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CAD Problems? Incremental Innovation Wins Over Radical Change

CAD Problems? Incremental Innovation Wins Over Radical Change

CAD Manager's Column: Step-by-step innovations can save your CAD team time and money.

In CAD management, we’re always faced with new problems that require us to find innovative solutions. Complicating matters further is that upper management always wants us to “Minimize costs,” and “Get things done ever faster.” So, how can we solve heretofore unknown problems while not breaking the bank or slowing down production? These are two very good questions.                                              

In this edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll outline a key strategy I’ve been using for several years now — innovating incrementally to solve small problems as I go rather than attempting radical innovations every few years. I’ll explain how I make this work in hopes you can as well. Here goes.

CAD Problems? Incremental Innovation Wins Over Radical Change
Image source:  fahad/stock.adobe.com.


Radical Change Costs More than Incremental Change

Most times when we hear about innovation, the implied meaning is big changes brought on by expensive new tools and technologies. This “radical innovation” concept gets all the attention, yet radical change is rarely something a company can afford and, thus, rarely something a CAD manager should implement. Radical changes, such as moving to entirely new tools (think moving from 2D CAD to BIM, as an example) generate big costs that many companies can’t tolerate. Consider the following:

Big costs. Radical changes in tools costs lots of money for software acquisition and implementation. This means extensive investigation, budget planning, and IT involvement.

Extensive workflow changes. Radical changes in tools cause changes in workflows which require lots of training and staff adaptation.

Unknown disruptions. Radical changes in workflows always lead to unknown problems that must be fixed. These problems delay project execution and drive-up costs. And, even worse, the magnitude of the delays and costs can’t be known until you’ve gone past the point of no return during implementation.

I’ve concluded that no CAD manager can push through radical innovation on their own because it requires total support and a significant investment from senior management and IT. Want to know why it has taken decades for 3D and BIM to displace 2D work methods? Because the change to the organization is radical.

On the other hand, what CAD managers can execute is a more modest process of Incremental Innovation which allows for smaller changes to workflows that keep risk and costs under control. Let’s investigate.


Incremental = Affordable and Doable

If I consider how I can innovate to make my company’s CAD environment work more efficiently, I must operate within a framework that demands the following:

  • I must keep the CAD tools running.
  • I must support users so they remain efficient.
  • I must make sure that projects are on track.
  • I must keep labor costs down.

As long as any innovations I propose meet the above criteria and don’t cost too much, then I likely have the authority to move ahead and strive for these improvements. This stands in stark contrast to radical innovations that I don’t have the authority to do on my own.

So, now the question becomes: what types of incremental innovations should I focus on to have the best chance for success without having to wait for managerial approval.


Your Incremental Innovation Game Plan

Here’s my step-by-step process to mapping out a workable innovation plan that you can quickly put into action:

List your nagging, small problems. What problems vex your users, your projects, or your customers? Knowing what your problems are tells you what to work on and where your incremental innovation should be focused. You may be surprised to find that the most commonly vexing problems aren’t all that big or complex, and they won’t cost a fortune to fix.

Propose solutions that simplify and save time. How can you solve those problems? What types of process changes, tool configurations, customization, training, and inexpensive tools can you put in place to fix these problems? Strive for solutions that save time above all else, because, as we know, time is money.

Eliminate tools that are complex and costly. wherever you can. Review current tools, and remove any that are overly complex and hard for users to learn. They are more likely to generate expensive rework due to mistakes. And, software that is costly in the first place may not be worth it. Sometimes innovation can mean removing tools rather than adding more.

Prioritize easy, low-cost solutions. It stands to reason that the cheaper and easier it is to implement your solutions, the faster you can get them in place and reap their benefits. And, the faster you do so, the sooner you’ll start to look like a hero. I would also submit that true innovation makes things easier and cheaper, not harder and more expensive!

You’ll want to go back through the list, proposing and prioritizing the steps several times so you don’t miss anything. There’s no substitute to this approach as you build your incremental innovation plan.


Sell the Innovation

Now that you’ve got your innovation plan laid out, it is time to sell your ideas to your user community before you tell your boss. Share your vision and evangelize for improvement. The goal is to have users say, “I think this will solve the problem I have and will save me a lot of time!”

There’s no one way to sell your innovation plan, there are many. And, since you’re essentially marketing your ideas at this point, it makes sense to deliver your message using every method and opportunity you have. Here are a few ideas:

Email blasts. Easy and cheap. Just keep it short so people will read it.

Training meetings. Doing lunch and learn on a specific topic? Why not share a few innovation ideas and get people talking about them?

Project kickoffs and standards. When a new project kicks off you have the perfect chance to put new work methods in place for the duration of the project. Float your new innovations at the start of a job and you have a much better chance of them becoming standard.

Engage others. Why not mention your innovation plan to project managers, those in other offices, or your boss whenever you can? By talking to more people the larger your innovation base becomes and the more likely management will be to support you as tackle bigger problems.


Don’t Quit — Keep Innovating

Most great innovations happen over the course of time with equal measure of evangelism, training, and communication. It is rare that organizations change radically all at once, so it stands to reason that your innovation plan must be a never-ending quest. But, how can you best manage that quest? Consider the following plan:

  • Focus on a problem that needs fixing.
  • Propose an effective, incremental, cost saving solution.
  • Sell the solution to users.
  • Help users adopt the solution.
  • Show management the savings you generated.
  • Now repeat the cycle. . . . forever!

Much like a continual improvement cycle in a factory, incremental innovation tends to keep improving workflows little by little — pushing the existing CAD technology to a state of optimal production. But, as a CAD manager you also have the latitude to change more than workflows (think software tools) so long as the cost can be justified by the savings.

Of course, at some point a radical innovation (such as CAD replacing drafting tables or BIM replacing CAD) will reach a tipping point and totally change the CAD landscape and create an entirely new set of problems. But, after the shock of these radical changes subsides, we’ll be right back to incremental innovation again. So, it seems that we’ll always be innovating and searching for the optimal way to perform our work.


Summing Up

I hope you’ve found these principles of managing innovation helpful and that you feel invigorated to make changes in your workflows that create efficiency for your users. The core value of a CAD manager should be to find innovative ways to solve problems and save money. By using the process of incremental innovation over the long haul, you’ll achieve more, struggle less, and win the respect of your team.



Read more about CAD Management on our  CAD Management Resource Page


Robert Green

Robert Green performs CAD programming, standardization, and consulting services globally. He is the author of Expert CAD Management: The Complete Guide. Reach him via his website (greenconsulting.com/).

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