CAD Management: 10 Ways to Train (Without the Training Part)

January 11th, 2012

Education and Training is a topic I’ve heard a lot of instructors talk about. I’ve sat through entire seminars dedicated to explaining the need and importance of the topic. They share how companies fail without it, and with it, how users, managers, and owners all benefit and grow from the experience.

Well I’m going to take this opportunity to skip all that fluff, and go further, beyond that to the next level …you know…to the real world. Where users are WAY too busy, owners are trying to save every penny possible, and change requires dragging full grown adults kicking and screaming into the next generation. I’ve discovered many ways of getting this education and training accomplished without breaking the bank, becoming the most hated person in the office, or losing your mind in the process. Let’s get started… and see if we can’t keep our sanity.

Change Drives Training: I.T. Never Stops

It is easily understood that anyone over the last 20 years who has used a computer or bought any hardware, software, or electronics knows that in the technology department things change fast. Improvements, updates, and upgrades are available at least every three months and the only way to keep up is to stay educated and informed. This is why I consider training for myself and my company to be the highest priority as a CAD/BIM manager. This is the key to staying up to date, ahead of the curve, and not falling behind—not only for a company, but on an individual level, too. Everyone, regardless of age, background, and goals, should want to excel in what they do for their career, so this falls into one of those “use it or lose it” categories. If you enjoy what you do, you should enjoy learning more and staying ahead…so how?

Everyone knows about the typical training scenario: A dark, isolated room, phones off, instructor going on for eight hours, usually multiple days, and by the end your brain is mush. You’ve retained about half of it, and will be all over Google, AUGI, and other forums just trying to get your project done. Yes, I know, I’ve been there and done that, and when I was asked to provide “training” for WLC Architects, I immediately jumped into “how can I do this differently? How can I be out of the box, using fresh concepts to keep the users interested, and not blow the budget?”

Over the course of three years, I came up with 10 things I recommend every CAD/BIM manager do to answer these questions and take his/her office to the next level.

1. Provide Flexible Options

I know I said this is the standard method and I wasn’t going there, but hear me out. I took the usual three-day courses, dropped the filler, and reduced it down to five half-day sessions. By doing this, users don’t spend an entire work day getting drilled with new content, while wondering what emails, phone calls, or meetings they are missing. On top of that, it allows busy users to spend half the day on the training, while getting their work done the other half. Users who do have the entire day available can spend the first half in class, and the second on their own getting accustomed to the software or going back over anything they missed the first time. Either way, users love the flexibility and being given the opportunity to get training done without losing an entire day in the process.

After a few sessions of that, I found a way to take that a step further and break it down even more. I created multiple 1- to 1.5-hour sessions to allow for brown bag lunches. This was an option for the users who couldn’t even spare half days, or those who missed a specific section or wanted to cover it again. I even started offering Saturday courses, which got a limited response, but the point is there are many benefits to offering multiple training options, even if it is the exact same material, just done different ways. Again, architects and project managers are usually very busy and they appreciate these options. They see that you’re trying to work with them, and will usually help to make it work out.

2. Support Options: Being Flexible Helps

Obviously support is needed at all times, but the ways to go about offering support is a whole other story, and are not so black and white. Just like training, offering options to architects and project managers can go a long way when trying to support specific problems, areas, projects, or users. I began offering three different options: On-call, an hour a day, and a week at a time, depending on the circumstance. Some users need you next to them the entire time, ugh… some need a dedicated time slot to focus and get through it and others just want to know they can call on you at any time (obviously, not at 3:00 AM, but you get the point).

Being flexible helps. It may not be the best-case scenario for your own schedule, and dealing with 100-plus users can get chaotic, but overall, by opening up the support options and showing them you are doing your best to dedicate time toward their needs makes all the difference in the world. Besides, it also allows your schedule to be a little more predictable. By setting up specific times and dates, it allows you to be ready for support in a more organized approach.

