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?
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 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.
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.”