Select the Right CAD Tool for the Job, Part 226 May, 2015 By: Robert Green
CAD Manager Column: To make wise choices about whether to stick with your existing software, start by evaluating how effective it is — and why.
In the previous edition of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I shared a story about a company that rushed to abandon its existing optimized 2D CAD systems in favor of a poorly understood 3D design system, and chronicled the harm that ill-informed decision caused. If you haven't had a chance to read it, I recommend you do before proceeding.
In this installment of the series, I'll share a checklist you can use to evaluate the effectiveness of your current processes and to decide if old or new software tools will better serve you. This will not be a discussion of the merits of 2D vs. 3D, or a declaration of which software is best — I'm simply laying out a method for comparing tools so you can pick the best one for your needs. Here goes.
Do You Know Your Own Processes?
One of my personal heroes, W. Edwards Deming, famously remarked, "If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, then you don't know what you are doing." I find this statement describes quite a lot of companies that struggle with which CAD tools to use. It seems that when you don't really understand your current software tools, you're more likely to blindly buy into the promises of software marketing and pick the wrong tool for the job.
The first task in analyzing your CAD environment's tool usage is to understand what the CAD tools you're currently using are doing right — or wrong. Once you've determined that, you can figure how out to do things progressively better.
This leads me to the first items on our checklist:
- What CAD tools work well in your current system(s)?
- What CAD tools don't work well in your current system(s)?
- What is it that makes those CAD tools work or not work?
- Where are your CAD process gaps?
Addressing these questions will require some effort on your part, but you can use these guidelines to get started:
Item 1: CAD tools that people know how to use, that deliver predictable results, and that hardly ever generate errors will invariably be thought of as "working well" by users and management alike. As clear-cut winners, these tools should be easy to categorize, but if in doubt, ask your users which tools they enjoy using most.
Item 2: CAD tools that are difficult to use, that require lots of management, or that are technically problematic in terms of support are much more likely to generate errors and cost money, are thus deemed to be "not working well." These tools are usually disliked by users, and are loathed by management because of rework costs or their tendency to negatively impact schedules. These tools are easy to find because users, management, and the CAD manager all cuss about them on a regular basis.
Item 3: This is where it gets interesting. Here are a few conclusions I would offer:
- Most tools that work well are simple to use, have a well-defined process, and have well-trained users running them.
- Tools that don't work well tend to be complex, processes for using them are sparse or poorly defined, and users aren't well trained to use them — often due to lack of process.
- It all comes down to Deming's observation about process: You must know what you're doing in order to do it well.
Item 4: Any place in your design process where users get confused or errors occur frequently can be thought of as process gaps. Those are opportunities for improvement, where better-proceduralized software tools could be used to close the gaps.