This article was developed by the editors of Cadalyst, a magazine and web site devoted to providing software and hardware information, advice, and tips for CAD managers and users. It is published here with permission of the publisher.
If your company will be implementing new software soon, then you know your life as CAD manager is about to become hectic. But in the interest of preserving your sanity while making the process go as smoothly as possible, is there a best way to go about the process?
In this whitepaper, I’ll present my best practices for deploying new software releases, including a chronological process and diagnostics to help you to build an implementation plan for your unique environment. Let’s get started.
Pave the Road to Success
To implement any new piece of software — whether a simple update to existing tools or a radical departure — you’ll need to cover a series of key steps, or best practices. Following is a chronological list of procedures that I recommend for success. I’ll dive into the details of each in the sections that follow.
Perform a trial deployment.
Target first projects.
Build a training plan.
Select the first trainees.
Create a phased implementation strategy.
Manage user and management expectations.
Step 1: Trial Deployment — Mandatory!
Implementing new software absolutely must be preceded by a thorough trial deployment. As outlined in the article, CAD Manager’s Guide to Successful Software Trial Deployment, it is imperative that you verify software functionality, installation kits, configuration, IT issues, and usability with the help of a controlled group of test users so you know your new software is ready for the real world.
And, assuming you do decide to proceed to implementation, much of your pre-implementation work will be simplified thanks to the results from of trial deployment. The conclusion is clear: If you want a smooth, error-free software implementation, there’s simply no good reason to skip trial deployment!
Step 2: Identify Optimal First Projects
Changing software versions or introducing new tools in the middle of an on-going project can delay project execution. Besides training and workflow disruption, upgrading software tools often renders the new files incompatible with prior versions of software that may still be in use by coworkers or clients. Clearly, the time to roll out new software is not in the middle of a project.
Instead, start with a new project that is on the near horizon. Rather than just jumping in on the first project that comes up, consider which project will be the best fit for the new software implementation. The attributes of a successful first project typically include:
Reasonable size. Projects that have smaller teams are easier to support and manage through a software transition.
Capable, supportive users. Choose a project with members who are already software proficient and most likely to embrace the challenge of new software adoption.
A cooperative project manager. You’ll have a much easier go of things if you’re working with a project manager who supports the implementation and is willing to work through the inevitable challenges and possible delays that arise.
Without these key factors in place, the implementation will very likely fail. As CAD manager, identifying an optimal first project is your best bet for completing a software implementation quickly and efficiently.
Step 3: Review/Modify Standards
Based on the results of your trial deployment, you’ll probably have ideas for how to best standardize software use. The trial touched on everything from standard blocks/families/libraries to project filing procedures, so now you can translate what you learned into formalized standards for software use.
Where should you put the needed standards to manage your first project? Use this checklist to make sure you have everything covered:
client standards for drawings
filing directory structure
coordination plan for building information modeling (BIM) disciplines
templates or other project starter files
Modifying standards during a software implementation will only add to the project’s already complicated and stressful nature. Avoid this entirely by firming up your standards in advance.
Step 4: Build a Training Plan
Here’s where it all starts to come together — that is, a plan for introducing users to the new software and building proficiency. Based on your observations during the trial deployment, you must create a training strategy and topic list that will guide the process along in a disciplined way.
When compiling your list of training topics, keep in mind the following do’s and don’ts:
Do teach users the key features they will need.
Don’t teach users ancillary features they won’t use.
Do use real-world project data so users learn in an environment that reflects a real-world project.
Don’t use canned examples that don’t mirror your work environment.
Do include company standards in your training examples.
Don’t allow users to deviate from standards during training.
Do maximize user retention by conducting several short sessions rather than a single longer session.
Don’t forget that training time is time not working as far as management is concerned.
Do train as if your implementation depends on it.
Don’t skip training!
I know from experience that if you pay close attention to these do’s and don’ts, your training will have positive results. Keep a copy of the list on your desk as a reminder during the training process.
Step 5: Select the First Trainees
There are many conflicting opinions on the optimal way to train users, but I’ve learned that training success is best ensured by picking the right group of initial trainees. If the first staff you train does well, then the remainder of the implementation always seems to go better.
Here are the qualifiers that I use to select my first group of trainees:
Project prospect. Who’s most likely to be on the first project team so they can actually use the software?
Motivated learner. Who wants to learn the new software most? Who will spend time after class, on their own, to really learn the software?
Career focused. Who views training as a professional benefit?
Use these questions to build a small group of motivated, driven users who can apply their new skills to project work immediately. This first group won’t ask a lot of support questions due to their self-motivated nature and will become proficient quickly.
Bonus: After training this group, collect feedback about your program so you can improve future sessions.
Step 6: Create a Phased Implementation Plan
I hear you asking yourself, “How can I roll out new software without getting overwhelmed by support demands?” The answer: gradually. Phase in the software project by project, group by group, building proficiency at the pace allowed by your company’s workload. Let’s dig into some considerations for developing a workable strategy.
