Earning the “Right to Build” Products & Features

Whether you are a Product Manager, Developer, UX or another member of a product team, you should always be able to answer a simple question. Why? Why are you working on this particular project/feature/product and why is it more important than anything else?

Regardless of the methodology, agile or lean or whatever, we are all striving to deliver the most value to our customers in the most efficient way possible. In addition, we are looking to become more scalable and more predictable. Interestingly, in the days of enterprise desktop software, we measured ourselves by the number of new features in the “What’s New” press release. More was better. So, how do you remain agile and predictable and deliver a bucket of features? Quickly.


With the change in platforms and business models the thinking is changing. SaaS and subscription are both changing the way customers use and interact with software. More importantly, the biggest change is their expectations. They expect that things will work and that they will work great. If its broken, customers expect that it will be fixed soon, really soon.
What does this mean for product teams? It means that prioritization, data analytics, intimate customer relationships are critical. We really need to know why we are building what we are building and be as confident as possible that it matters. We need to be accountable.

All of this leads to a philosophy I like to call the “Right to Build”. Teams need to be totally bought in on their plan and should be willing to sell or pitch their viewpoint both to customers and internal stakeholders. It’s more of a mental shift than anything else. It’s about checks and balances. We need to consistently ask ourselves whether we are working on the right things and are we working on them in the right way. We, as product people, owe it to our customers and our stakeholders to earn the right to build. Thoughts?!

Building Emotional Products

Today’s product leaders are obsessed with the idea of innovation. It’s in every presentation, at every conference and in every strategic planning meeting. Every company wants “the next iPhone”. Companies  want to significantly differentiate themselves from their competitors. Or so they say. I question whether they are really looking to differentiate. When in fact, they are really looking for quick, near term growth?!

I’m often heard saying – if you have to tell people you are innovating than…likely, you aren’t. Innovation isn’t a project. Innovation isn’t an initiative. Innovation is an emotion. It’s the world”s view on how you tackled a particular challenge. It’s the emotion that you generate within your products.


Companies can develop new business model, like Uber. They can create beautiful products, like Apple. Or they can leverage new platforms, like Amazon. Each of these companies leveraged innovative ideas and technologies to catapult themselves into leadership positions. They not only disrupted existing markets, they in the process defined a new market and became the sole player and instant leader. Begs the question, do you think there was a planning meeting that kicked off with “how can we be innovative”? I doubt it.

Likely someone had a brilliant instinct, bit of luck and some good timing. They pitched an idea to a group of friends/co-workers, many laughed, some didn’t get it and enough supported it to take it further.

What do all of these examples have in common? They created a product that has created an undeniable emotion within their customers. Their customers, literally, love their products. They are willing to pay a premium and without batting an eye are willing to evangelize the value that they see in the product.

My suggestion, next time you are summoned to brainstorm innovation, decline it. It will be a waste if time. Rather, consider approaching your next brainstorming with emotions in mind. Think like your customers. What would they love? What far fetched idea would make people love what you’ve built?



Focus on asking why IoT rather than how…

I just spent a week with customers discussing different topics around IoT. Everything ranging from their specific products, to sensors, to mobile carriers to data lakes to mobile access to the information.

As with these things, we took deep dives into the technology. Looked at a variety of ways one could implement IoT into their portfolio. Often, we dug in deep, really deep. When we did come up for air, consistently, everyone had a puzzled look on their face. I think everyone got the general concept, in theory, but many struggled to connect the dots on exactly how they could implement the technology into their existing businesses.


We spent a good portion of our time exploring the how? How could they leverage it? After understanding what IoT was about, we continued to drill into how… how could they leverage it.

I hate playing devil’s advocate, but felt it was necessary to ask… why? Why should you invest in IoT? What pervasive near or long term problem would it solve? As engineers, we like to stay in the why not camp because we like to build and explore. I like to constantly ask…why?

This took us down the path of entertaining implementing IoT on new projects as opposed to retrofitting existing products. I believe this helped, but still resulted in the similar confusing look on their faces.

We started a great brainstorming exercise that consisted of listing problems.

  1. What are the biggest problems your business faces today?
  2. Is there anything you could do to improve that problem if you had more data?
  3. Are you or your company mentally prepared for change?
  4. Have you thought through the problem enough?
  5. So what?

