Product Design

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

22 Apr, 2008 By: Robert Green

Careful planning is the key to successfully training your staff.

In the last two installments of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I've given you some practical advice for planning the transition from 2D software to 3D software. I hope you've had a chance to do the planning and expectation management I've outlined in those first two installments.

I've received more email about this series than any other topic in the past year. It seems a lot of you are experiencing problems with 3D implementation just like I have over the years.

This time I'll pass along some advice for the actual implementation and training stages of your move to 3D. And, as I've done in the first two installments, I'll pass along some real-world tips that'll help you avoid the perils of 3D while you're at it. Here goes.

Plan Your Training
In my experience, the key to getting users on board with 3D software has always focused on the training. For your user to have a great training experience, you must plan that training well in advance.

To assist you in that planning, here are a few do's and don'ts that should help you focus on the right things while avoiding problems. First the Do's:

  • Do take the time to start at the beginning so that users don't have gaps in their knowledge. Sometimes we CAD managers think things are easy, but our users don't find it so!

  • Do use real-world examples in training. If your company manufactures airplanes, then use airplane part examples in training as opposed to modeling a chair, for example.

  • Do teach users the features they need and skip the features they don't need.

  • Do include standards in your training. After all, it is better to teach users the right way first than to have them start out with bad habits.

  • Do keep it brief. Most people learn better when taught in several shorter sessions as opposed to one long session.

Now the Don'ts:

  • Don't skip training. Any time I've ever been pressured into skipping or skimping on training, I've been rewarded with stressed-out, unproductive users as a result. Skipping training is simply a false economy.

  • Don't train too many people at once. If you unleash 15 new users on a 3D system, you'll be overwhelmed with questions and support problems. It is better to train fewer people in multiple batches.

  • Don't underestimate startup problems. You're changing your users' CAD software, and they're going to be stressed about it. If you understand the stress and accommodate it, everyone will feel more relaxed.

None of these suggestions qualify as rocket science, but it has always been the times I've ignored one of these key pieces of advice that I've had problems. In fact, print out the list of do's and don'ts and keep it on your desk as a constant reminder during the training process. It will help you stay on track.

Train These Users First
I realize that there are conflicting opinions on the optimal way to train users, but I've come to believe that picking the first users to train has more to do with implementation success than anything else. Here are the qualifiers that I use to select my first training group:

    Desire. Who wants to be in training?

    Career. Who views 3D training as being a career asset?

    Drive. Who will spend time after class, on their own, to really learn the software?

    Project need. Who can actually use the software in a current project when they leave the training?

I use these questions to build a small selection of motivated and driven users who will be able to take their training knowledge to actual project work immediately. The benefits I gain from using this approach is that I tend to move this first training group to 3D proficiency quickly and don't have to field a lot of support questions because this group tends to be self-motivated.

After training this group you can take a little time to collect feedback on what they thought of the training and adjust your training sessions to make them better for the next group.

Next to Be Trained
After your first training group has achieved some results with 3D on a real project, you can proceed to the next training group. The next group will simply be the next group of people who as closely as possible meet the criteria I referenced for the first group.

Now we all know that the second training group may be slightly less motivated and self-reliant than the first group, but you'll have the benefit of training the first group to help you do a better job training this group. You'll also have the benefit of having the first group of 3D users to help mentor the second group along to proficiency.

Whom to Train Last
Renegades. Cowboys. Doubters. Complainers. You know who these users are. These are the users who've been avoiding the move to 3D for a host of reasons, real or perceived.

I train these users last because I can remove the classic complaints these users have by pointing to the successful training of others. Here's how I handle the common objectives:

"3D will never work." Sure it will; everybody else is already using it.

"This software is too hard to learn." Well, everybody else has learned it.

"I can do it faster in 2D." So could everybody else until they really worked with the software for awhile.

I've now managed to back those not willing to learn 3D into a corner where they either have to learn the system or admit that they're simply not able to learn (which nobody will ever admit). I've found this method is a bulletproof way to cut through training avoidance, and I'm pretty sure it'll work for you too!

Adjust and Document as You Go
Of course, as you train users and put 3D software into use on actual projects, you'll learn as you go. As you learn better ways to use the software, keep users updated on what you learn and adjust your training for new users accordingly. And as you learn more, be sure to update your standards to reflect what you've learned and keep everyone on the same page.

The dangers of not adjusting what you do and updating your standards are too terrible to ponder. When users are left alone to figure out new ways to work without the benefits of standards, your users will diverge and you'll have anything but a standard work environment! And with the complexity of 3D models and the overall newness of the software, you'll find yourself presiding over a train wreck in short order!

Wrapping Up
Now it's time to get going with 3D implementation. By using the planning, communication, and implementation techniques I've outlined in this series, you should be able to manage the process with fewer headaches and false starts. If you have any follow up questions on the topic of 3D implementation, please email me at, and I'll make every attempt to answer in the next issue of the newsletter. Until then.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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