Vote on the Top 10 Ideas for New CAD Features
There is one thing CAD power-users have in common: They do not accept limitations in software functionality. Try to say to power-users,“You cannot do this,” and they will look at you like you are an alien.
Such users stretch the limits of what software can do. Hitting a road-block has a strange effect. Instead of discouraging them, it motivates them to:
- Find a brilliant workaround
- Write a macro to get the job done
- Start an online brainstorming session with their peers
- Submit Enhancement Requests to the developer
The most passionate users are very vocal. They want to have their voice heard by the software vendor and use any means available to make sure of that.
The most successful CAD companies welcome this feedback. For example, SOLIDWORKS built a whole environment for nurturing the collaboration between end-users and software developers, including:
- Forum with over 50,000 members
- Vibrant user group network
- Enhancement Request section in the Customer Portal
- Annual World Conference
SOLIDWORKS took one extra step. It offered the most vocal power-users a job: product definition manager.
Have you ever wondered who comes up with the ideas for all the new features? Even more, who designs the interface that seems to equip users with superpowers?
For SOLIDWORKS, this is the responsibility of the Product Definition team.For each area—sketch, part modeling, assemblies, drawings, rendering, CAM, PDM—there is a project definition manager (PDM) who is continuously working on improving the software:
- Adding new tools or features
- Adding new functionality to existing tools
- Improving the performance of the existing tools
- Streamlining the user interactions with the interface
A good product definition manager is first and foremost a power user. Many of the current PDMs started as passionate end-users, who pushed the software to the limits and sometimes beyond them.
Morphing from an end-user to a PDM in not easy. As an end-user, you are concerned with improving your own experience. When you encounter a limitation that makes doing your job difficult or time-consuming, you simply want that limitation removed without having to consider if anyone else needs that or how implementing your ideas might impact other users.
As a PDM, you suddenly have access to the big picture. Any initiative for improving software functionality has to survive a rigorous process that involves:
- Clearly identifying the need
- Quantifying and qualifying the value for the end-users
- Estimating the percentage of users who would benefit from it
- Estimating the impact on existing functionality (everyone hates regressions!)
- Defining an optimal user workflow
- Performing QA testing
Since, after joining SOLIDWORKS, PDMs have reduced opportunities to perform active design work, they need to find ways to keep up to date with how end-users work. To find a new idea for enhancing the software, they get their inspiration from five sources:
- Their own vast experience of using the software as power-users
- On-site visits at companies who use SOLIDWORKS
- Actively monitoring the SOLIDWORKS forum
- The Enhancement Requests Database
- SOLIDWORKS World Top 10 Ideas list
Out of all these five options, the most straight-forward is the last. Every October, SOLIDWORKS users with active subscription are encouraged to submit their ideas to a section of the forum dedicated to collecting them.
The concept is brilliant and effective. This is how it works
- Submit ideas from October to mid December
- Vote and comment on ideas from mid December to end of January
- The Top 10 Ideas will be revealed at SOLIDWORKS World in February
The advantages are evident for all stakeholders:
- Ideas come directly from end-users
- The most popular ones are debated to the last detail by both end-users and PDMs
- It is clear what type of users would benefit from implementing them
- The number of votes offers a good estimate of how many users like each idea
- Generates a large collection of ideas for the PD team (500 to 1,000 new ideas each year)
While only the top 10 ideas are presented at SOLIDWORKS World, all ideas will be taken in consideration by the PD team.
Let’s take the SOLIDWORKS World 2014 Top 10 ideas as a case study:
- Equal spacing options for linear patterns
- Rename components from the Feature Manager Tree
- Draw line from midpoint
- ESC should always return control to the UI
- Unlimited Undo/Redo
- Redefine angular dimensions after they have been placed
- Redefine a filler to a chamfer from within the same command (and vice versa)
- List quantity of identical holes in a hole callout
- Provide a Purge Data command to reduce file size
- Auto-hide assembly components while mating new components
Nine of these ideas have been fully or partially (4 and 9) implemented since then:
- 1, 3 and 6 in 2014
- 9 and 10 in 2015
- 2, 4, 7 and 8 in 2016
From 155 Top 10 ideas recorded between 2001 and 2016—only 5 ideas were listed in 2004—89 were implemented by 2017.
