How to Start Moving Your Design Team Toward Model-Based Definition

CoLab Team

May 3, 2023


min read

It’s not just another buzzword. It’s not a trend that’s going to fizzle out soon. Model-Based Definition (MBD) is a natural progression of advancements in technology and engineering, and it’s already changing the future of how design information is being communicated. Engineers today wouldn’t go back to a world without CAD and the engineers of tomorrow won’t be going back to a world without MBD.

Accepting that MBD is worth your attention is one thing. But it’s another thing to understand what that actually means for you and your team — on a real, immediate, practical level. If Model-Based Definition (and all the related concepts and acronyms that come along with it) is the future for your organization, how do you translate that knowledge into steps you can take today?

Over the past 14 months, the engineering world has learned plenty of valuable lessons from the rapid shift to remote collaboration. Necessity pushed the industry to focus less on high-level concepts or specific technology, and to focus more on solutions instead. It became clear that purpose-built applications designed to solve specific problems are faster to implement, easier to adopt, and quicker to return real value. These same insights into breaking down barriers to organizational change can be applied to teams looking to move toward Model-Based Definition and avoid falling behind competitors.

This post discusses ways your team can take action now to start building the organizational readiness needed to shift to Model-Based Definition, and pave the path to becoming a Model-Based Enterprise.

1. Start Building Organizational Support and Alignment

Before you even begin looking at tools or technology or target KPIs, start examining your team and organization. Does everyone understand the benefits of MBD? Does everyone understand what it is? Moving to a model-based mindset, and model-based processes, means getting buy-in across all levels of the organization. If you don’t already have widespread support and alignment that a model-based strategy is a fundamentally good idea, that’s a step that can’t be skipped over — but it is a goal you can start working toward now.

In Re-Use Your CAD: The Model-Based CAD Handbook, founder and CEO of Action Engineering Jennifer Herron suggests, “Consider suspending your focus on CAD software technology and re-focusing efforts on the processes and needs of the enterprise. The software is the implementation tool; the process is what your organization creates to match your business needs.” When you take a step back from specific tools and default habits, it becomes simpler to see overall processes and how well they’re working to reach your goals (or not).

Getting everyone on board and on the same page can take time. Throwing everyone into a new system and expecting successful adoption isn’t going to work. But when the groundwork has been properly laid to gain organizational support and alignment, it becomes much easier to implement new processes, systems, and any accompanying tools or software. When people know why they’re making a change, they’re less likely to resist it.

To align your team under a united goal of shifting to model-based ways of working, it’s crucial to find key change agents that will champion support throughout the organization. How do you find the right change champions for your MBD goals? Look for the true leaders. “The ability to successfully champion change is directly connected with a leader’s overall leadership effectiveness rating,” Joseph Folkman writes in this 2019 Forbes article. “Scores on both dimensions matched up almost perfectly.”

2. Start Anticipating Adoption Challenges (and Potential Solutions)

Shifting to a model-based strategy is ultimately a cultural change for your organization. So to proactively anticipate the challenges you’ll encounter on the road to successful adoption — and to start planning potential ways to overcome them — you’ll need to examine the human factors involved. One of the reasons to move away from drawing-centric processes is to improve communication between all the different stakeholders involved across all stages of product development.

But it’s key to remember that “stakeholders” are people. They might be grouped into different teams or organizations, but every individual is going to bring different motivations, backgrounds, and needs to the picture. These human factors need to be understood before they can be addressed.

Look at the day-to-day work that currently happens in documents and drawings. What are the reasons people will use to pushback and justify any resistance to change? You might be able to come up with a long list fairly quickly. Or, you might find that you aren’t entirely sure what could potentially hold people back from embracing a switch to model-based ways of working. If the latter is true: you’ll need to spend some time having conversations and getting better insight into what’s causing hesitation or concern, while keeping in mind that sometimes you may need to do a little reading between the lines. Change can stir up insecurities and fears that often manifest as negativity and resistance.

When you have a deeper understanding of what might hold people back, you become much better-equipped to address those anxieties or get in front of them.

3. Start Small — and Realistic

Going from a “document mindset” to a “data mindset” is not a small leap for an organization, no matter how strongly we believe in the concept. Change is hard. But despite the negative effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, one of its silver linings is the irrefutable proof it has provided that it’s not impossible to change our modes of work. Trends that were already gradually transforming engineering work suddenly shot into overdrive, and even the largest enterprises have had to redefine what they consider possible.

Like the rapid shift to remote work and collaboration, the shift to Model-Based Definition and other model-based approaches moves faster when it’s broken into smaller, more achievable steps. “Take baby steps when implementing MBE, however, remember an increase in model data set re-use is better than none,” Herron points out in Re-Use Your CAD: The Model-Based CAD Handbook. “Time saved by re-using existing data sets while gaining data accuracy is a major bonus. Keep in mind the solution does not have to be perfect — just better.”

In March 2021, Jama Software hosted a webinar that recommends leveraging web-based tools as “a stepping stone” for teams who want to shift to a model-based approach, which can also “provide more stakeholders a consumable view of the information that maybe they would regularly see in documents.” By assessing the level of organizational readiness and anticipating potential adoption challenges, you might uncover specific processes where a purpose-built solution can be implemented to solve an existing organizational problem — while simultaneously moving your team closer to adopting MBD.


The ideas here aren’t a comprehensive list or a magical “step-by-step guide” to fully switching your team to Model-Based Definition or becoming a Model-Based Enterprise. Why not? Because there are no overnight shortcuts, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.

Like any transformational strategy, it’ll take time, thought, and effort to guide your team from its current state to a future state where MBD has been fully adopted. What makes sense for one enterprise may not make sense to map directly over to another one. As in the engineering design process, be prepared for trial and error (while recognizing that not all trial and error is created equal).

But whatever confusion, concern, or hesitation you may have about starting to move toward MBD — the sooner you push through it, the less likely you are to get left behind. There are many places to get started. The important thing… is to start.

May 27, 2021

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