Autodesk’s Revit rebellion reaction

It’s time to examine how Autodesk has reacted to the widespread criticism of Revit 2010. Is Autodesk listening? To be more specific, is Autodesk’s Revit team listening?

The Good

It has been good to see extensive public participation by Autodesk people in various discussions in different places. The Revit team isn’t hiding. It is asking for feedback on the Autodesk discussion groups, the AUGI forums and its own blogs, and getting lots of it. Much of it is negative, but it is to Autodesk’s credit that I’m not seeing much in the way of denial, or demands that the criticism must be constructive. I’ve been trying in vain for years to convince some people at Autodesk that denial is counterproductive and that criticism doesn’t have to be constructive to be useful.

The sort of messenger-shooting that I’ve seen some Autodesk people do from time to over the years (*cough* R13, CUI *cough*) is generally absent. I’m not seeing Adeskers arrogantly accusing users of their criticism being based on a failure to understand the product. I’m not seeing asinine comments that infer that the negativity is simply a symptom of the critics’ resistance to change. Actually, I’ve seen one such comment, but it wasn’t from an Autodesk person.

Overall, the Revit team’s responsiveness, openness and level of public availability is impressive. It’s so good that it puts other Autodesk teams to shame. When was the last time you saw an Autodesk person respond to criticism of AutoCAD in the Autodesk discussion groups or AUGI forums? Revit people are doing quite a bit of it, and by looking back I can see that they have been doing it for a while.

There was one attempt at a traditional corporate “the product is great, we just need to review our communications” message. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t work (read the comments). Denial, spin, obfuscation; these things never convince the people who need to be convinced, so why bother? While it’s good to see a reaction from somebody pretty high up in the chain of command, the people lower down have been doing a much better job of communicating with their customers.

The Bad

The trouble with all this communication is that it’s a couple of years too late. It’s no good putting a huge amount of effort into something, introducing it to users, then discovering too late that the users hate it. No amount of communication after the fact can make up for that kind of blunder. Exposing an early design to a handful of people in restricted circumstances can be useful, but it’s nowhere near enough. Lots of people need to be exposed to a product for a long time (as the Revit team now acknowledges – see an interesting Autodesk blog post here). The earlier it’s done, the better the product will be. As a bonus in these difficult times, this will lower the overall cost of development, because problems get exponentially more expensive to correct as the development cycle progresses.

From the public comments I’ve read, the Revit Ribbon was presented to beta testers as late as January, and by then it was very much a fait accompli. There was little chance of making it work significantly better, and none whatsoever of removing a bad design from the product before shipping. This scenario is, unfortunately, confined to neither Revit nor this particular instance. Although I can’t comment on my own Autodesk pre-release experiences, if you have read enough public discussions over the years you will undoubtedly have seen this kind of conversation a few times:

Angry user: “This feature is useless! The beta testers must have been blind to miss this!”
Beta tester: “Actually, we did see it and reported it right away. Autodesk just didn’t fix it.”

I would like to expand on this, but I am somewhat restricted by NDA. I’m not complaining about that (it’s a voluntary agreement), just stating the position I’m in.

Another thing that belongs in this category is the Revit team’s apparent disdain for its users’ wishlists. AUGI Revit people are convinced that their wishlists are being ignored, and I can see for myself that Autodesk’s own Revit wishlist discussion group is hardly a hive of activity.

The Ugly

Autodesk showed the cloven hoof with its exclusion of Phil Read from Autodesk University.* This reflects extremely badly on Autodesk. See here, here, here and here. Almost everybody seems to think this crude and futile attempt at censorship was a deplorable move, and I agree. Besides this being an example of messenger-shooting at its worst, it’s not a good look for the AU event itself. When you pay your AU fees, are you hoping to see the most knowledgeable, enthusiastic, passionate and inspiring speakers available? Or just the ones with opinions that align with Autodesk?

* My reaction is based on the assumption that this exclusion did take place. It has been widely reported and condemned, but not denied by Autodesk, so I think it’s a pretty safe bet. The only comment from AU management is, “Speakers for AU 2009 will be announced around June 15 – I cannot comment before.”

