Thursday, 27 November 2008

People don't know...what they don't know!

The basic psychology of how people learn new skills is pretty fascinating - really!

Being in the business of measuring CAD & BIM skills of Autodesk & Bentley users, we find ourselves at the heart of the learning debate.

Part of the problem with traditional CAD training is that it can be a bit one-dimensional. Often, over the course of 1, 2, or 3 days, a variety of users from differing backgrounds, and with varying degrees of experience and ability, will gather in a classroom and attempt to absorb every detail of the latest release of AutoCAD, Revit, or whatever, in a torrent of technical information. Inevitably, the trainer has to gravitate to the speed of the slowest learner, and everyone else follows along at that pace. The assumption is (incorrectly!) made that all delegates possess a minimum level of basic CAD ability. Further, the material tends to be off-the-shelf or generic, with individual workflows and processes seldom covered; this can make it difficult for students to relate to the material and apply the information back at the workplace.

Now, consider the following evidence from Rebecca Rupp, author of 'Committed to Memory';
'One hour after learning, 56% of material has gone to the wind; one day later, 66% has evaporated; and after one month, 80% is gone'.

With this in mind, is it any wonder why firms struggle to get a satisfactory bang for their training buck?! Should even a modest amount of time pass between the course ending and real work commencing, it is small wonder that much of the new material isn't applied on the job; the 'use it or lose it' factor.

Over the past four years, CADsmart has compiled results data from over 10,000 live CAD skills assessments. Analysis of the data makes for enlightening reading. By dividing the results into four performance 'quartiles', an interesting trend emerges. Based on accuracy & speed, and against a 'mean' score of 63% in 74 minutes, the following breakdowns occur; 37% comprise the upper quartile (4), which means they are faster and more accurate than the average. 1 in 5 users make it into the mid-upper quartile (3); more accurate but slower than the mean. Another 20% populate the mid-lower quartile (2); less accurate but faster than their peers. Finally, 23% of users (nearly a quarter!) make up the lower quartile (1), performing slower and with less quality than the rest.

In our experience, until they complete a formal skills assessment, most users have no real idea of how skilled they are, relative to their peers in industry. Many claim to be 'experts' or 'super users', based on nothing more than their years of service with Autodesk or Bentley tools! Simply put, they don't know what they don't know.

So what journey do we take, as we progress our skills from basic, through intermediate and advanced levels? The 'Conscious Competence' model explains the process and stages of learning a new skill (behaviour, ability or technique).

Stage one is 'Unconscious Incompetence'; a person is not aware of the existence or relevance of the skill and is unaware that they have a particular deficiency in the area concerned.

Next, we progress to 'Conscious Incompetence'; a person becomes aware of the existence and relevance of the skill and is therefore also aware of their deficiency in this area, ideally by attempting or trying to use the skill, or by formal assessment. The person is helped by evaluating the extent of their deficiency in the relevant skill, and a measure of what level of skill is required for their own competence.

A person achieves 'Conscious Competence' in a skill when they can perform it reliably at will; they need to concentrate in order to perform the skill - it is not yet 'second nature' or automatic and it is unlikely they will be able to teach it well to others.

Finally, with practise and persistence, the skill becomes so familiar that it enters the unconscious parts of the brain - 'Unconscious Competence' is achieved. Typical examples are driving, sports activities, typing, manual dexterity tasks - such as CAD! - listening and communicating. The skill becomes 'second nature', but arguably gives rise to the need for long-standing competence to be checked periodically against new standards.

We have a saying at CADsmart; 'If you can't measure it, you can't manage it'. By putting in place reliable performance metrics, including a formal assessment program, AEC firms can make the transition from basic 2D drafting to more complex 3D modelling and BIM skills with a higher degree of confidence.


Sunday, 16 November 2008

World first from CADsmart - interactive Revit skills assessment software

Well, it's been a while in the making, but we're just about there. About a year ago, we sat around a table with a half dozen leading UK Revit users from our customer base at HOK's London offices (thanks for the coffee & biccies, Miles!). Our aim was to determine how we should attempt to break down Autodesk's flagship AEC CAD (BIM?) software, so that a meaningful basic skills assessment, complete with accurate training needs reporting, could be developed.

