Building something new and unprecedented takes time and patience. Like all of my fellow Onshape co-founders, I helped build SolidWorks in its earliest days as a startup. Back then, customers said, "Oh, when are you going to have this feature or that feature?" They kept pointing to things "that we didn't have," and we quickly iterated and delivered new features.

Fast forward two decades and I’ve been experiencing deja vu. People have been asking, “Hey, when are you going to have in-context design?" Guess what, it was delivered in January. "When are you going to have sheet metal?" Guess what, it was delivered in February. Go look on our website; it's very transparent. Every three weeks, we deliver a new release of Onshape with enhancements and new features. (Subscribe to our “What’s New?” blog updates here.)

The modern business world is now more transparent than ever, but go look at any other CAD system and they’ll never tell you what's been going on in each release. Onshape has now had 34 releases since we've introduced full-cloud CAD to the world. The blue flowchart at the top of this blog lists all the improvements over the last 16 months (double click to enlarge). Knowing that the next release is just around the corner has been changing the kind of conversations we’re having with customers.

Some customers are now saying, "I know you don't have this feature yet, but I know that with the trajectory that Onshape’s on, you guys will probably have it very shortly." That is not the case with any of the existing desktop-installed CAD systems – Pro E, CATIA, NX, SOLIDWORKS, Inventor – none of those systems let customers know the status of requested features.

How Onshape Prioritizes New Features

You’ve probably read our mission to help companies of all sizes become more agile, more ready to respond to the ever-changing demands of the marketplace. Well, we practice what we preach. Onshape’s development team has its own roadmap for building full-cloud CAD, of course, but it is ready to pivot based on the customer needs of the moment.

If there is an overwhelming demand for a feature, enhancement or bug fix, that becomes a high priority. As the Onshape UX Team’s Lou Gallo puts it, “Our full-cloud CAD system is only as good as you think it is. Our top priority is adding features that will help you build what you want to build.” (Lou explains how Onshape responds to customer requests in more detail here.)

So for those customers or prospects who say, "Well, I like what you’re doing, but you don’t have this piece of functionality," I say, "Wait three weeks and we'll probably have it!"

Naturally, it’s unrealistic for everyone to get what they want with the snap of a finger. Our priorities are based on helping the broadest group of Onshape users first. If you have a niche need for your industry, the good news is that you don’t have to wait for your dream feature to come to life. FeatureScript, the same programming language used by Onshape’s development team, is available for you to modify existing features or create customized ones.

If you’re not a programmer, you can hire one to create brand new features that look, feel and behave just like Onshape’s built-in features.

Why Traditional CAD Upgrades Are Becoming Less Relevant

When a CAD product is mature, most of the improvements in the annual release are aimed at niche users and don’t affect the majority of customers. Want proof? Take the large number of companies who pay their annual maintenance fees, but deliberately skip installing years of upgrades.

If you don’t need an enhancement, why bother installing it? Your car only needs so many cup holders, right?

And for those who do want the upgrades, there are trust and reliability issues that come with each new release. Ask most customers of any traditional file-based CAD system why they wait until Service Pack 3 to install their upgrade. It’s because they know it's inherently unstable when it’s first released. So they’ll usually wait 3 or 4 months to see what people are reporting in the forums, in terms of crashes, quality, regressions, etc.

They wait because installing software is a big deal. It means you have to basically take a weekend, migrate all your data, validate all of your other applications that work with it, update your PDM system, and tell people, "You can't work on that stuff. We're migrating today!” So it's a big pause for the whole organization.

With Onshape, there is nothing to install. You get immediate real-time CAD access and are automatically updated with new functionality every three weeks. Every Onshape user in the world is always on the same software version – the latest one.

As you might imagine, things don’t update automatically on our end! The Onshape development team needs to be incredibly robust in our QA processes to make sure our product is reliable, that we don't have regressions, and that the functionality works.

Just like our agile customers, Onshape is iterating faster and faster. When we add new features and enhancements, we’re not trying to “catch up” to other CAD companies. We’re forging our own path, rethinking the way design and manufacturing teams use CAD, and hopefully, helping you make more innovative products.

Onshape isn’t aiming to become the best cloud-based CAD. We want to be the best CAD system, period.

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