Software Stability and Performance
As is true for most software applications, it is no wonder that some of the most popular ideas tend to focus on software performance and stability. Two prominent SOLIDWORKS Forum users, Rick Becker and Dennis Dohogne, pointed out that increased performance and stability should always be at the top of the ideas list, every year. Having these two ideas (One and Two) always at the top of list, would leave only eight spots available for the ideas focused on new functionality.
The Product Definition team heard them loud and clear. They even invited Becker and Dohogne to the SOLIDWORKS Headquarters in Waltham, Mass., to spend a whole day with the PD team and brainstorm the best ways to achieve that.
The solution they came up with is simple and elegant.
Starting last year, before voting on individual ideas, all users are asked to express their opinion on how the PD team should allocate its resources (see Figure 6):
- Increase stability
- Improve functionality
- Faster performance
Last year, 680 users voted to allocate the research and development resources as per the chart in Figure 3.
A Look at SOLIDWORKS World 2019 Top Ten List
If you have never accessed the SOLIDWORKS Forum, follow these steps, in order to get access to the Top Ten List:
- Go to solidworks.com
- Select the Customer Portal
Figure 4 – You can also go directly to https://customerportal.solidworks.com
- Select Create a SOLIDWORKS ID
- Input your email address, then copy and paste your SOLIDWORKS Serial Number
- Input the rest of your personal information
- Validate your email address
At this point, if you are a subscription customer, you should have access to the Top 10 Ideas portal.
- Go to https://forum.solidworks.com/community/solidworks-world-2019-top-ten-list
- Vote on how the PDteam should allocate the R&D resources
- Select Content
- There are 714 ideas submitted this year. Reading all of them requires several hours. To quickly find the ideas that are relevant to you, use the handy filters as shown in Figure 7.
Once you find an idea you like, open it to get access to voting and commenting. Example:
Equally important to voting is explaining why you voted a certain way. The more information you provide, the easier is for the PD team to customize the new functionality to serve your needs.
For example, the idea shown in Figure 8 has 19 comments. Other ideas generated long and heated discussions with more than 100 comments.
For users of large assemblies and drawings, here is a short-list of relevant ideas:
- Multicore Workflow for Large Assemblies and Drawings
- Ability to unload and load the body data for the component of an assembly
- Allow any drawing to be loaded with or without the model (user control)
- Allow preserved bodies in a SpeedPak to be used for Interference Detection or Collision Detection
- Add more entity filters (F5): Component, Feature, Cut List Item, Origin, Coordinate System
- SW Assembly Visualization – Add Option For More Columns
- Ability to isolate components again while being in isolate mode (isolate after isolate) without having to cancel the first isolate command
- Manage Display States (especially Hide/Show) with Tables
- Make graphic triangles visible in parts / assemblies
At the time of writing this article, these are the top 10 ideas for SWW2019:
You still have time to vote on them.
Tell SOLIDWORKS what you want and why you need it! It is the easiest way to make your voice heard by the PD team.
About the Author
As an Elite AE and Process Improvement Consultant, working for Javelin Technologies, Alin Vargatu is a Problem Hunter and Solver, and an avid contributor to the SOLIDWORKS Community. He has presented 22 times at SOLIDWORKS World and tens of times at SWUG meetings organized by four different user groups in Canada and one in the United States. Alin is also very active on SOLIDWORKS forums, especially on the Surfacing, Mold Design, Sheet Metal, Assembly Modeling and Weldments sub-fora. His blog and YouTube channel are well known in the SOLIDWORKS Community.