Fast forward to the present, and we're nearing the end of our final beta test phase - and I must confess, we're pretty pleased with the result. Having battled with a somewhat (still) limited API and developer environment, we are on the cusp of launching a world first - a fully interactive basic Revit skills assessment. I should say that Autodesk's support team has been very helpful in responding to a host of technical support issues from our team - and things can only get better as they continue to tick things off their own Revit development wish list.

Our timing is just about spot on, as our goal was to launch the new software at Autodesk University 2008, which is now just around the corner. In fact, Tony & I will be teaching a class at this year's event, appropriately titled, 'How to make the Move from AutoCAD to Revit'. By all means come along! :)

In anticipation of the launch of the software, we are also sponsoring the show, so here's the plug; we'll be at booth 237 - and the first 100 firms to sign up for a demo of the Revit skills software will - if they like it - qualify for a 50% discount on their first year's subscription!

Look forward to meeting you in Vegas!


Monday, 10 November 2008

6 degrees of Kevin Bacon...

For quite some time now, I've manfully resisted the temptation to join in with the whole 'social networking' phenomenon. Thinking a guy in his mid-thirties is far too old to be 'tweeting' or 'poking' old friends on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, et al.

In fact, it was quite by accident that I first signed up to the 'business' network LinkedIn, back in the Spring of 07. Almost a year went by, and my network had grown to a mighty 6 'connections'. Then, I happened to pause my finger over the delete button one morning a few months ago, when reading an auto-update email from the site - and realised that I had kind of missed the point about just what potential there is to be had in reaching out through cyberspace to make fruitful connections with like minded people across our industry.

So I began to do some homework. Armed with my copy of 'LinkedIn for Dummies' from, I stepped outside of my comfort zone and started inviting...

After just a few short months, my network stands at just under 200 '1st level' connections, each one personally invited, and with a particular interest in CAD & BIM technology within the AEC space. But the amazing thing is that I now have nearly 60,000 people just two connections away and a further 4.5M people one step away from that!

It reminds me of the old college game, '6 degrees of Kevin Bacon', which was based on the theory that any actor or actress can be linked through his or her film roles to the actor Kevin Bacon. This, in turn, was a derivation of the '6 degrees of separation' idea that, if a person is one step away from each person they know and two steps away from each person who is known by one of the people they know, then everyone is an average of six 'steps' away from each person on Earth.

With that thought, it only remains for me to say that, if you have an interest in, or responsibility for, improving CAD & BIM productivity, I extend a warm invitation for you to join my expanding network;

I look forward to 'meeting' you! :)


Friday, 7 November 2008

Need to save money? Sack the CAD Manager!

It never ceases to amaze me how short-sighted some firms can be! Over the past few weeks I've seen first hand three separate examples of otherwise perfectly sensible firms of architects, who are experiencing a temporary down-turn in their fortunes as a result of the current economic squeeze, suddenly have a brain-freeze. So what do they do? Tighten their belts by cutting back on non-essential services? Cancel the standing order to the local organic deli for the Friday afternoon buffet? Look at non-core expenditure or sub-contracted items which can be temporarily placed on hold? No, let's sack the CAD Manager - that'll save us a few bob! When will design firms learn that CAD & BIM tools are an essential ingredient to the successful delivery of quality projects on time & budget? And a good CAD Manager is worth his or her weight in gold, and should be one of the last people to be shown the door!


Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Language and progress

With the imminent release of our skills assessment software for Autodesk Revit, we have been musing here at CADsmart Towers as to whether the term 'BIM' or some other acronym might ever fully usurp the term 'CAD' and make our name and corporate identity look a little dated.

But today it struck me - it doesn't matter, because one of Europe's biggest companies has a corporate name that is so dated due to a rapid change in technology that it would be laughable if it were proposed for a new firm today, yet they continue to dominate in their field with a very clear message about what they do.

Step forward The Carphone Warehouse. If you go to their website and search for 'car phone' you get no results - they don't sell any. Of course they don't, and everyone knows this. Consumers are so familiar with their high-street name that nobody thinks twice about it. 

Long live CADsmart!