More to come on this topic, but the morale of this – continue to ask why? Really know why before you jump in to an investment of new tech. The why might be to simply explore to learn. That is ok, but at least you will know and can plan/invest accordingly.

Product Managers Should Choose Service Over Product

As a product manager, often we are faced with the question. Is the customer always right? If we are honest, the answer, probably not. However, the customer expects and requires good service. Assuming you want to keep them as a customer.

Loyal customers gravitate to the products we build for various reasons. Some is due to clever marketing, some is the different feature or service we provide and sometimes its a bit of dumb luck. Regardless, however we capture that loyalty, we need to keep it. Here is a brief story of where loyalty was lost.

I am a big fan of wireless headphones. Between airplane rides, endless conference calls and running, you can expect to find a pair of headphones around my neck. Another observation that you could make is that I am brand loyal. I find something I like and I am loyal, almost to a fault. I’m finding, there is a connection between loyalty and service.


Two years ago, I purchased a mid-priced set of wireless headphones that I wore all the time. After about a year, they stopped working. I was moderately happy with the quality, but for the price, I was fairly content. Being frustrated that they stopped working, I called tech support, which is out of character in itself. You know, to actually call someone. The experience was reasonable and they replaced the broken headset free of charge, no questions asked.

About a year later, same thing. The replacement pair stopped working. At this point, I have grown less satisfied with the quality, in general. This time, I logged in to their support “chat” and the experience was much different than the phone call. It took entirely too long for them to take all of my information and various emails back and forth to provide proof of purchase. Eventually 3-4 emails later, I received a confirmation email to ship my defective set back and approximately 10 days later they would send a new pair. What?! Keep in mind, this whole time, I am on the road and shipping anything was a hassle. Not to mention, I am now roughly two weeks without a pair of wireless headphones. First world problems, I know.

One week later, I am still carrying the defective headset around in my bag. Just annoyed at the whole process. Low and behold, yesterday I receive an email from a competitive product announcing brand new, high end, wireless headphones. Was this a sign? Not sure. Needless to say, I bought two brand new pair of the competitors product in lieu of a free replacement pair from my former loyal brand.

The morale of the story. As product leaders, ensure you are providing great service. All the time, no questions asked. Is the customer always right? Not sure, but this customer is waiting on UPS to try out his two brand new pair of headphones.

Autodesk Inventor Promotes Open Design with AnyCAD

Many organizations have a very mature 3D design process. It often involves a complex process dealing with vendors around the world, all using various design systems, PLM systems etc. In the heart of the war of 3D CAD, we have all tried various ways of working together, often via neutral file formats in an effort to come up with some sort of common standard. We have tried IGES, STEP and even Parasolid/ACIS at the kernel level. All have there pluses and minuses. The obvious minus is that they all lack intelligence. We as designers lose the design intent, the meta data that is embedded in the model as well as the ability to track change.

Many third parties have developed translators in an effort to keep the design process pure. But, the fundamental nature of a translator is that you risk losing the intelligence that you are trying so hard to capture. What happens if a change happens in the original model? Does that change propogate? How does the team know a change was made? What is needed is the ability to capture the intelligence and maintain a connection.This requires a rethink of how we view design systems. The idea that we should be open to appreciate that multiple systems exist, they will always exist. We as vendors need to consider how to work seamlessly with other systems whether they are direct competitors or not.

Enter Autodesk Inventor AnyCAD, launched this Spring in Inventor 2016. AnyCAD is integrated file interoperability technology that provides direct associative capabilities without the need for file translation. Imagine you are an Inventor house that works with a supplier that uses SolidWorks. You are designing a pedal assembly and one of the components that you use is being redesigned by your supplier. What version should you use? How can you both design in an open environment. In the video above, we see both systems displayed for clarity sake. The Inventor user inserts the SolidWorks component into their assembly. Along the way, changes are made to the SolidWorks model and are automatically updated in Inventor with FULL associativity. Not only are features changed on the model, but as intelligence is added to the SolidWorks model, it appears automatically in Inventor. This allows a seamless real-time design workflow that is open and transparent. The Inventor user can leverage the native SolidWorks model inside Inventor and can even perform a simulation using Nastran In-CAD to ensure it meets the specification of the overall design.

