Thoughts On Collaboration: What Challenges Do *You* Face?

I’m a Product Manager in the data management group at SolidWorks, and I’ve been thinking a lot lately about collaboration.

When I talk with customers about collaboration, it can seem so simple on the surface:  “I’m working on a project, and I need to involve someone else.”  Easy, right?  Well… not really, no.

The thing is, ten people could utter those same words and mean ten different things.  Maybe the need is to keep a group of people working from the same, up-to-date CAD data.  Or it could be to get and manage feedback about a design from a domain expert.  Or the need may simply be to share a design with a customer for their approval.  The number of distinct needs that are forms of “collaboration” can be staggering.  But a common theme seems to be that collaborating is hard – harder than it ought to be.  To me, that says we have an opportunity to make life easier for our customers.

In digging into the feedback we’ve received over years of customer visits, I’ve found it really helpful to break down what I’ve heard into two categories, based on the relationship that exists between the parties that need to work together:

• Is the collaborator a trusted “insider?”
• Or are they an “outsider” with whom only so much can be shared?

For customers working with trusted “insiders,” we can apply one set of assumptions about how close those users can be to your design data, and can think about collaboration capabilities delivered inside of the design tools.  But for situations where you’re working with “outsiders,” we need to assume you want greater protection of your intellectual property, and provide collaboration capabilities that are more about selective sharing and discussions than close cooperation.

There are plenty of other factors we’ll need to consider too, of course.  For example, what are the technical backgrounds and skills of the different groups of collaborators?  And what are the most effective means of capturing and managing feedback from a few or even many participants?  And how can I make the collaboration process more social – increasing the number voices in my organization that I’ll hear from, and providing greater visibility to the challenges that exist within a project?  But understanding the relationships that exists between collaborators is crucial to getting collaborative capabilities right.

I’ve introduced this topic because I’m interested in making sure we provide great collaboration capabilities.  Do you think of your collaboration needs this way?  Are there people you trust a little bit and people you trust a lot, and do you want to work differently with one set vs. the other?  I’d love to hear your thoughts, and I’ll look forward to sharing more as I dig into specific customer needs in this area.

John Ellsworth

John Ellsworth is part of the Strategy and Community team at DS SolidWorks, leading the My.SolidWorks project.

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