Just How 3D Are We? Part 3

23 Mar, 2011 By: Robert Green

Managing expectations is key to keeping management and users happy during the transition from 2D to 3D.

In the past two editions of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I explored the use of 2D and 3D systems and concluded that 3D penetration is lagging, for a variety of reasons. (If you haven't had a chance to read those columns, you may want to do so now so you'll have the proper context for this one.)

In this issue and the next, I'll fulfill my promise of passing along advice for navigating the 2D-to-3D transition in a way that'll keep your users on track — and keep you sane. The approach I'll take is roughly chronological and will include action items, self-analysis questions, pitfalls to watch out for, and anything else that might help you! Here goes.

Getting Real

In my 20 years of CAD consulting in 2D and 3D design environments, I've come to believe a few essential truths about 3D implementation problems. Let me list the key concepts in summary fashion, then we'll start breaking the topics down:

  • If making the transition to totally 3D design were easy, everyone would have done it by now.
  • Not only is adopting 3D not easy, it won't happen overnight, no matter how hard you work at it.
  • 3D software only makes sense for your company if it helps you design your products better and faster; otherwise, what's the point?
  • Transitioning to 3D requires lots of training.
  • Great 3D software is a waste of money if you're trying to run it on old machines and slow networks.
  • No matter how well you plan your 3D move, change-resistant users can always sabotage your efforts.

Now think through how these challenges come into play in your company. Why not take a few minutes right now to jot down your thoughts, and focus on any of the problems you've experienced with 3D implementation.

What Did You Find?

If you're like most CAD managers, you've experienced at least a few of these troubles before. So given that many of us have experienced difficulties with 2D-to-3D transitions, what can we conclude?

  • Implementing 3D software requires a great deal of planning before the first user ever goes through training.
  • You must think through your design processes, and make sure the 3D software you propose to use actually fits your design needs, before deciding on a product.
  • The IT department must be involved.
  • You need hardware, software, and training budgets to make 3D happen.
  • Everyone needs to understand how 3D will impact their work routine.

If you agree (even partially) with these conclusions, you'll realize that everything about 3D comes down to one simple truth:

You can only implement 3D if senior management supports it, funds it, and understands how long it will take. Think you can just buy software, install it, and be done with it? No way!

Expectation Management

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 their own preconceptions of how the process will impact them. Some users will have negative expectations and fear the transition. Many times, management teams will expect implementation to be easier, faster, and cheaper than the reality. And in some cases, IT departments simply don't understand how much more resource-intensive 3D applications are in terms of operating systems, RAM, processors, and network bandwidth.

If you allow pessimistic or unrealistic expectations to take root, you're going to have unhappy users, unhappy management, unhappy IT staff, and a very bad initial 3D implementation. And if nobody's expectations are met, then you, the CAD manager, will be deemed a failure. So what should you do?

Manage Expectations

As I've made my way through various 3D implementations, I've learned that adjusting user, management, and IT expectations before the project begins is crucial. When things go as expected, or even a little better than expected, everyone is happy. The only way for that to happen is to educate all the stakeholders about what they should expect, and do to so as early in the process as possible. Of course, as CAD manager, you'll be the one to do that — right after you figure out how the process will unfold in your company.

Expectation Checklist

So how can you manage expectations? Let's look at a checklist I always use to help me achieve control:

Talk to management first:
Even though 3D implementation affects users more than management, you need management to back you up, fund your budget, and provide the authority for you to proceed with implementation. Therefore, garnering management buy-in is critical, and it must happen first. If you can't get management on board, why even bother?

Understand IT needs:
If the expectation is that you'll go from AutoCAD 2008 to Revit, Inventor, or SolidWorks on a 4-year-old single-processor machine with 2 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-core with 4 GB RAM on a 64-bit operating system is the bare minimum; quad-core with 6/8 GB RAM is more realistic), because you know it'll take longer than you think to get approval for the hardware purchase.

Conduct user acceptance testing: To make sure you'll have a critical base of users that will actually want to learn the new 3D tools, expose them to the new software and collect their feedback. Take your trusted power users to a vendor seminar, or load new software onto some laptops and hold a mini–training session in your office. The point is to get users enthused about learning and get their honest feedback before the implementation occurs. Much like management buy-in above, there isn't much point moving forward if no users want to come with you.

Prepare for unhappy users: As you perform user acceptance testing, you'll no doubt encounter those who don't like the new 3D software. Record the reasons behind their resistance, and note which users have the most negative attitudes so you can modify your implementation plan to avoid problems (more on this in the next edition, when I'll address training).

Talk to management again: You should now have user and IT expectations adjusted to reality, so it's time to go back to management and make sure that the management team knows what you've done, and what you've learned. You'll now be able to report 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 should be impressed with your preparation.

This multi-step process has worked for me over the past ten years without fail. Use this process to make all parties confront 3D reality and adjust their expectations accordingly. Try it, it really does work!

Homework Time

Now go through the checklist I've provided for setting expectations, and determine what steps you need to take to get everyone's 3D expectations in line with reality. There really is no substitute for doing this work, and I promise that everyone will be more positive and better satisfied if you do the proper expectation management up front.

Summing Up

By the next issue, you'll have finished your homework and be ready to move forward with 3D implementation challenges like machine updates, training, and initial project evaluations, and I'll pass along tips for navigating these tasks. Until next time.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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Re: Just How 3D Are We? Part 3
by: egalicki
March 23, 2011 - 2:00pm
I guess my situation is different. Back in 1987 when my company was investigating getting CAD started I was on the committee to study CAD software. They picked Autocad. I didn't agree. I picked a 3d (wireframe) program from a small company near Riverside, Ca. called 3DGRAFFIX. The company wouldn't buy it - and I felt strongly enough about it after seeing what it could do that I bought it. They are basically gone, and I am still here. I still work as a consultant for many of the people who were at that company at that time. I started in 3d. All the machinery I build is 3D. Even now all the machinery I build is 3d, so the idea of 3D is not tough for me. Having solid modeling is such a work-saver I don't think I would like to work without it.
Re: Just How 3D Are We? Part 3
by: Charles_Frances
March 23, 2011 - 3:50pm
Good points Robert. I started my company 15 years ago doing 3D architectural renderings and animations. Things have changed a great deal since then. If anyone is planning to go down this road it can be overwhelming with all of the new software and plugins. We work primarily with 3DS Max and VRay. Vray is a lighting software plugin. We have found it excellent for creating photo realistic scenes. If anyone has any questions let me know and I will do my best to help.
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