Get Ready to Test
My first rule is that you can’t make a smart decision on upgrading until you’ve tested the new version in real world use scenarios. Of course, being on subscription means you’ll always have access to the latest version so it shouldn’t be a problem to get the software. But for software that may have lapsed, you can always get a trial version. Install the software on a test machine and get ready.
I also like to troll software web sites, blogs, and YouTube for any reviews from other users that could help me find any known problems with the new version before I start testing. I’ve also found that software resellers — if you use one — often have documentation they can share with you on new features that may not be publicly available.
In summary, get the latest software installed, do some basic research, and allocate time to test things out.
Test, Test, Test, and then Test Some More
As you start testing make sure you build the following elements into your protocols:
Use your data. Don’t use test data supplied with the new software — use data that you already have or create new tests using the same products you would normally design. The goal is to see the software work with a typical cross section of data you would normally use.
Note user interface (UI) changes. Did anything change with UI elements such as ribbons, toolbars, browsing interfaces or content libraries that will likely be problems for your users? Sometimes an upgrade can seem like a downgrade when familiar muscle memory patterns change!
Replicate your current workflows. Can you complete a current work project using the same workflow as the old version? If not, then you’ll need to take into account the training required to make the switch.
Evaluate new features. Do take some time to go through the new features touted by the upgrade’s documentation as you may find something that’ll work great in your office. On the other hand, you may not find anything that really speaks to your user’s needs. Knowing if the new features are compelling or not is a key piece of the decision-making process.
Ask some others. Once you’ve found the changes, new features, and possible problems with the upgraded software why not invite a few trusted users for a quick show and tell to get their impressions? If they aren’t enthusiastic when the software is new, you can bet they won’t be later when they have to learn it!
Write it up. Create a summary document along with your “go or no go” decision on whether the upgrade merits further consideration. This write-up will be the basis for continuing in your upgrade process or not.
Work the Numbers
If you decide to pursue upgrading, you need more than gut feel to justify your decision. You’re going to need numbers and a communication plan to get IT and senior management on board. Here’s how I do the computation:
List software cost. If you get your software by subscription, automatically the cost is $0 for the upgrade — otherwise the purchase cost can be used.
Estimate installation cost. This is simply an estimate of how much CAD management and IT time will be required to get the new software installed. First tally the hours required, then convert to cost by using the hourly rate for the personnel involved.
Estimate training preparation cost. This is the number of hours it will take you to prepare training documents, arrange training rooms, hire outside training experts, or anything else it will take to conduct training. Generally speaking, software updates with different User Interfaces and changed workflows will be more training intensive — and thus expensive — than you think.
Estimate training cost. This is the number of hours it will take to train your user base in the new software. Simply take the number of users times the number of training hours times the user’s labor rate to compute cost.
Estimate savings. After users are trained, how much efficiency will they gain? Will they be 1 hour per week faster, or 2 or 0.5, or not any faster at all? Simply multiply the number of users times the hours saved per year then multiply by the user’s labor rate.
Note: The answer you arrive at is very important because savings are the only thing that will pay for the software, installation, and training costs you’ve undertaken so far.