CAD Management: Starting at the Finish Line

Races are won by reaching the finish line first. First one done is the winner. No one would think of starting at the finish line and if they did, they would be disqualified. When it comes to your workload and planning, however, things may be different.

Go to the end to find the beginning

Most people start at the beginning and work their way to the end. This works very effectively when you have the whole thing planned out. You just do the first task, then the next, then the next. Methodical, planned, and well-ordered. It is a breeze.

But what if you are in the planning phase and have no idea what the steps or tasks are needed to achieve success? What do you do then?

Sometimes you need to start at the finish line in order to plan out the job. Knowing what needs to be delivered - a standard, a deployment, an upgrade - can help you think about getting there sooner. We are going to use the theoretical project of deploying 2010 software as our talking points throughout this article. Some of you may be doing just that.

What are you trying to achieve and when does it need to be done? These may be defined for you or you may have to create your own deadlines and deliverables. If you are given them, then your task will be a little easier. You have a starting point, or I should say an ending point.

If you have to create deadlines and deliverables yourself, as many CAD managers have to do, then you will need to think through what might be needed. Define the big terms first. "Deploy 2010 software" is not really the end. The end is after the deployment is done. What have you created or completed in doing it? This is the real end. Well actually, your job never ends, but that is the end of the "project" you will be working on.

So now we have a Finish Line and we can start thinking about what needs to be delivered at that point.

Define the deliverables

Keeping with the 2010 deployment, the deliverables would be an installation, configured and up and running. What about training - do you need to train the users? What about documentation - do you need to update any docs? What about uninstalls - are you taking away old software?

So now we are defining the deliverables: a trained employee with the software installed and documents in place. Are there any more? Picture yourself, or better yet, a user, sitting in his or her chair working on 2010 software. What would this person need? These are the deliverables.

Work backwards

Okay, now we have the deliverables. Let's work backwards. You would never try to run a race backwards, but working backwards in your planning is very effective. Moving backward from a trained employee, what would you have to do to get them trained? Buy books, develop curriculum, hire a trainer, or send them out to a reseller or Autodesk Training Center (ATC)?

Depending on what you need, then there are subtasks for that. Let's say that you want to train internally, as you have done in the past. You need to find a book that covers the topics you want to cover and flows the way you want it to flow. Do you buy a few to check them out or just use one from the same publisher that you used before? Each of these steps take time. You need to think about the time associated with each task also, but maybe not right now. For now, just get the steps down.

Conquer by dividing

Now slice up each task into smaller task(s). Again, let's continue with the training process. You will need to buy a book. Do you need only one book for you or do you buy one for every student? Do you give each one a book or have them share the books? Do you let them take the books after the class or keep the books with the classroom? Don't forget about money needed to buy the books. Who needs to approve that? See the breakdown working and how it helps you think through issues.

Training takes computing resources. Do you have them dedicated in a classroom setting? Do you have a mobile lab of laptops? Do you have to schedule a room? Does the room need to be a particular size? What will be the duration of the class? One day? Two days? Can you get a room for two days? There are so many things to think about and plan for. Each task can branch off to other tasks, which can branch out again. Listing these out can help you organize the process.

Once you have all the large tasks and some subtasks, start putting them in order of due date. Start at the end and work backwards again. In order to complete training for 24 employees, you need classes of six people and four classes total. Each class is two days, so you need eight days. You may do one class per week, so you need four weeks. In order to finish by a certain date, you need to start training four weeks earlier. Leaving yourself some wiggle room - you may want to allow six weeks. Rooms get taken over, people miss class, all kinds of things can delay your efforts.

So now you have a timeline started. You can do some installs while you are not teaching, so things can overlap. You can update documents while the software installs so you may be able to multitask. Installs may not happen during working hours, so you may need to stay a little later after people have left for the day. Again, add some buffer time; you have to support existing users all day long also.

Ending at the start

By the time you have written down the entire set of tasks or many of them, you have defined your start point. Don't try to think through every last task that might come up, just get all of the large steps, most of the secondary steps, and a few of the tertiary tasks. You have some slope in your timeline for the stuff you may not have thought of, right?

Ready, set, go

Now you have a starting line. So you know from the start what tasks are ahead of you. You have a plan, a timeline, and a budget (if you have defined costs). So let's get moving. Ready...

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