bottlenecks is a win–win proposition.

In my experience, figuring out where the bottleneck is isn't the worst part of the process; rather, it's convincing those around you of the severity of the bottlenecks you've identified. The good news is that once everyone agrees on the critical nature of the problem, you'll typically get budget approval to fix it quickly. So don't despair, just work through the process one bottleneck at a time.

Summing Up

Of course, for every bottleneck you fix, there will be another waiting for you to discover it. This is always going to be the case in CAD management, as the CAD ecosystem is not static; something is always evolving or changing to meet project demands.

I hope my bottleneck analogy proves useful for you in better understanding your CAD ecosystem, and that the process of understanding and diagramming your work processes gives you greater insight into your CAD management tasks. Until next time.

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About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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