The takeaway here is that design is evolving. The tools are evolving and we as vendors are evolving. It’s an exciting time to be in the design and manufacturing industry. The fun continues. What’s next?

Join Autodesk at the International CAE Simulation Conference 2014

The Autodesk Simulation team will be attending and presenting at the International CAE Simulation Conference in Verona, Italy next week. The team will be there available to have open discussions about where we are going and how we can help. We are looking forward to connecting with our Italian friends and learning more about the challenges that you are facing.

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Specifically, we will be presenting on The Role of Advanced Materials in Lightweighting on Tuesday the 29th at 11a. We will discuss the trends we are seeing both near term and those that are in the experimental phase. In addition, we will discuss simulation tools that we have at Autodesk that help customers build confidence into the design and manufacturing process. Come see us and let’s have a chat.

Autodesk Nastran In-CAD: Powerful, Trusted, Embedded FEA

CAE Simulation tools have evolved significantly over the last 15 years. There have been a variety of advancements in the technology both from a software and a hardware perspective. In the early days, we were fortunate enough to take a few part assembly and solve a simulation in an hour plus. Often times the plus was a big plus. Nowadays, we are solving “system” level models in the matter of minutes. With the advancements in technology, comes an increase in expectation from the user community.

Engineers are under a tremendous amount of pressure to design great products, deliver on time and ensure the highest quality. We need tools that just simply work. We want what we want, when we want it. Some of us are full time simulation analysts and prefer a robust standalone tool that is flexible enough to allow us to get our job done, no matter what. Others prefer the simulation tools “embedded” in the design tools. Just because the tools are embedded, the expectations are still high. In fact, many that run the embedded tools use the technology on a regular basis. The expectation of this user persona is sometimes even higher than that of a standalone simulation user.

In the beginning, the concept of embedded simulation was revolutionary. Companies like Rasna and SRAC broke all of the rules and took fast, automated CAE and exposed it to the engineering world. Most users were thrilled that it even worked. Basic modal, linear static with some thermal was sufficient. Things have evolved over the years. Computing power is advancing, graphics have become more stunning and the overall capabilities are increasing. Some codes have stayed the course and simply evolved and improved on existing tech. Others have increased capabilities.

Nastran capabilities

But, in listening to users, the appetite for more is there. The increase of material exploration, reducing cost, increased pressure for aesthetically complex designs- the need for more power is on the rise. The power to do more. The power to stay true to the nature of embedded simulation, but offer some more advanced capabilities. These advanced capabilities need to be trusted and validated. Companies under pressure to deliver reliable products, require technology that they can trust.

Enter, Autodesk Nastran In-CAD. We at Autodesk are making some bold moves. Decisions driven by where we see the market going. Our focus is to deliver robust, high end capabilities in the way that our customers want to use out tools. We have a history of delivering both standalone simulation solutions, as well as “In-CAD” simulation capabilities. We are evolving these solutions to include the introduction of a trusted and validated version of an Autodesk Nastran solver. The main difference is that the In-CAD version offers a significant amount of simulation capabilities than your typical embedded FEA solution. Not only is it powered by the same trusted technology of our standalone tools, but its been designed to optimize the workflows of the design process. The capabilities above and beyond the typical embedded FEA tools include nonlinear materials and contact, transient simulations, composites simulations as well as fatigue. So far the feedback has been great. But, as we evolve, we are very interested in your candid feedback. Feel free to post here or the Autodesk Nastran In-CAD Forums or provide some Ideas of where we should be driving the product.

The Cloud Opens the Doors to Design Exploration for Manufacturers

There have been some interesting conversations in the CAE community around the benefits and drawbacks of the cloud. One of the points I find most interesting is around the idea of “Infinite Computing”. This is a phrase that we use here at Autodesk. Some people understand the context right away, some balk at the idea and many others are likely somewhere in the middle. What’s Infinite Computing really mean to us as users? Let’s take a look.

I’ve had the opportunity to be out ahead of the market and was involved in the early days of launching a cloud connected CAE product line – Simulation 360. I’ll spare you the sales pitch and focus on some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Let’s first take a look at a short list of some of the problems we are trying to solve.