3. Team-Focused Communication

The Team Focus Group concept was started about two years ago when I began to notice three distinct problems beginning to form. The first was a pattern where I would help a user with a project, then move on to someone or something else, and later find out the user never came back to me, or couldn’t handle it alone, or simply let it go to finish something else and the project was behind schedule. This is not good! The second pattern was that I committed time to a new project, only to then find out there were two other new projects that needed my attention in other offices. This happened more times that I would have liked and it was simply because I was not forcing myself to be more involved. Third, there were multiple times the principals would ask me specific questions about company-wide status, or recommendations, and I would not know; I would first need to research. Again, because I was not more involved with the entire, overall company.

The solution for all three was my creation of a TFG system (Team Focus Group). This allows me and my staff to dedicate one solid week toward a group (or team) of users to work on projects, coordinate workflow, standards, implementation, or anything else CAD/BIM management related. We obviously allow for emergencies or other deadline-oriented events to come about, but more or less we stick with that specific group for that specific week. From there each week we spend with a new group until the cycle starts over again.

This allows (forces) me to fully understand what is going on companywide while also making sure no project goes unnoticed or falls behind.

4. Templates That Get the Job Done

Templates are one of those things everyone talks about, so I will spend the least amount of time on it. Obviously there are company standards, templates, family content, workflow… all that good stuff. But one thing I noticed is the need to make the template include what is needed to get the job done. The result is you will most likely not have rogue power users creating whatever content they want. IF you have a solid template AND family content available, it is much easier to choose from that than to create anything else. So anytime I hear of someone creating something or not following the standards here at my office, it’s usually not because someone wants to be difficult, but because I have not set it up ahead of time or made it available for them to use. Simple, yes, but this problem occurs almost everywhere!

5. Recurring Seminars

Lunch seminars are nothing new, but take the opportunity to offer users the chance to learn a new set of tips and tricks, or cover a workflow process, or dive into an issue you’ve seen multiple people encounter. You could even cover a small section of the training you feel is important—anything you can present or discuss to help users feel more comfortable with the software and processes involved is perfect. These are probably the single biggest time eater since you could spend a few days preparing for a single-hour presentation, but in return I have had great success with these. Even if you skip the presentation and offer a simple Q&A session or ask users to bring their project to discuss an issue, I can promise you they aren’t the only ones with that problem. I have discovered that offering these seminars monthly is ideal. Every other week is possible if you have someone dedicated to preparing these seminars, but realistically, one a month is best for you and the students.

6. Centralize the Resources

This is a fairly new thing I began doing and I wish it was the first thing I did. Offering users a place to turn to, when you’re not available, is vital when trying to support multiple users, with multiple offices, and a limited support team. All you have to do is create a centralized database, and simply start collecting anything you find online, anything you’ve discovered, questions you’ve been asked, tips and tricks you’ve learned over the years, and so on.

Take all of these and create a simple template form that displays the question, solution, and give it a category, along with searchable key words, or metadata. This is easy to do, takes minutes, and you won’t believe the amount of information you can end up with. These are things you can refer to, and allow users to search themselves if you are out of the office or busy doing something else. Users enjoy it because they are able to ask and get the answer immediately, regardless of what you or the support team is doing. They can also get answers if they are stuck on a deadline at 2:00 AM. Conferences you have to attend become much less problematic, and you find yourself not having to answer the same question 20 times. It’s a total win, win, win—for you, the end user, and the company. This requires some IT setup, but once that’s done, you are set.

7. Tip of the Week

Once you’re providing multiple training opportunities, support options, and lunch seminars, it becomes clear to everyone involved that users are getting large chunks of great information. But what about the ones who already know it? Or the ones that already understand the major concepts, but have yet to get into specific, detailed parts of the software, or processes involved? This is where CTW (CAD Tip of the Week) comes in.

