Increase Your Chances for Training Success

January 3rd, 2012

As engineering firms try to find more efficient and productive AutoCAD® Civil 3D® users, the endless question of how to train and educate them becomes more problematic, even in a slowing economy. There are several models for how this daunting task has been handled in the past. No, there’s no magic wand or magical phone call you can make to fill your staff with the knowledge of thousands of Autodesk University (AU) hours. This is usually something that takes a little bit of time and research.

From my experience, success in implementing Civil 3D is company-dependent, taking into account the size of the company, the number of users, and the up-front costs the company is willing to endure.

The Right Person

One of the most important questions that I think gets overlooked is the amount of time a company has been in business. Why does that matter? Well, the more experienced the users are on old design software, the harder and more daunting the task is to educate and train them on new software and methodologies. There is no stopping the fact that companies are always going to have to adapt to the revolving door of technology. Newer and better doesn’t always mean that you have to adapt, but time will not be kind to companies that don’t embrace new technology. Lots of times I’ve noticed that companies often send reluctant-to-learn employees to training programs. This may lead to an uphill battle with the implementation and training of Civil 3D since they tend to let the learning stop after attending the class.

The Pilot Project

One model for tackling training and implementation is the pilot project. It typically starts with a mix of two or three drafter/designers and a project manager, all of whom are extremely enthusiastic about the new platform. I’ve been a part of this implementation model and recommend these DOs and DON’Ts.

DO take lots and lots of notes at every turn you make with Civil 3D. One of the mistakes that we made was not taking enough documentation. We would try many different things, but wouldn’t document what worked and what didn’t. Why is this important? Well, at some later date that information would have been easily incorporated into the new Civil 3D Standards for your company. This documentation eases the task of documenting and training others in your office on the new Civil 3D workflow.

DO research what other companies have tried. Although some are hesitant to give up this information, you can find a lot of articles, blog posts, and other sources on the Internet about what type of headaches others have encountered. Learning from the failures of others could definitely benefit your pilot project. For instance, we were halfway through our pilot project before we realized that our hardware was not going to be powerful enough to handle the size of our project.

DON’T try this model project approach if the project is going to be on a tight deadline. We didn’t have this problem, but I can see things really going bad if the project manager is under the gun on time and budget.

DON’T be afraid to try a new workflow on the model project. I believe one issue we had was trying to use our old workflow and applying it to Civil 3D. While we were able to use some previous workflows, others were just not a good fit with Civil 3D.

DON’T assume your newly acquired knowledge will work for every project. We learned that lesson. It might take more than one project to discover the different possible workflows available for the different types of projects.

The “One”

I’m currently part of this model, which consists of a company hiring a person who possesses several years of Civil 3D experience and who has already gone through training and implementation at another company. The new hire is tasked with a typical directive from the owner/CEO: “This is our set of drawings. Make the new platforms output the same drawing look, and train our users to do it.”

I believe this model is the slowest of all training models. The process starts off with the intention that the new hire will set up the required workflows and company-wide standards on how the implementation should take place. The workflow normally consists of a ton of in-house training over lunches, and lots of over- the-shoulder “how to” for users.

What I saw at the beginning was a huge gap in user knowledge—some users didn’t want to start at the beginning while others needed to. I saw a wide range of ability among users to take what they learned and apply it to the work. Some users would not fully understand the process, while others would quickly catch on. This led to a wide gap in experience and understanding about using the product in production.

While all this training and implementation are taking place, there is still work to get out the door. This leads to another complex issue:  How much of your time should be spent on training and how much time should be used for billable work? You can see how this can become a big issue, so have a good understanding on how time should be split and how it’s going to affect your work place.

The Outsource

This is the one model that I have the least amount of experience with, but is the one I would almost always recommend to a company looking to train on Civil 3D. This one has the highest up-front costs, but typically offers the quickest return on the initial investment. That being said, the up-front costs make this model the most difficult to attain buy-in from the people up the food chain.

A company will provide training on Civil 3D, the setup of styles, and the incorporation of the workflow into the company standards. The outsource company is able to leverage its experience in creating the deliverables.

There is an abundance of companies specializing in Civil 3D software implementation and training. Just as with the other models, I highly recommend you do a lot of research and background checking before deciding on the outsource company.

Juan F Soto is a CAD Manager/Civil Designer/Trainer at Graham Associates Inc. in Arlington, Texas, and has 15 experience with Autodesk, Soildworks and Bentley products. He has been working with Autodesk products since R12. He is responsible for training, implementing, and generating company-wide standards for Civil 3D.

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