Project load. How many projects does your company start per year? This number should give you a decent idea about how long it will take to train your entire user base trained on the new software version.
Align training with the project schedule. Time your training so users get to work on a real project immediately after training occurs. If you move too fast and train users before they have a project to work on, they’ll forget what they learned.
Ensure you have adequate support. If circumstances force you to train a large group of users at once, you may need extra help for training and technical support. Be sure you’ve considered these needs in your plans.
Stay in close touch with project managers. These are the people who best know when new projects are coming and will be your best barometer of how quickly your training program must move.
Phased training. After your first training group has achieved some results with a real project, you can proceed to the next training group when the next new project starts. The next group will simply be your next-most-qualified group of candidates. Of course, the second training group may be slightly less motivated or self-reliant than the first group you chose, but now you have the benefit of experience on your side — and you’ll have the first group of trained users to help mentor the second group.
Timeline. How long will each training session take? How long will your users need to assimilate the new software? How many projects will have to start before everyone is trained? Your answers will tell you everything you need to know to build your training timeline. Develop the timeline with special care because it will also be a critical part of your presentation to management when you seek approval for your training and implementation plan.
Handling objectors. Renegades. Cowboys. Doubters. Complainers. You know who these users are, right? They are the users who avoid new software for any number of reasons — real or perceived. I train them last because, by the end of my phased implementation, I’ll have the ammunition to rebuke their classic objections. For example:
“This software won’t work.” It’s working well for everyone so far.
“This software is too hard to learn.” Everyone has responded well to training and seems to be using it successfully.
“I can do it faster the old way.” So could everybody else at first, but after working with the software for a while they’ve found the new way to be faster.
At this point, the stubborn user will have to agree to learn the new software or admit that he or she simply isn’t able to learn — which no one will ever admit. I’ve found this approach to be bulletproof!
Step 7: Manage User and Management Expectations
Now that all your testing and planning is complete, it’s time to talk to your users and your boss about the changes to come and the timeline. This period of communication and consensus building is absolutely mandatory for the following reasons:
No CAD manager can implement software that users won’t embrace.
No CAD manager can implement software unless management supports and funds the effort.
No CAD manager can implement software overnight, so establishing a realistic timeline is imperative.
Setting everyone’s expectations before implementation is critical. Only when things go as expected are people happy, and the only way for that to happen is to inform, educate, and articulate how things will go as early as possible. Here are some tried-and-true tips for managing the discussions.
Stress that training and support will be provided. Nothing stresses out users more than new software that they’re not prepared to use. Share some specifics of your training program to reassure them that they won’t be left high and dry, as well as details about the technical support that will be available.
Set out a rough timeline. To the extent that you can, tell users approximately when the new software will affect them and encourage them to be ready.
Show them you’ve done your homework. Share your notes about project identification, training topics, and phased-in implementation to build confidence in your approach.
Share your training plan. Outline the details of who you’ll train and when, and explain your reasoning. Stress that you’ll keep training time condensed and will get the greatest return from training time invested. Your management will love the fact that you see training as a cost that must be managed.
Share your timing forecast. Whether your training will take two weeks, two months, or two years, share the information and be prepared to answer how you arrived at that estimate. If anything, management will say your training period is too long, so you must have your numbers in order and be ready to stick to your estimates to win them over.
Ask for approval! By asking your senior managers to approve your project selections, training plan, and timeline, you’ll be able to detect any doubts. If they approve, then you’re good to go. If they want to change something, then you’ll know how to modify your approach to ensure approval. Either way, you’ll have management team members in on the decision-making, which will keep everyone calm and collected as the eventual implementation plays out.
Step 8: Go!
As soon as you train your first group of users and embark on the first project with your new software, you’ll need to manage the experience and deal with problems as they arise. As you address each issue, be sure to communicate the solution to all users and update your processes as needed so the software implementation will get better.
The following steps can help you manage the process most effectively:
Inform users. Don’t just relay new information verbally. Issue a brief e-mail and/or “cheat sheet” reference to communicate any updates, tips, or new procedures that can help users.
Update standards. As you introduce new procedures and improved methods, update your standards documents accordingly.
Walk around and check in with users — a lot! If you remain visible, users are more likely to share any issues they are having with so you can take proactive steps to minimize and solve problems early, saving time and headaches in the long run.
If it seems like implementing new software is a complex process, that’s because it is! The good news is that by developing a solid plan that anticipates all the variables and issues you’ll encounter, you’ll be prepared for almost anything. And when you get your management and user teams to support your plan up front, you’ll experience much less stress as you execute the project.
Robert Green performs CAD programming and consulting throughout the United States and Canada. He is a contributing editor for Cadalyst magazine and the author of Expert CAD Management: The Complete Guide. Reach him via his web site, www.cad-manager.com.
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