Challenging the ‘human element’ when implementing a CAD tool change
Articles • Central Innovation • 15 July 2017
There are many reasons a business decides to change their systems and although knowing the process isn’t easy, for many it can be an opportunity to enable the desired growth and innovation the business needs to succeed in the future. In the AEC industry, as the software and tools consistently change so does the need to implement them as quickly as possible. The single most common factor that businesses overlook when planning to implement a change of CAD tools is the “human element”.
Central Innovation’s BIM Solutions Specialist, Nando Mogollon, has experienced first-hand how the human impact in implementing software has had detrimental effects to the success of massive projects. He explains, “in fact the technology itself, although central to the whole process, is not the most critical element. It’s not the one which will make the process succeed or fail”.
He says, “The ability to understand the impacts on staff and how to manage it, may be the critical factor that enables a firm to implement change with minimal costs and consequences”.
Despite what people sometimes choose to believe, “Changing CAD tools is not as simple as uninstalling the old software on a Friday evening and starting work with the new technology on Monday morning. This is because change is never implemented in a vacuum. Technological change accounts for only 10 to 20 per cent of the process, and it’s actually the most straightforward part,” says Nando. The rest is managing the human element – that is, understanding and mastering the dynamics in the working environment – and this is the challenging part.
You need to know how changing the technology will change people’s working relationships, habits, and expectations of the office culture. You need to involve people in the process – offer them a compelling reason for the change, get them to buy into the idea and keep reminding them why the change is taking place. There are three main phases in the change process business can take into consideration when implementing a new CAD tool; adoption phase, transition phase and pilot project execution.
The adoption phase, involves addressing people’s arguments for and against change, getting your people onside and finding the right people within your organisation to lead the process – such as key influencers or a decision-maker (we call this person a ‘champion’) who can assist in deciding the right moment to start training, begin a pilot project and so on.
Once the time for implementation is decided, the second phase is that of transition to the new technology. “Each business has a unique culture and you need to identify the best way to communicate to them to understand how the new technology works; they need not only to upskill, but frequently need to unlearn old processes and procedures”, says Nando.
Everyone needs time to adapt to new things, and not only do your people need to adapt their working processes to the new technology, but the technology may also need to be adapted to their way of working. So it’s critical to understand how your staff work – the technology can then be customised in many cases to suit your business’ needs.
Of course, some areas may not easily lend themselves to the kind of adaption that may be desired, and this is where a free flow of communication can help to negotiate the changes and identify alternative approaches. A series of training sessions could help gather your staff’s thoughts, put forward ideas, and are an opportunity to solve these concerns as they arise.
During this second phase staff will be gradually adapting their old ways of doing things. At the same time the software ‘morphs’ to a certain extent, to help them achieve the same results as before – only faster and better.
The next step is to begin a pilot project using the new technology.
Obviously this won’t involve all staff – instead, you’ll want to choose those people who are most engaged and excited about the change and who have shown an early aptitude for working with the new tool. Your organisation’s chosen champion should lead the project.
The ideal outcome is that the people working on the pilot are happy, the new technology is delivering the desired results, and your other teams and designers are then motivated to want to transition to it. Once you’ve reached that point it’s simply a question of implementing the technology across all your projects.
To achieve this result it’s important to carefully manage the transition process and ensure there has been enough time for people to understand the reasons for the change and adapt to the new processes. “Don’t try to take a ‘hardline’ approach and push the technology through too fast – the team and project may suffer as a result, with people preferring to return to the old software because they know it and are comfortable with it”, says Nando.
The time it takes to complete the transition to the new technology depends upon the size of your organisation and the scope of its projects. You might start off with 20 projects, 19 of which are undertaken with the old technology and one with the new. As time progresses, each new project that begins will be assigned to the new technology, while the existing ‘old tech’ projects gradually progress through to completion. It is common for some legacy projects to still need to be undertaken with the old system.
It can take anywhere between six months to a year to complete the transition process. At some stage you’ll reach a ‘point of no return’ – typically when you have around 50 to 60 per cent of projects undertaken with the new technology. At this stage, those people who may not have initially been accepting of the change can now see that it’s a good idea, that your reasoning was sound and that it’s delivering positive results.
If you do run into the relatively rare scenario whereby you’re still encountering resistance from those project teams yet to move to the new technology, it typically indicates a breakdown in the earlier stages of the process.
It might be that your business has multiple design teams and one team leader, for instance, still isn’t convinced of the need for the change and has decided not to use the new technology unless or until forced to. Or it could be that your business may have specialised teams working in complementary disciplines, and the hearts of one team have been won over to the new technology but not so for the other team.
In such cases, clearly not all stakeholders have been convinced of the need for the change and brought onboard; or the training, upskilling and unlearning process has not sufficiently equipped them with the necessary confidence in the new technology.
By devoting sufficient time and effort to meeting the goals of each phase of the process before moving on to the next, you can minimise the likelihood of such an outcome.
Be sure you have popular support for the change across all people who will be involved in its implementation; that you’ve identified a champion within your organisation who can advise on resource allocation for upskilling, training and unlearning of old processes; and that you have an implementation plan which counts down from day one through to an identified target date, so everyone knows what the goal is. Identify checkpoints and benchmarks which need to be met, allocate appropriate resources and make sure you have everyone on board at each step of the way.