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5 steps to establishing a CAD proving ground

By Robert Green

When rolling out new CAD software, CAD management expert Robert Green recommends establishing a proving ground to ensure an efficient, error-free process.

Time to upgrade your software again? As CAD manager, it’s your job to make sure the software works, that people can learn how to use it, and to establish standards and best practices. Achieving all 3 goals in a smooth and efficient process can be challenging. CAD management expert Robert Green recommends establishing a CAD proving ground to optimize efficiency and minimize errors. A proving ground allows you to make sure the software is working the way you want it to before you roll it out to your whole company, and it’s also a great way to keep improving practices and performance for the life of the product. Ready to establish a CAD proving ground in your office? Follow these 5 steps:

1. Acceleration

The first thing you need to do is identify key features to focus on. In any CAD software or application update, there are features that are relevant and useful for your business and a few that aren’t. Green recommends looking for features and functionality that will either enable your people to get more done in less time or produce higher quality work in the same amount of time, because, “These features will accelerate your business framework and are the ones that you want to spend time proving and training.” If it’s not going to accelerate your business framework, don’t waste your time on testing and training.  

2. Validation

Once you’ve identified the features you want to roll out to the general public, start by letting your most daring users try them out. Green calls these people your “test pilots,” and likens the methodology to testing a prototype aircraft: fly it, crash it, debrief it, and debug it. Let your test pilot users see what the software can do. It’s during debriefing that you’ll learn what was right, what went wrong, and what needs improvement. The more times you repeat this cycle, the more stable your CAD deployment becomes, the better it works, and the easier it is for everyone in your organization to get up to speed. “The advantage for the CAD manager,” Green adds, “is your attention can be focused on a more minimal group of users who are far more equipped for the challenge, so you can get [the software] calm and stable and then worry about rolling it out.


3. Planning

Many CAD managers get so focused on getting new software and testing it out that they forget about establishing company standards and best practices and coming up with a training plan in advance. Green says this is a mistake. You need to plan ahead to successfully roll out new software to the masses. Luckily, the proving ground methodology makes this easy. As you debrief your test pilot users, ask them questions such as, What was complicated for you? What did you have trouble comprehending? What would make this easier for you to use? If you listen to what they have to say, you’ll find they can do the heavy lifting for you. Use what the fearless flyers identify as being difficult to learn to construct your training plan. And by highlighting what can be done better, they’re giving you a road map to establish standards and best practices. Putting these things in place prior to implementation will give you better results across the board.


4. Training

While training everyone at once may seem like the most efficient way to introduce new software, it can also be a recipe for wasting a whole lot of time. Green recommends phased training instead—start with a small group of users on a controlled project and see how they do. Study how well they accept the standards and how easy it is to train them. You may find you need to tweak your approach or re-think it altogether, and it’s much more efficient to do this with a small group than with the whole company. Green further recommends scheduling training right before a group starts using the software. If you train them earlier, they’re just going to forget. “In fact,” says Green, “I like to conclude my training at lunch break and then when they come back from lunch, they start working.”

5. Improving

You may think that once you’ve run the software through the proving ground and rolled it out to the masses, your job is done. Wrong. Green says you should always be asking, How can we do this better? With any software, the longer we use it the better we get at it. Keep collecting input from all your users about how well the software is working and how it can be improved. But wait, you may be asking, with so many differing opinions, how do I know which ideas to implement and which ones to ignore? That’s easy—run them through the proving ground with your same group of test pilots. Validate every suggestion using the mechanics and the methodology you put in place before you rolled it out, and use the knowledge you gain to continually improve it. Plus, Green adds, this way you keep your test pilots nimble. “By the time you’ve got this software 99% nailed down, it’s time for the new release to come out and you start over. So the proving ground absolutely never goes away.” For an in-depth exploration of establishing a CAD proving ground, check out Green’s AU Las Vegas 2015 class, Establishing a CAD Proving Ground, which you can watch online anytime.

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