These are simple, straightforward emails sent to the entire firm giving tips and tricks, workarounds, shortcuts, and anything that helps efficiency, progress, and solidifying users’ understanding of the software or hardware. I also have found one a week is perfect. Once a month and people don’t look for it; trying to get more than one a week is intense. Also, note these do CTWs don’t need to be life-changing information—a simple new keyboard shortcut will suffice—just get it out there! I also quickly learned that putting the information into a PDF document made most users happy, since trying to keep track of emails became an annoyance. This is also one of those things that can automatically be added to the CRD for a record of past CTWs.

8. Video Recordings

A little over a year ago I learned of a new process for getting information to users easily and efficiently by using video recordings. I thought it would be expensive, time consuming, and more work than it would be worth to offer this more advanced form of CAD/BIM support. Well I have to tell you I was surprised to learn it’s none of these things. I started using Jing, a TechSmith product that is free and easy to use, to create quick, five-minute (or less) videos. I did a test run between a PDF and a recorded CTW and found it took 20 minutes to create screen captures, type out the text, mark them up, and create the final PDF, while only 30 seconds was spent recording the same process live. Obviously you might mess up and redo it once or twice…but you’re still saving 18 minutes easy! Once you get a few of these going, if you wanted to take it a step further you could use Camtasia or any other video recording software and add a simple stock intro and outro to add some customization and professionalism and save these for future viewing. Users found these much more enjoyable, informative, and explanatory versus the standard PDF version.

9. Social Media Outlets

Social media was something I always ignored, thinking it was only good for kids and people with nothing to do…boy was I wrong! Twitter, Facebook, You Tube, LinkedIn, and Meetup are what I would consider the top five “Need-to-be-on” websites.

All of these allow yourself exposure, information to be shared and gathered at a rate nobody can keep up with, but it’s good to try. There is some amazing stuff out there and I highly recommend it for any level user. I know teachers using Twitter just to get their students class assignments, companies doing Facebook and LinkedIn searches for resources, and more users looking to Meetup, You Tube, and other sites to get information, seek out resources, and gather information themselves. Use these to your fullest advantage! Share what you feel comfortable sharing and whether it’s for yourself, or your firm, these will significantly help your exposure, especially in the AEC industry.

10. Local User Groups

Last, but certainly not least, are local user groups. These are the core of what allows users to come together and learn the latest and greatest their software has to offer. I have three in my area alone and while I am the VP of one, I run the other and enjoy it big time! Everyone always asks me, “Why share your secrets?” The answer is simple: if you have 30 members and everyone shares one tip or trick they learned over the past month, then yes, technically you just gave away one secret, but in that same meeting you will have gained 29 new tips or tricks!

User group involvement is a great way to network, learn more about the software, and sometimes even see what the public can’t, like when Autodesk comes in the show off the latest software and things from the Autodesk Labs. Join one today, or start one yourself. You will be amazed at what gets accomplished at those meetings. You can find more information on the AUGI.com website. Also encourage users at your company to join. It can only help everyone involved.

Contact for More…

So there they are! With these 10 ways to train users without the same old boring, all-day training courses, you can get more information taught, with less kicking and dragging needed. The owners are happy you didn’t cause projects to slow, users to complain, and production can continue to excel and improve. I have always enjoyed out of the box thinking and hopefully you do to.

These options offer not only the ability to work with the users’ schedules, needs, and wants, but they see your efforts, your attempts to make them better at what they do. Obviously you will never please everyone at the office, but these concepts provide the best ways I have found to get the most bang for your buck. I encourage anyone who is interested in these concepts and would like to know more, to please contact me and I would be more than happy to take time to go into more detail and offer examples of each one. I appreciate the opportunity to share my ideas with you, as I, in turn, continue to learn more from all of you. Cheers!

Brian Andresen is the Director of CAD Systems for WLC Architects Inc. in Rancho Cucamonga, California, and has more than 10 years of experience working with Revit. Brian is the current President of two local Autodesk User Group Chapters: South Coast Revit User Group (SCRUG) and BIM User Group Inland Empire (BUGie), which meet once a month to discuss all the new and upcoming Revit and BIM information available. He can be reached at bandresen@wlarchtects.com.

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