11 comments to Autodesk’s Revit rebellion reaction

  • As you said Steve “What happens in beta stays in beta” but I think, hope, a lot has been learned from this process as it has rippled right to the top of the tree.

  • Imagine how bad the releases would be without Beta testing? The best way to see if something works is to put it into production, on a deadline. If something is going to break, or fail, it will be on a Friday afternoon, just before the drawings have to go to the printer! If you want to buy a house, visit it during a rain storm. that way you will see the leaks before you move in!

  • In my opinion, this is just an indication of what the future releases of Autodesk products will look like. You have only three choices; stay on subscription, skip upgrades at a huge penalty (ie: new price structure) or not upgrade at all and have the industry leave you behind. Customers always get treated this way when a company has virtually no competition.

  • R. Paul Waddington

    AutoCAD R13 was a pain (for some) and a lesson for Autodesk that it has never fully understood. It also revealed, the failings, and another side of a coin that is rarely considered. Several years after the ‘event’, an Autodesk employee was surprised to here me say R13 had presented absolutely NO tech’ problems for my customers. At first she said she could not believe what I had just said – stating “everybody else did” – but then asked why: my answer, “we simply didn’t sell it”. We knew of the problems, as many testers did, so chose to protect our customers, ensuring they knew the issues, and holding ALL back from buying until C4, and then only if we were absolutely sure they were in the clear.

    The point here is simply: Autodesk, and other developers will always make mistakes but it is the dealers and users, who MUST rush forward, who compound the problem. Subscription complicates this issue but at the end of the day the dealers and users are still not forced to use software that is going to cost them financially: all our markets are mature enough now to EXPECT commercially viable new/upgrade software and if it is not forth coming simply don’t use it, send it back and CANCEL the subscription.

    Make the decision quickly and decisively and don’t look back!

    Autodesk will get the message: and even with their unconscionable ‘late fee’ penalty a company/user will still be better off financially, in many cases, than trying to, and, persevering with a product that is clearly costing. Work out the actual cost (loss), in dollars, of coping with a problem and then the added flow-on cost (to the users of preparing and sending) the FREE advice your complaint gives Autodesk.

    Even in the tough times Autodesk are still making money and their employees are being paid: if their products do not doing the same for you in quick time – give them back.

  • Autodesk Labs was created so technologies that are in their early stages of development can be commented on. There is plenty of time to make changes to these technologies before they are considered for inclusion into the product line. Some technologies get incorporated, e.g. Impression. Some technologies do not, e.g. Visual Search. At Autodesk Labs we listen and respond to feedback on a daily basis.

  • Scott, I commend Autodesk Labs for exposing some of Autodesk’s future technologies to early user scrutiny. There are limits to this approach (you can’t really do it with core changes), but I’d be happy to see it expanded as much as possible.

    Oh, and belated happy 50th birthday!

  • Further to Scott’s comments… Inventor previewed their fluent UX on Labs. From what I’ve seen Inventor has the most mature user focused implementation of the Ribbon UX. It’s got some nice customisation, like unbundle flyouts without the complication of CUI, and small icon no text state etc that Revit/AutoCAD lacks.
    Perhaps the benefit of sharing openly earlier in the development process?

  • Chris Wade

    Revit MEP has a long way to go before it is usable, it needs conduit tools, fixes to plotting, etc.

    As to why the wishlist forum is so empty, it is because we have been saying the same thing for so long, that we are honestly getting tired of it.

  • Chris Wade

    I wish it were as simple as R. Paul Waddington puts it, the problem is now that there is a Revit MEP on the market, many of our clients are putting it into their contracts that we must use it, so we either try to make it work or don’t get the business, neither option is very appealing at the moment though.

  • ayman

    revit arch 2010 is just a perfect product for me, but I just wonder if autodisk could come up with a blugin product similar to architecture generative componant from Bently or there is a blugin that I do not knew of, please advice.

  • Ayman, I have absolutely no idea, but maybe somebody else will chime in with an answer.

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