Avoid the Cult of Software Tools by Focusing on Design Part 2



23 october 2018

By: Robert Green

CAD Manager Column: In your effort to use the right software tools in the right way, follow this step-by-step procedure to examine – and optimize – your design processes.

In the latest edition of Newsletter of the CAD manager,we talked about the concept of tool worship – a phenomenon that occurs when you conform your design process to the software you are using, rather than optimizing the design process regardless of the tools involved. The result is a poor design process and frustrated fumbling CAD users repeat the same mistakes and waste time and money.

In this column, we’ll take a look at some strategies you can use to keep the tool cult at bay – that is, using the right tools at the right time, getting rid of the wrong tools, and improving your overall design process by minimizing not. Here is.

Lay the foundation

To begin with, let’s define a disciplined approach to analyze and understand the needs and tasks of your CAD users, which will be the basis to flesh out the most efficient design process (with optimal use of tools).

As W. Edwards Deming said: “If you can’t describe what you’re doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing.

I have found that the best approach to optimizing a design process looks like this (and as shown in the diagram below):

  1. What are the steps that make up the process?

  2. What is the order of these steps?

  3. What are the most common problems encountered at each step?

  4. What are the best solutions that users have identified for each problem?

  5. What tools can best help solve each problem?

  6. How should our standards and training evolve to optimize each step of the process?

How to optimize a design process

Now that we’ve described the approach, let’s get started.

CAD process analysis, steps 1 and 2: identification and ordering of steps

I am constantly amazed at how many companies do CAD work without really understanding how the overall processes could be improved. By noting all the steps in your CAD processes and putting them in the right order, you will set the stage for proper use of CAD tools. Here’s how I handle the exercise with clients:

  • Get everyone together. To identify all of your CAD processes and capture the steps involved, you need all key users and project managers present, right?
  • Capture the steps. As the people in the room identify all the steps in each process, I suggest that you act as a facilitator and write everything down on a large whiteboard.
  • Intervene as needed. If a step is missed or a sequence is wrong, you can report it, but try to keep the flow of information minimal and put the steps in the correct order at this point. (Further analysis will come later.)
  • Save the results. As a milestone agreement form, be sure to record the information – or have someone help you do it – by recording the results in a spreadsheet. Don’t trust memory and never assume that the whiteboard won’t be erased.

Obviously, this effort will take time and effort from several team members, which I know is not always easy to organize. The good news is, if you’re not having a lot of issues right now, you probably won’t have to spend too much time fixing them. If you run into multiple issues in your processes, you should be able to convince everyone involved that taking the time to resolve them today will pay off largely by reducing errors and saving time on future projects.

The point of this exercise is to understand all of the steps that you use in your design process and to put them in the correct order. To paraphrase Deming, that’s the only way to really know what you’re doing.

CAD Process Analysis, Step 3: Identify Problems

Once you’ve captured all the steps in their proper order, it’s time to start identifying the issues that arise with each step and take note of the tools you use during those steps.

For example: You might find that the first step in a building design process is the conceptual design performed at a customer facility. You may also note that your project architect enjoys working with the SketchUp software (tool) at this point, and ultimately converting the geometry from SketchUp into a workable BIM file is a workflow issue.

As you work through the issues and tools associated with each design step, a fun thing will start to happen – you’ll see how much time you’re wasting on conversions, data formatting, reworking, data management, etc. .

Take the time you need to analyze steps 1 to 3 as thoroughly as possible because there is no other way to find inefficiencies in your workflows.

CAD Process Analysis, Steps 4 and 5: Problem Solving

Armed with your spreadsheet and a new understanding of your design processes, it’s time to take a look at how users handled the issues you identified. Then, and only at this point, can you begin to identify the most suitable software tools to support given tasks.

For example: you might find that a power user in a branch office has discovered the secret settings that make it easy to export from SketchUp, which you can then share with the entire design team to facilitate translations from SketchUp to BIM.

Throughout this process, ask yourself:

  • Is this the optimal way to use this tool?

  • Can we eliminate tools or steps?

  • Are we using the right tool for each step?

Always ask how CAD tools are used and if they are optimally effective. If a tool does not work, eliminate it. If a tool could be better used, find out how.

The goal of steps 4 and 5 is to find and implement optimal solutions that are not universally known to users. As in the SketchUp example, you may even find that some issues are caused by tool adoration which introduces unnecessary software and complexity.

By following my advice, you should be able to eliminate unnecessary process steps, get rid of inappropriate tools, improve the use of existing tools, and get all process steps in better order. Go back through the analysis repeatedly until you come to the optimal (and shortest) set of steps to complete the CAD job with the fewest tools used. Be ruthless in finding the best sequence and eliminating tools that don’t work.

CAD process analysis, step 6: standardize and train

Now that you know the steps, issues, solutions, and tool changes needed to optimize your CAD processes, it’s time to apply those changes by incorporating the best solutions into your CAD standards. Then notify users of the changes and teach them the best way to use CAD tools based on your optimized processes, and keep it up.


Hopefully, this analysis gives you some thought to how to optimize your CAD processes by using the right tools in the right way, rather than fumbling around in tool worship mode. Will this analysis take time and work? Yes. Is it worth it? Absoutely. In fact, identifying the best procedures and tools to perform CAD work as quickly and accurately as possible is what every CAD manager should To do!

And if your leadership doesn’t support this effort, ask them to email me at [email protected], and I’ll make sure they understand its value. Until next time.



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