Successful Civil 3D Implementation

The implementation of AutoCAD® Civil 3D® can be a daunting task. For both small and large firms, the questions/concerns surrounding a full implementation of Civil 3D are relatively the same:  How much time will full implementation really take?  What are the costs associated with it?  How will it affect productivity?  How long until we will see a return on our investment?

Many companies have attempted to make the transition to Civil 3D since its inception in 2005.  Some of them have made the transition look easy, even seamless, with minimal hiccups while other companies have miserably failed.  My goal with this article is to help you avoid some of the common pitfalls and establish a few best practices, (some Dos and Don’ts) for a successful Civil 3D implementation.

Get the “BUY IN” from Above

The magnitude of a Civil 3D implementation is vastly under-rated.  We have all heard, “This should only take a week, right?” or “How hard can a CAD program be to learn? Google it!”

Well, first thing—if you don’t have management support, you have nothing!  Take the initiative to prove to your company the various reasons for implementation.  Gather case studies if needed and show the reasons why you may have lost recent projects.  If “The Man” can see the potential of the company as a whole becoming more productive and efficient, the more likely management is to invest in the effort that is about to occur.  Remember, you pay for what you get. Put minimal time and money into this, and you will see minimal return on that investment. 

I recently asked a local company owner what he thought about going into an implementation.  Here is what he said:

“I guess the biggest fear was the down-time that was going to have to happen in order to be proficient at doing what we were already doing.  I had spent years getting fast and efficient in R14, and now to change was a huge fear.”

How can you argue with that? You can’t! That is an absolute fact.  Our job is to help management have that “ah-ha” moment—that moment when the light bulb turns on and they can get past the fear and see the value of what you are suggesting. This is the first and most critical step. Remember, you are literally changing the future and nature of their business, their baby.  For you to succeed, management must not only be on board but excited about moving forward.  

Plan, Plan, Then Plan Again

I like to keep my implementations set into multiple phases and multiple tasks, with each task needing a review and approval before moving onto the next task.  This helps the QC process and ensures customer satisfaction and sign off throughout.

Brainstorm a while. Map it out. Outline the broader tasks, such as those below:

Task 1 – The Health Check (Standards/Workflows)

Task 2 – The Template

Task 3 – The Training

Task 4 – The Pilot

Use “Mind Mapping” software to help if needed.  This will allow you to review, add, and make notes as you go through your brainstorming sessions.

Review your Implementation Plan over and over as you go through the process.  This will help you stay on task and ensure you don’t overlook key items.

Figure 1: Sample “mind map”

Find your “CAD Shrink”

OK….well this may not be an actual profession, but I may start a practice soon!  Find someone who is willing to listen and give advice along the way, whether that is your favorite Autodesk partner or your buddy down the road.  At times it can be frustrating and you may want to find someone who can be a support system for you. Occasionally you will want need somebody to vent to, bounce ideas off of, and collaborate with. Choose someone with a positive attitude who can help lift your spirits, not add fuel to your fire.

I have a good friend at a local engineering company who I need to coax off the ledge about once a week.  And typically he talks his own way through the problem, or we brainstorm on ideas together. After that, he backs down off the ledge and continues his work.  Remember as much as you will need support, you will need to be the voice of reason to others as well. 

Figure 2: Yep! I’ve been on both sides of this one

Now is the Time to Set Standards

You have no idea how many companies out there have ZERO defined standards and ZERO defined workflows.  Well, for those that don’t, now is the time to set a standard style and a standard look and feel to your plans.  Now is the time to make your plans, your plans! You want owners and contractors to look at a set of plans, with no title block and say “This is a XXXX Company set of plans.”  Strong plans equate to more business, especially repeat business.

Define your workflows.  Define your naming conventions and folder structures.  The more that can be defined, the fewer obstacles you will see during implementation.  This is the time to clean up all those bad habits and begin to find those weak spots that every company has.  Creating a “CAD Committee” may not be a bad idea.  It gives those who care a forum for speaking out and giving their ideas on how to make things better.  After all, this is a change for everyone in the company.

