If you’re just joining us, this post is part three of a four-part series on conducting a process assessment of AutoCAD workflows and procedures. Recapping what we’ve discussed so far, part one of our series focused on the importance of planning. Specifically, how to identify and define the objectives of your assessment.
After establishing our plan, we discussed the process of collecting information in part two. The purpose of this stage is to connect with your teams and learn from them. We explored some information gathering methods, strategies, and tools for recording all of that information during the post.
That brings us to where we are now. You’ve talked with many people, sent out surveys, reviewed dozens of files, and have pages of notes to show for it. Of course, while the notes are valuable to you, to anyone who wasn’t there as you recorded your observations, your notes are likely unintelligible to anyone else.
What should we do now?
Step 3: Analyze What You’ve Learned
After gathering information, your next step is to make sense of it. The primary objective of this stage is to classify and organize the information you’ve collected into coherent taxonomies. For this process, you’ll want to revisit the objectives you defined during the planning stage of your assessment.
Specifically, what your top-level assessment classifications are. These top-level classifications are what I’ll use to define the top-level headings of my assessment report.
Process to Analyze Information
Although you can never quite know what you’ll observe during the information gathering stage, one certainty is that whatever you gather will not be organized. You’ll have pages and pages of notes with little-to-no structure. Finding structure in this chaos of information is the primary function of this step.
I’ll typically take every observation with the objectives I defined during the planning stage to get started. For me, this is generally people, process, and technology. This allows me to perform an initial grouping of the information I gathered.
Once grouped into top-level categories, I’ll then begin the process of finding other groups. For example, you may record your project managers say they have trouble knowing how long a task might take to complete. You might match that with feedback from production teams about inconsistent plotting times. Evaluating each of those seemingly disparate pieces of information, you might choose to investigate project DWGs to learn more. After all of that, you might determine the real issue relates to data management practices. Identifying this, you might create a subheading under your Process section titled Data Management.
From that subheading, I’ll then place all of the observations I recorded under it. Through the process of creating that subgrouping, it’s not uncommon to identify other trends that were not initially apparent. While the subheading you started with is Data Management, as you look closer, you might identify more granular observations under it. This might include observations about file sizes, the number of layout tabs per drawing, the number of viewports in a drawing, the overall integrity of drawings (Audit, Purge, etc), and the list likely goes on.
Throughout this process, I look at the notes I took during the information gathering stage, like notes a doctor might take when initially evaluating a patient. Those notes are likely little more than a record of symptoms. It’s not until that doctor looks at the specific combination of symptoms a patient has that they’ll be able to render a diagnosis.
In that way, my mantra during this process is to be sure I am finding and diagnosing the disease, not just mere symptoms of an undiagnosed disease.
Tools to Organize Information
Although tools like Evernote or OneNote could be used for this exercise, I find mind mapping tools better suited for the task. Just as there are many digital note-taking tools on the market today, so too is the story for mind mapping tools. After evaluating many of these, my two favorites for the purpose of assessments are MindManager and XMind. MindManager is a competent tool worth the investment if you anticipate doing a lot of mind mapping. Still, XMind is far more economical and equally sufficient for the task of conducting an assessment.
My process using mind mapping software is relatively straightforward. I will create a node for every observation, and I will then begin grouping those observations into topical buckets. The ease in which I can drag and drop individual observations between branches as everything comes into focus is the principal reason I turn to mind mapping tools.
In addition to mind mapping tools, I have also utilized an analog Post-It note process too. Much like the mind mapping approach, my process is very similar, albeit analog. As I begin seeing groups, I move the Post-It notes together and shuffle things around until my conclusions come into focus.
Of course, if the Post-It note method is more your style, but you prefer something digital, MURAL is an outstanding tool that does just that.
Like the information collection stage, while the tool you choose can help simplify the task, the tool in no way defines the task. Be it analog, digital, or some combination thereof, choose the tools that work best for you, but be sure to remain focused on the objective of identifying and forming conclusions about what you observed.
After you’ve studied and analyzed everything you’ve learned to form such conclusions, it’s time now to share those conclusions. Articulating what you learned throughout the assessment process is the topic of the next and final part of our series.