CAD Manager's Newsletter #83 (Apr. 17, 2003)

16 Apr, 2003 By: Robert Green

In the last two issues, I described how to get started and what you should consider before beginning a software upgrade. I suggest you read them, if you haven't had a chance.

In this issue, I'll be concentrating on some do's and don't's for the actual process of implementing a CAD upgrade. I assume that you've analyzed the upgrade software and that it meets your upper management's criteria for upgrading. Now that you're now going to flip the actual upgrade switch, I'd like to offer a few recommendations.

What About the Hardware?

Will you be installing an upgrade to AutoCAD 2004 on your antique fleet of Pentium Pro 90's that run Windows 95? Do you expect to run the latest SolidWorks version on your old 64MB RAM Pentium III machines? I could ask more sample questions, but they would all point out the problem of expecting new software to run on old, improperly equipped hardware. I continue to be amazed that there are major companies out there still running Windows 95 (yes, I'm serious) and Windows 98, when Windows 2000 or XP is available.

In many cases, software suppliers will not certify their products to work on old hardware/software platforms. In many other cases the software may seem to work but will exhibit odd behavior that can't be readily debugged. If you have nice CAD-capable machines priced at $1,200 (sans monitor), why spend the time trying to debug problems associated with antiquated hardware or operating systems? If you can't get the proper hardware and operating systems, postpone upgrading until you can.

Line Up Support Before You Start

Will you need technical assistance from software dealers or consultants to complete your upgrade? How about after-implementation support and troubleshooting? If the answer to either of these questions is yes, then evaluate when you'll need them and schedule them ASAP. Why wait to find out that a key consultant or reseller's technical specialist is unavailable when you're experiencing an emergency?

Lining up technical resources ahead of time requires you to tell your management that you may need help during the implementation effort. I do not see arranging for help in advance as a sign of weakness (as many CAD managers seem to). I, rather, see it as a smart insurance policy that will save the company frustration and time should an unforeseen technical problem arise. You may be able to make creative financial arrangements with technical support providers, such as a retainer arrangement. Or, you may just want to prepay for some support time with the understanding that you can use the services later. Either way, you'll never seem dumb for lining up support you don't need. On the other hand, you can really get burned if you didn't line up help ahead of time and then have a technical disaster.

Be Realistic About the Pace of Implementation

Do you plan on upgrading 50 CAD seats in one day without any additional support? Do you expect to conduct a glitch free software upgrade at three different branch offices on the same day? Should something go horribly wrong, will you still expect everyone's CAD stations to be usable? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you're not being realistic in your expectations, and you run the risk of experiencing a train wreck of an upgrade.

I've become a big fan of performing upgrades on a small-group by small-group basis, so that upgrade work loads are manageable. If your first group upgrade goes well, then move to the next group. Conversely, should the first group upgrade go poorly, you'd have a chance to see what went wrong and get it fixed while only dealing with a "small" group of disgruntled users.

Use Your Power Users

Chances are you have some CAD power users in your organization who provide support to other CAD users. These power users usually work in production jobs around the company and can't devote a lot of time to CAD management, but they are very knowledgeable in all things CAD. Why not try to obtain permission from these users' managers to allow them to help with the CAD upgrade implementation? After all, using in-house power users is cheaper than hiring outside help, and you'll be building technical expertise on the new software version as you go!

Why not go to the managers around your company and convince them that it is in their best interest to have their own power CAD-users involved in the upgrade process? If management resists, you can appeal to a sense of mercy by explaining that you'll be overwhelmed during the upgrade process and could really use the help. Your last piece of leverage is simply arguing cost factors of internal versus external resources. Tell them you're only trying to save money.

Don't Upgrade During Key Projects

Is the biggest project of the year scheduled for completion during the week of your CAD upgrade? Have you simply scheduled your upgrade implementation without checking for major scheduling conflicts? If you answer yes to either of these questions, you are inviting disaster.

I've found that project managers don't always tell CAD managers about big deadlines as often as they should. Go out of your way to communicate any proposed upgrade timeframe via email and personal conversations. Should anyone come to you later and complain that the CAD upgrade is compromising a project deadline, you can prove that you asked.

Ask Questions

Sometimes the smallest details can derail an upgrade. These details could be hardware, software, network or even scheduling related, and they are always subtle and small enough to overlook. If you don't ask about these potential problems, you won't know until it is too late.

I recommend adopting a paranoid attitude. Keep asking questions, even if you think you've considered every possible error-ridden scenario.

Summing Up

I hope this three-part series has given you enough information to plan, analyze, and implement a major CAD upgrade with minimal heartburn. If you'd like to share your experiences or if you have a specific question you'd like addressed, please email me at