  • Computation demands are on the rise
  • Limited collaboration and communciation tools
  • Limited time and resources

Computation demands are on the rise

Model sizes are increasing. The desire to account for Multiphysics is increasing. But, more importantly the pressure to optimize is a common conversation. When I probe more on why users are not leveraging simulation more to optimize their design. Often, the most common response revolves around time. Not enough time in the day to fine tune and explore more design choices. Status quo has been that good enough will have to due for now. In some markets, maybe that is ok. But, more commonly we hear that competition is fierce and pressure to deliver faster, more innovative products has never been higher. What if you could do significantly more tomorrow than you did yesterday? What if you could exponentially increase your through put? I believe that is where infinite computing comes into play. In reality, we all appreciate that even with the cloud, computing is finite. But, the idea of elastic near-infiite computing is significantly better than where we are today.

Limited collaboration and communication tools

Even the best-in-class simulation users report that they struggle to communicate or collaborate efficiently. Each company has a variety of ways they document or share the results of their simulations. Some have a formal templated system that they meticulously document their findings and formally report their findings. Others simply create quick power points that are shared via email and others simply email. The cloud does provide an opportunity for change. We are already seeing the impact of tools like dropbox and Box. Ability to access data whenever and wherever. Imagine if you were able to access simulation data in real-time. Imagine even further that you were able to share images, data with your colleagues. Now imagine that all of this information was searchable and accessible. That is what the cloud brings to the table.

Limited time and resources

All of the above are great advancements in simulation. But at the end of the day, what we are trying to achieve significantly more than what we are able to do today. We are embarking on a cultural shift where computational resources are becoming accessible. Ability to access information is available on mobile devices. The ability to compete is real. Getting back to one of the major hurdles around simulation adoption is time. If we are able to explore our designs and run these simulations in parallel. What does that do for the design cycle? What does that do for time to market? What does that do to building confidence in our designs?

We are in early days when it comes to the cloud. Many of the speculations here are educated observations and predictions. Many are being proved as we speak, many require time and validation by the user community.

Surface Wrapping for CFD on Autodesk Labs

CFD engineers around the world deal with geometry from multiple sources. From various CAD systems, to various surfacing systems and more recently scanned data. Some of this geometry is “clean”, but most of it is not quite ready for meshing. In fact, most is nowhere near ready for meshing. Recent surveys, we found that CFD users were spending ~70% of their simulation time cleaning up geometry for meshing. 70%. That’s alot of time.

There are various manual methods and even a few automated utilities to make the process easier. But, the fact is, its the number one hurdle many of us face in getting result in any CFD application. The team at Autodesk is looking at a variety of methods to help make this process easier. The goal near term is to make it easier. The goal long term is to make it go away altogether.

One of these initiatives is Project Ventus. Ventis is greek for wind. We thought it appropriate as we are focusing on external aerodynamic simulations to start. These consist of the standard flow over planes, trains and automobiles. But in the Autodesk world, it also means flow over buildings, bridges and city landscapes. Each are unique in their own right, but all have similar geometric challenges. There are overlapping surfaces, gaps in the models, surface imperfections etc.

Project Ventus offers surface wrapping technology that allows users to take geometry from anywhere, as-is. It then automatically detects the imperfections and creates an external wrapped surface as an external skin of the model. This new wrapped model can then be brought directly into Autodesk Simulation CFD.

Surface wrapping technology has existed for a number of years, but usually requires a fair amount of expertise to dial in the controls properly. The goal of Project Ventus is to eliminate that need for expertise and work to automate the process. We are very interested in your feedback. Click here or the above link to sign up to test Ventus and let us know what you think. Project Ventus requires an active Autodesk Simulation CFD license.

TechTalk: A real-life case study about CFD in the Autodesk 360 Cloud

Autodesk entered a partnership with the uberCloud experiment over a year ago. It was an interesting opportunity to get out in front of a community of engineers, scientists and early adopters who are interested in leveraging the cloud for computation. The experiences and backgrounds of the community are vast. Some have been involved in heavy HPC applications for many years, some were design engineers that had alot of design alternatives floating around in the minds, but didn’t have the time or resources to explore the possibilities.


Our team partnered with Mark Lobo at Lobo Engineering to explore a real world application of maximizing flow and pressure drop through a valve assembly. Mark was able to run over 200 simulations and take the work that typically would take a month, down to a day.

Join us next week as Mark shares his experiences of life as a CFD Engineer leveraging the cloud.