The Template

This is by far where I see most people fail, get frustrated, and give up.  However correct your design may be, without a solid template you will spend more time fighting the look and feel of object and label styles than anything else you may do.  This is the 800 pound gorilla, and it is something you have to take on and complete.

The #1 thing to me is: Do this prior to any training! I can’t stress enough the importance of having a Civil 3D template, or series of templates if needed.

The #2 thing to me is: Don’t let anyone tell you they can build a template 100 percent for you! The template is never 100 percent, and shouldn’t be.  You will always learn how to make things better, make a better style, or hundreds of dynamic labels.

An often overlooked part of a Civil 3D template is the command settings found within almost all individual categories.  This will allow you to set those default styles and settings that appear when launching commands.  Nothing bugs me more then to sit there and change style after style while doing certain tasks, especially when you are first starting out and are training the end users.  Get them accustomed to trusting the template, and then they can get more familiar with different styles.  This also ensures that standards are being met.

Figure 3: Command settings in Civil 3D

The Training

DO NOT try this in-house.  Yes, some may succeed and spend months learning and training.  But I have found it to be a much better outcome when you bring in somebody that has been there and done that.  And I’m not only saying that because….well….that’s what I get paid to do!  But I fully believe that an outside set of eyes, the right set of eyes, can deliver a very successful implementation.  Choose your implementation partner wisely. Find someone who is truly is invested and cares about the outcome of the implementation and the future success of your company.

Books are great. Grab the “Essential” or “Mastering books and you can learn a lot.  Start at the fundamental level and you can really pick up the picks and click of the software.  But a true implementation and training needs to happen on your projects, on your workflows, using your template.  I would never train a company based on somebody else’s template; (therefore, this is the reason to complete Task 2 prior to launching the training).  Choose a past project, or even a current project to utilize during the training.  Choosing a past project works great. You have some of the details already ironed out and you know what the expected deliverable should be.  It is also a good way to gauge the software, and to compare the “old” way of doing things to the “new” way.

The Pilot

No, not a pilot to fly you away from this mess forever!  It’s not over once you get past the initial training. Choose a team and some internal “champions,” and move into a live project.  Don’t make your pilot project a 4-leaf clover interchange with about 30 alignments, corridors, existing road widenings, etc. (Yes, this has happened to me.)

Instead, choose a project that is not too tough, but not extremely easy either.  Pick something that may encompass a little of everything.  This is where your template file will really begin to take form. There is only so much that can be done in a mock project, so utilize the pilot as time to clean up the template and add things as needed.

The pilot project also allows you to make some of those engineering decisions that may not happen in a training setting.  Use this as an overall assessment of how the rest of your implementation plan succeeded.  During the pilot phase, it is very helpful to include management as well.  Let them see the “Wow Factor” and see the results of the money they have put into this.

Some choose to do more than one pilot project, and that is OK as long as you have… what? Management Buy In!

Don’t Do It Alone

I have seen many try to go at this alone, and as always, some succeed. But most fail.  It is good to struggle through things, it is good to get frustrated, and that’s how I learn best.  But don’t be afraid to swallow your pride and pick up the phone.  Bring in a PARTNER, and I emphasize partner because that is exactly what the right person should be.  As I previously mentioned, find someone who is truly invested and cares about the outcome of the implementation and the future success of your company.

Don't Give Up!

You may hate me now, but you will thank me later.  At least that’s what I tell everybody up front at the beginning stages of an implementation.  There has never been an “easy” Civil 3D implementation.  It is a process, and in some cases a painful process.  But when I see that light bulb turn on, when the wheels start to grind and you drink my Kool-Aid, you will then understand when I tell you that it is all worth it in the end.

Good Luck :)

I wish you all the best in a successful implementation.  This can launch your company in a whole new direction.  This can launch the careers of those who want to be the next corporate CAD Manager.  It is not easy, it may not seem fun, but at the end you will know that you have made the right decision.  Good luck!

Shawn Herring is a civil engineer based in Utah. He has been a part of the design engineering community for roughly 12 years in all aspects of design, construction, and software implementations.  Shawn has implemented and trained companies across the country on Civil 3D and best practice workflows.

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