Product Design

The Realist’s Guide to 3D Implementation, Part 2

8 Apr, 2008 By: Robert Green

Controlling the implementation timeline can help you manage common problems.

In the last installment of CAD Manager's Newsletter I described what it takes to implement 3D software in a 2D-centric company environment. Today I'll continue by helping you set implementation timelines that are realistic for you, your users, and your company. Along the way I'll give you some tips about how to use timeline control to manage many of the common problems encountered while implementing 3D.

I have received quite a few "thank you for writing this so I can show my company management" e-mails from readers, so I know you're experiencing the same problems in your companies that I see with my clients. Here goes.

Expectations and Timelines
One of the key topics I talked about last time was setting realistic expectations with your users and management. My logic was that, if users think they'll learn a brand new 3D system in two days, they'll never achieve that expectation and they'll be disappointed by the results. Using the same logic, I find it worthwhile to manage management's expectation of how much time the process will take and how much it will cost.

I've found the most effective way I can manage the expectations everyone has regarding 3D implementation is to focus on a reasonable timeline. After a timeline is established, you can start to build a realistic picture of costs that is actually in line with your company's goals.

Here are a few more 3D truisms that I've developed regarding implementation timelines:

  1. Users generally think that 3D implementation will be faster because they assume the software will be easy to learn and that they'll have all the time in the world to learn it.

  2. 3D systems are very different from 2D systems, and thus the learning process isn't nearly as easy as users expect it to be. So users wind up spending more time on the "learning curve" than forecasted.

  3. Management sees the extended learning time spent with 3D software as something that slows down projects, and frequently this is true.

  4. As training timeframes extend and projects slow, senior management becomes increasingly anxious about the problem and starts to understand how tricky 3D implementation actually is.

CAD Manager to the Rescue
The truly proactive CAD manager will take my 3D truisms to heart and attack these problems of expectations before they even start. Or, if you've already become entangled in some of these problems, you can work your way out of them via clever management. In all cases the problems can be most effectively managed by introducing a timeline component that addresses the company's needs and allays management's concerns.

Here are my strategies for dealing with the 3D truisms I presented above:

Truism 1: State plainly that learning new 3D software will be harder than users think and that they will not have weeks of uninterrupted time because projects will suffer if this happens. Go to the project managers and decision makers within the company and explain this potential problem and ask for guidance on how much time has been allotted for 3D learning to occur.

If no time is budgeted for learning, then you'll know it, and the project manager will be on alert to manage the learning timeline in his or her projects. No matter how much time is available, this strategy allows you to manage the expectation problem with managers, look like a proactive CAD management genius to senior management, and set realistic expectations your users can live up to. Win – win – win.

Truisms 2 and 3: When learning curves start to get out of control (mainly because of lack of adherence to the strategy above) then you'll have to intervene. The best way to recover from longer-than-expected learning curves is to call a time-out and get all parties together to confront the problem. Do not, repeat DO NOT, allow the problem to continue and fester as tempers get short and management grows increasingly concerned. DO get management team members and users to talk through where the learning problems are and negotiate a solution that allows project work to continue and timelines to recover.

It is better to press the pause button on a 3D implementation for several weeks and allow project work to recover than to miss a key deadline because users are having trouble learning. You'll score points from everyone because you defused the situation, and management will love you because you helped get project work back on track.

Truism 4: After you've started working through the 3D implementation process and experienced a few hiccups, management teams start to understand how profound a change 3D is and how it affects business processes in ways they'd never thought of. Now is the perfect time for the proactive CAD manager to call for a 3D debriefing session where these realities are discussed.

As you conduct this debriefing session, strive for people to open up and voice their frustrations, what they see as benefits, and how business processes might be made better. The reality is that thinking will change as people start to understand the 3D implementation process, and now is the perfect time to harness their thinking. I've found the biggest strides my customers make with 3D isn't the initial implementation, but how they innovate and change after the initial implementation is completed. As CAD manager, you can be in charge of these great strides, so go for it!

Your Timeline Checklist
You may have noticed that most of my observations of 3D implementations indicate that things happen slower rather than faster. You may also have noticed that unplanned problems slow things down even more. What's the answer? Planning!

So before any substantial 3D implementation begins, you should take the 3D truisms and strategies I've outlined and give some serious thought to how you'll approach 3D implementation. Use the following items as a guide to build a realistic timeline:

Forecast learning time. You know your users, so only you can make a decent forecast of how quickly you think they can learn the tools involved. My experience says to take the time you forecast and double it.

Forecast project time available for learning. Take the time estimates for your user's learning curves and fit that time into the projects they'll work on by talking with project managers. You may find you won't have the time to train everyone during a project; perhaps you'll be able to train only a few.

Get management's buy-in. Show senior management your user and project timeline estimates and ask if they approve. If they approve, you're good to go. If they want faster implementation, then they can help you negotiate that time with project managers. Either way, you'll have management team members in on the decision making, which will keep everyone calm and collected as the 3D implementation plays out.

Put it all on a chart. Write down the rough timelines, project deadlines, and other key implementation variables and publish the results. It is a lot harder for people to complain later when the deadlines they agreed on were published beforehand!

Wrapping Up
Now you should be able to present the classic problems of 3D implementation to users and managers in a time-based frame of reference that everyone can understand. And, as reality sets in, the implementation timeframe will dictate training and project variables that are otherwise very difficult to manage. Try it, because it really does work.

In the next CAD Manager's Newsletter I'll conclude my realistic guide to 3D implementation by helping you manage the actual learning and training processes during software rollout without going crazy in the process. Until then.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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