It's not commonly known, at least I didn't know, the extent that SolidWorks, both management and All employees, are Customer Centric. I now have an understanding and it's encouraging and inspiring to know there is a company, a corporate culture, of a huge conglomerate that is truly Customer Centric.
How did I learn this?
Let's start at the beginning.
Would you be willing to come out to Waltham, MA to meet with several members of the teams that are responsible for the software and express your concerns?
I know you will have questions, so fire away!
There were some additional details included. I did have a bunch of questions instantly fly through my mind.
First and foremost was Why us? and Who else would be there?
I deduced the why. My best clue was Dennis and I being invited. It had to be connected with ONE and TWO . As it turned out, it was indeed ONE and TWO.
Richard replied to the why query...
ONE and TWO - Both of you have expressed some "discomfort" with recent releases, and with a few exceptions, have been honest and sincere in your desire to see us do better. I saw a presentation last week that will address a lot of your concerns, and I know you both would enjoy hearing it (and I think it will help you better understand our processes and quality assurance). We do a lot of customer visits, webinars, meetings with customers, etc., but every now and then a face-to-face meeting like this important.
As for who would be there some of the programmers and the team responsible for customer development meeting with just Dennis and I.
The planned date of the meeting, 11/15, was chosen to concur with the 2nd annual SLUGME ( http://blogs.solidworks.com/solidworksblog/2017/11/dont-miss-solidworks-largest-user-group-meeting-ever-2017.html ). First meet with the SolidWorks group and then participate in the user group also held on the SolidWorks campus. I will detail the user group and SLUGME in a different post.
I had never met or even talked to Dennis Dohogne. I sent him a private email to pick his brain and see what his thoughts on this was. We exchanged a few emails to plan what we would do. We realized this was an huge opportunity. I recognized that this could be analogous to being a Neilson Family. I knew my voice would represent a large portion of the SW user base.
People who know me well know that I can be rather opinionated. In that I mean I have thought about and discussed with others most everything important or interesting. I have come to a certain point of view on most of them and I'm not afraid to share my opinions and why I believe them. Sometimes vociferously. Ask my wife. She shudders when I startup at any affair we are attending and generally walks away leaving me to my discourse.
I was prepared to be as outspoken as I have ever been. I was steeled to get my point of view clearly across to everyone at SW as possible . I was sure this was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I wouldn't squander.
Nothing was squandered and no opportunity was lost. And, I didn't need to raise my voice or become obnoxious (some say my usual MO) in any way because the audience presented at SW listened. And not just listened, but engaged in a dialog that showed their true colors. Their true colors were responsive, understanding, hopeful and customer based.
We arrived in Waltham Massachusetts early evening on Tuesday. Dennis flew in (boy are his arms tired) and I drove from Connecticut. We got to meet 7 members of the SW team for dinner at a local pub. The restaurant had a great selection of food and beer and couldn't have been a better spot. The food, beer and conversation was abundant. A true "getting to know you" affair and it was obvious that the seven really loved their jobs and got along with each other famously. Listening to stories of trips to far away locales was enlightening and enjoyable. Dennis and I got to share about ourselves as the perfect introduction to our meeting the next day.
Here's a rundown of the day...
- Richard Doyle meets us at the hotel to drive us to the Dassault Campus. Richard is a Gentleman. Friendly, outgoing and sincere as many of you have stated here so eloquently.
- Our meeting took place in a large conference room with thirteen SW employees. A full day of presentations and discussions. This blew me away that SW would dedicate so many resources to a meeting with 2 customers. As we learned, it wasn't window dressing in any way. They all were there to listen, understand and learn as much as to tell their story. There were 5 or 6 of the top VP's, Directors, managers of every significant department with presentations and rich dialog. Included were VP R&D Operations, VP User Experience, Director of Product Definition, Director of Product Development and many more.
- After introduction Dennis and I opened the meeting with ONE and TWO from our point of view. I articulated how detrimental bugs, crashes and instabilities are for us. I described skipping implementing SW2017 specifically because of the problems I read about in the forums. I talked about why I started ONE and TWO. Of the top ten ONE and TWO each got more than twice as many votes as the others. This spoke to me about the general feeling of the Engineers, Designers and other users of SW. I didn't want this point to go understated or be forgotten when the Top Ten is removed from the site (which it always has been). BTW, it is only removed from user perspective. All Top Ten discussions are retained and reviewed by SW as needed. I mentioned the horrible SR/SPR/ER voting system. We had a laugh recounting the blue icons.
- We had several presentations complete with power point slides. Each one detailing a particular department or mission of SW. All of the presentations were very detailed and in-depth. We asked many questions along the way, and every question was discussed as valuable dialog, never as a distraction.
- Jim Wilkinson showed the help system, SR/SPR system, and what it can do. The power and depth of the various search bars.
- Talked several times throughout the day about the VAR/Reseller system. If you are on maintenance "You're paying for support through your VAR. Use it." We discussed the extensive training program/requirements that all VAR service techs must be trained with. We learned there are over 50 certificates/tests that are available to CE's. There are only 18 available to users. If something isn't working correctly or you can't get something to work, call your support VAR. Report it. Why? Because as any reported bug/crash/enhancement/SR/SPR/hope/wish/desire comes in, they are logged in a database and collated into severity of problem/number of users. Basically, SW programmers attack the biggest problems that affect the most users. This point was stressed several times. The only way to fix anything that annoys/bugs/affects you is to get it in the system.
