The most successful companies are usually the ones that never rest. They are always striving to get better, to deliver more innovative products and get them to market faster.

So what do today’s product development teams think they’re doing right, and what areas do they consider to be ripe for improvement?

Whether they are launching a brand new product or manufacturing an improved version of an existing one, what are companies identifying as their top priorities to boost productivity? What obstacles are slowing them down and what can be done to eliminate or reduce those obstacles?

To better understand the current State of Product Development & Hardware Design, Onshape commissioned an independent industry survey of 850 product design and manufacturing professionals capturing a broader company-wide perspective beyond the core engineering team. Reaching companies of all sizes, the study gathered insights from executives, engineering managers, project managers, sales technical engineers, CAD administrators, and quality assurance engineers.

Respondents were representative of companies using the most widely adopted professional design and manufacturing tools, without regard to specific brands. Point blank: They are not currently Onshape customers.

“We’re excited to share the results of our research far and wide,” says Onshape CEO Jon Hirschtick. “This survey gives product development leaders valuable insights from almost 1,000 peers on how to move their teams forward.”

(Download your copy of The State of Product Development & Hardware Design 2019 report here.)

Improving Design Process More Important Than Design Tools

Asked to identify their most important needs for improvement in the product development process, individual contributors – the true workhorses at a company – chose these top two focus areas:

  • COMMUNICATION – 89% say they want earlier and better communication between members of their extended design team. This could be addressing miscommunication or not enough communication between internal teams or with external partners – or even missed opportunities to get design feedback from contributors who could have game-changing ideas.
  • VERSION CONTROL – 86% say they need to reduce errors resulting from working on the wrong version of a design or receiving important information too late. These are preventable data management issues that result in costly manufacturing mistakes, and ultimately, a slower time to market.

In contrast, for managers and executives at these same companies, the top priority for improvement is visibility. 89% of those respondents say they want the ability to monitor their product design team’s progress anytime without having meetings, sending emails, or making phone calls.

As in other industries, executives at manufacturing companies want real-time information and actionable data.

“It’s surprising to see that improvements to processes are rated as higher priorities than some of the more trendy media topics like additive manufacturing and generative design,” notes Hirschtick. “Better team communication, visibility and data management clearly leads to an improved design process, and those improvements are clearly a key success factor for product developers who are trying to stay on top.”

Indeed, take a quick look at the colorful word cloud a few paragraphs above. The graphic was derived from hundreds of survey responses to the open-ended question, “What aspect of your company’s product development process most needs improvement?”

Note that while improving CAD itself is still viewed as important, the combined mentions of “communication, PDM, PLM, management, design, production, time, tools, early, data, and process” vastly overshadow references to any specific design software.

Innovative Companies Embrace Cloud Technologies

Every company naturally wants to be more productive and more innovative. No CEO wakes up in the morning and asks herself, “How can my employees do less today?” or “How can we make our products be less stylish, less distinctive or less useful?”

In an effort to discover common denominators that make companies successful, survey respondents were asked to self-rate their company’s level of productivity and innovation:

  • 49% of respondents rated their company’s productivity level as good or excellent.
  • 58% of respondents rated their company’s innovation level as good or excellent.

With roughly 1 out of 2 companies being so highly rated, perhaps those statistics come from self-inflated perceptions. After all, to paraphrase that famous quote from “The Incredibles,” when everyone is productive and innovative, nobody is.

However, it is a safe assumption that those who see themselves as innovative/productive are motivated individuals who are likely more interested in improving their results. With that as a baseline, we learned:

  • Most companies that consider themselves as innovative have embraced cloud-based productivity tools. 78% of companies that rate themselves as “excellent” for innovation use one or more public cloud file-sharing services (i.e. Google Drive, Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive).
  • In contrast, companies that rate themselves as “poor/very poor” for innovation overwhelmingly use no cloud file-sharing service.

Similarly, the survey also revealed that:

  • 75% of companies using a cloud-based PDM/PLM solution rate their ability to drive innovation as “good” or “excellent.”
  • Companies that use cloud PDM/PLM are twice as likely to rate their ability to drive innovation as “excellent” than those who use installed PDM/PLM.

These findings were consistent with a similar 2018 product development survey, which concluded that teams using cloud-based systems were far “more successful at meeting goals than users who used on-site server-based systems or less formal systems such as email/spreadsheets.”

“The survey results indicate a strong correlation between cloud adoption, innovation and productivity,” says Onshape co-founder John McEleney. “When you’re not sending copies of files around, and you just have to go to a single source to find what you need, it’s only logical that you’ll be more productive. And this increases the number of cycles you have to focus on important customer-facing issues.”

Insights for Small and Large Companies Alike

In summary, both individual contributors and management in companies of all sizes are identifying design processes – and not specific design software functionality or manufacturing tools – as their most important priority for improvement. 9 out of 10 individual contributors say they want earlier and better communication with colleagues outside the core engineering team, and they say they are often receiving important information too late. Executives and project managers, meanwhile, desire more visibility into every stage of the design process without the need for in-person review meetings or checking progress by emails or phone calls.

“The survey revealed that these kinds of communication problems are shared by small and large companies alike,” says Onshape co-founder David Corcoran. “And their importance only increases with the size of the product development team and the complexity of the design.”

“It’s surprising how many engineers, managers and executives say they are still wasting too much time in the product development process,” he adds. “Whether it was expressed as reducing mistakes, poor communication, inadequate visibility, too many meetings, time wasted working on the wrong data, getting important information too late, or time spent on IT and other soul-crushing overhead, the single biggest problem is process complexity and inefficiency.”

You can read the full 26-page “State of Product Development & Hardware 2019” research report here.