“What we got here is failure to communicate.” 

For the prison warden in the classic movie “Cool Hand Luke,” good communication was important.  And as Cool Hand Luke, portrayed by movie star (and later pasta sauce pitchman) Paul Newman, quickly learned, any misunderstanding or “miscommunication” was usually quickly and decisively resolved. This resolution came in the form of whatever punishment the sadistic prison Warden deemed appropriate.  

And while there are fortunately not many similarities between product development and penitentiary life, the importance of communication is universal.  

In the product development world, good communication has long been deemed essential to effective teamwork and the rigors of completing demanding projects on tight deadlines. Indeed, the widespread adoption of the Agile product development methodology stems in no small part to its focus on breaking down data silos and improving team communication. The daily team “stand up” meeting enabling quick updates between team members is one widely hailed example of a practical way of ensuring improved communication. However, in the age of COVID-19, and an increasingly remote workforce, the challenges to basic project communication have significantly increased. 

The Communication Barriers of Installed, File-Based CAD 

Faced with these new challenges and the availability of improved communication/collaboration technologies, product leaders are turning a critical eye towards the shortcomings of their traditional file-based CAD systems. These legacy on-premise systems, developed decades ago with the realities and challenges of an earlier time, are increasingly being seen as a true barrier to effective team communication.    

Indeed, the barriers created by these systems start before a user even logs on. Designers or engineers simply seeking to use a file-based system must often travel to a set office location just to gain access to their work.  The physical limitations of an on-premise, expensive CAD workstation are becoming clear as many teams are now unable to work together at a central site.  

Other communication hurdles emerge when a user attempts to share a design with a fellow teammate.  The only way for a user to share a design is through the cumbersome process of copying and sending a file. This seemingly innocuous process inevitably leads to subsequent miscommunication as a user first sends a design file and then continues to work on their local copy. The result is that multiple versions of design files sent only hours or even minutes ago become almost instantly out of date.   

It’s fairly common today for multiple engineers to be working together on a larger project. However, with file-based CAD, managers and teammates have no clear and transparent way to understand where the project stands in real time.  While users might know that a file is being “worked on,” they have no way of knowing what has changed because the file is being stored locally.  Any teammates with a downstream dependency must simply wait.  

And while some might argue that an add-on PDM/PLM data management system can address version control headaches, other challenges quickly emerge.  The fact is that the very nature of file-based systems is based on a past when communication and collaboration were not as critical.  Leaders who once accepted the tedious and time consuming “check in and check out” administrative processes that these systems impose on their workforce are beginning to see that there are better ways. 

What Slows Down Team Collaboration?

The State of Hardware Development and Product Design 2020  research report, an independent survey of nearly 1,000 engineering and manufacturing professionals worldwide, spotlights the problem and highlights the frustrations many engineers are experiencing when it comes to file-based on-premise CAD.

Consider that:



The fact that fully 50% of users surveyed feel that PDM/PLM systems slow down their design process, and 40% of users say they often can’t get access to design data when they need it should be concerning to any product leader using these systems. 

In addition, when these file-based systems with serial copying and version control issues are applied to more complex projects with multiple engineers, it is easy to see how the entire design process becomes incredibly prone to miscommunication and serious mistakes. The negative impact on productivity and teamwork with these systems is clear. 

How Cloud-Based CAD Improves Team Communication

In contrast to file-based CAD, today’s cloud-based product development solutions improve communication from the outset. Staying connected and engaging with team members is easier as designers and engineers can now access their designs from any device including tablets and mobile phones. Communication is immeasurably better as teammates can discuss changes in real time while they work on the same design document. 

The “single source of truth” nature of cloud-based systems, such as PTC’s Onshape SaaS platform, eliminates the need for copying versions of files, and prevents much of the miscommunication and version control errors that plague file-based CAD. 

Another way in which cloud-based solutions improve communication isn’t a “what,” but rather a “when.”   The Onshape platform lets team members communicate and collaborate earlier than ever before in the life of a project.  As a result of this “early communication,” misunderstandings and differing perspectives can surface earlier and prevent costly delays that might occur if discovered later.   

Onshape customer Dan Scoville, Head of Engineering at OceanGate, says that cloud-based CAD helps  his product development team streamline their communication as they develop the next generation of deep-water submersible vehicles for research and adventure travel. 

“In many cases one engineer working on one element of a project might take a more conservative approach, while another engineer, working on a different element of the same project, might take a more aggressive approach,” he says. “With the Onshape platform, engineers can collaborate earlier in the design process, looking at the same Document in real time, eliminating misunderstandings and reducing delays at the end of the project.” 

Similarly, military R&D firm Delta Development reports that using Onshape’s cloud collaboration tools are absolutely vital for keeping its core design team in Arizona on the same page as its electrical engineer based in Montana and its injection molding partner in Michigan.

“The ability to do mechanical design reviews remotely has been critical for us,” says Delta CTO Robert Futch. “When the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to work at home, we were able to continue as normal with our design process.” 

Enabling the Extended Product Development Team

As product development processes evolve, cloud-based CAD and data management tools are also enabling improved communication with a larger extended team within the organization. In the past, the expense of file-based CAD workstations prevented their deployment widely and restricted communication with other company stakeholders.  In contrast, cloud-based solutions like Onshape enable communication with an extended team across an organization including procurement, operations and manufacturing. The permission-based Onshape solution provides enough light-user access to improve transparency and allow non-core teammates to contribute. This ability to expand CAD access throughout the organization often helps improve communication across disparate groups and accelerate time to market. 

Today, product development leaders are recognizing that the needs of their teams are growing increasingly complex. As anyone who has worked on bringing a product to market can attest, taking an idea from concept to manufacturing is fraught with opportunities for miscommunication, misunderstandings and costly mistakes.   

To address this challenge and minimize miscommunication, leading firms are empowering teams with the right tools and technology to improve day-to-day communications and operations. Cloud-based platforms like Onshape not only enable improved communication across a dispersed workforce, but also help encourage broader engagement of key stakeholders across an organization. 

The Product Innovation Imperative

Interested in learning more about how cloud productivity tools are better enabling teamwork and product innovation? 

The Product Innovation Imperative is Onshape’s new guide for engineering and manufacturing leaders to pressure test their own organizations to identify areas of improvement. In this eBook, you’ll explore the following business-critical topics:

  • How manufacturing companies are responding to the “New Normal” of remote work and challenges posed by the global COVID-19 pandemic

  • Why product development teams are now aggressively adopting digital and cloud productivity tools for sustainable advantage  

  • How earlier team communication and collaboration impacts product innovation

  • How market dominance can quickly erode if innovation becomes an afterthought

  • How a cloud-native Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) product development platform differs from legacy, on-premise CAD and product data management systems

The end of each chapter includes a checklist of “Essential Questions for Your Product Development Team” to assist you in re-evaluating your current innovation strategies and formulating new ones.

Get your free copy of The Product Innovation Imperative today!