- Discussed in-depth how helpful the crash reporting dialog can be for SW. Only about 15% of users have checked the Customer Experience Improvement Program checkbox. The information collected by the crash dialog only has information about what command was selected, what part of the program failed, and some other technical information. No user identifiable information or file data is collected. This somewhat limits the ability or SW to determine exactly what is the root cause of a crash. If the user fully describes, using the dialog box in the crash report, to provide context on what was happening prior and during the crash, the ability to determine a cause is greatly increased. Every crash that is reported to SW is put into a database that groups similar crashes. This data is reviewed by humans and analyzed. The areas that affect the most users are the areas that are prioritized highest and worked on first. Over and over, one theme was "we work on what benefits the most people with the greatest impact". Vote for any enhancement requests and SPR's that will help you. Your vote actually counts. SW actually reads the crash report user input. Both Dennis and I expressed the needs for users to be acknowledged when a crash report is submitted. A simple email that states we got your report and we are looking into it. Just a little feedback can go a long way. It was stated they are working on a way to accomplish this. We were shown some improvement in the 2018 crash dialog box. It looks promising but still has a ways to go.
- Help pages have a Feedback on this topic link (upper right corner). Whenever anyone uses this link the information sent goes directly to the personal that wrote the Help Page. This is hardly ever used by anyone. If you see something that isn't clear or correct, provide feedback right there on the help page. The responsible person will read your comments. Both Dennis and I commented that the help pages needs some additional context. It reads a bit dry and utilitarian. We would like to see some expansion of context and usage.
- Four concurrent versions are being worked on at any given time. A major version has a 2 1/2 year life cycle. The life cycle follows a tried and true template of process that have a start and completion time frame. From what we were shown, the ontogenesis of a given major release works well.
- We had a thorough discussion of the Forums. The forums are read by many SW personal. It is part of the job requirement for many to spend some time with the forum. Dennis and I both noted a change for the better in the tone and mood of the forums starting around 6 months ago. We pointed to Jim Wilkinson (and a couple of others SW people) posting regularly with extremely helpful information, knowledge and experience. These postings have steered the conversations in helpful directions. We both highly encouraged more participation by Jim and as many other SW personal as possible. There was a fear expressed that statements made in answer to questions or problems by SW personal may be misconstrued if any part of the answer is wrong in any way. It was further expressed that ongoing discussions may be suppressed once a SW answer is given, stifling valuable discourse by forum participants. I don't believe anyone would hold back on joining in the discussion just because of a SW answer. I also strongly expressed that a post by SW personal, even if wrong, wouldn't have any adverse reactions. We are all human and are working towards the same goal, bettering knowledge of SW. Many posts get off topic. Some are hijacked and some get off topic (and off color) so severely that the distraction overwhelms any good or helpful information to the point that many posters (SW personal included) "walk away". We acknowledged that this is a problem and noted that, as of late, there is a move to self clean and regulate our own posts and clear out the noise. The "Kitty Dump" is also useful for off topic posters to at least have a place to say whatever they need to. It was acknowledged that rules may need to be implemented that allows off-topic discussions to be removed.
- There is a large group of SW personal dedicated to Customer Experience. Each and every person in the group is charged to visit customers multiple times per year. The group has hundreds of customer visits per year. They are specifically tasked to learn what we need/want and to make it happen for the greatest number of users as possible. It is impressive how many resources are specifically dedicated to this effort.
- MySolidWorks.com ( http://my.solidworks.com/ ) is a landing/home page for all things SW. Best thing on this page is a very powerful search box. Have a question or want to find something? Start here. I call it the Top-Level Search bar. There is something of interest there, and, it's only a couple of weeks old. Under mySolidWorks >Training>eCourses. "eCourses are complete courses converted from the SOLIDWORKS instructor-led training manuals into self-paced eLearning." This is a pay elearning course but, the same training classes you go to your VAR to get, are here (sheetmetal, weldments, etc.) exactly the same course as you would take in a classroom available at your computer.
- We talked about the BETA/EV program. It is especially important to have as much participation as possible. This may be one of the very best ways to communicate to the people that count to help steer the next version release. More importantly, catching problems and bugs early in the BETA testing will eliminate those problems for everyone going forward. SW would like to see participation in BETA/EV greatly increase. I absolutely agree the increased participation is good for all of us.
I'm sure I have only mentioned half of what I was shown. I haven't mentioned all of the great people I met by name. Bottom line, I was given the opportunity to learn how SW uses the information that we tell them as well as the many ways information is gathered. There are many ways to communicate what you want/need/desire, tell what's broken or ask for something more/new. Contact your VAR, submit SR/SPR/Enhancement request, participate on the Forum, submit/vote on Top Ten, participate in the BETA/EV program, receive a visit from SW, participate in SWW, submit crash reports and many more. The mechanisms are in place and being used to take all that data from users and turn it into what the programmers actually work on.
I'll admit I was impressed. I'm hard to convince of something I don't believe. The sincerity, great attitude and knowledge of each and every person we talked to was almost overwhelming, and very inspiring. And, I believe the programmers and management at SW are working diligently in our best interest (it's also their best interest). There are 3 million of us users/seats worldwide. There are probably that many different sets of wants and desires. The biggest problems that help the most users are what they work on. They are listening and compiling data. Give them some data to compile from your point of view.
TL;DR - I visited SolidWorks HQ. I was shown a vast array of processes and methods to listen to and respond to customers and what's broken, missing or wanted. SW is spending huge resources on Customer Care and product improvement. SW needs our input to tell them what is going on. They don't get enough input from enough users. As an organization, from the top down and at every turn, SW is customer centric, is listening to customers and is responding to customers' needs. The response is based on fixing and adding based on the most impact to the most users.