Engineering and Product Design: The Future of Work

The global health crisis has forced product designers and engineers to work and collaborate in new ways, which is the digital transformation of product development and innovation. Learn how to drive cultural changes and take advantage of these new opportunities in product design.


Jun 29, 2020

The global health crisis has forced product designers and engineers to work and collaborate in new ways. Today’s engineering and design processes require distributed team members to collaborate easily from multiple locations, including their offices and homes.

This digital transformation of the product development lifecycle is the future of innovation in product engineering.

We asked David Katzman, the head of customer experience and strategy for Onshape, a PTC Business, to explain the future of team collaboration and the cultural changes organizations should undertake to make it happen.


This transcript was lightly edited.

Work and Collaboration for Design Teams

Michael KrigsmanThe way we work is rapidly changing. We're going to talk about this with Dave Katzman. He's the head of customer experience and strategy for Onshape at PTC. Dave, tell us about Onshape at PTC and tell us about your role.

Dave KatzmanOnshape was acquired just a few months ago, now about six months ago, by PTC. We're the first and only fully cloud product development platform. We've been building the platform and building the product for the past seven years. Really, the whole vision of the place we're trying to go is helping move the industry of engineering and product development forward.

Michael KrigsmanDave, we talk about work, the nature of work, the future of work. How is work changing and evolving today?

Dave KatzmanI think the biggest thing to think about work evolving today is it's no longer just an incremental change. People are really looking to make that step-function change in the way that they design, the way they build, the way they work. A big part of that really goes with the changes in technology and platforms that are now available to people. What used to be very small, marginal improvements in processes is now all but completely transforming and changing the way people get their jobs done, fundamentally.

Platforms, Processes, and Collaboration Tools

Michael KrigsmanYou talk about the relationship between platforms and working differently. What is that connection?

Dave KatzmanI think the biggest part to understand is, people and businesses change the way that they work and platforms just enable that change. What used to be a tool that was there to be a part of the process is now really underpinning the change in the process. That is really the biggest fundamental shift. Now, all of that comes about because of this new and innovative strength of platforms that we've now seen in the market.

Michael KrigsmanDave, tools certainly make it easier for us to change our processes, change how we work, and give us new capabilities. What are the underlying dynamics that are driving these changes in the way that we work?

Dave KatzmanA big dynamic that's taking place these days is the change in the generational workforce. Now what we're seeing with new entrants into the workforce, they are far more comfortable with new technology, new ways of working and working together.

People that are coming out of school today or coming out of graduate school today are just used to fundamentally collaborating and working with their peers and colleagues in new and transformative ways. They bring that knowledge and insight with them.

No longer are people used to even having desktop machines or being tethered to their desks. The concept of work from home is natural in people that are coming into the workforce today.

Michael KrigsmanWork has been evolving for a long period of time but, with COVID-19, it seems that there has been this rapid forcing function to accelerate this change.

Dave KatzmanI completely agree with that. We all saw this change coming. What's happening now was almost expected, but to the dramatic impact that COVID has had to accelerate it to this degree.

What we've all seen is the ability for people in dynamics and processes to radically transform when there's a reason to do so, looking at the history of the evolution of technology and transformation. But really, this crisis has accelerated it. The ability for people and businesses to transform, I think, has been truly remarkable.

Cloud is Essential for Agility

Michael KrigsmanAs I've spoken with chief information officers, their move to the cloud, the investments in cloud infrastructure that they've made in those platforms, uniformly, they tell me was instrumental in making the rapid shift from working in an office, having large numbers of people working in an office, to suddenly being totally distributed working from home.

Dave KatzmanAbsolutely. The thing that's been interesting for us as part of the Onshape group has been that we've always used these platforms, these technologies since day one. For us, the transformation to working from home was a natural function for us. We didn't have any disruption in anything we were doing and how we were collaborating as a team, regardless of our product, mainly because we have literally built our entire business using these modern technologies.

Michael KrigsmanWhat are the challenges of collaboration when you have a distributed workforce like we have today?

Dave KatzmanI think the biggest challenge is just consistent communication. What used to maybe be a hallway conversation or an easy fly-by meeting has now turned into a whole new set of formal experiences. As we've started to see the dynamics change, I believe we've started to find new ways of recreating those moments where you don't need to have a 30-minute meeting to have a 5-minute conversation. I think that challenge of just finding that balance of interaction between your colleagues and you is really where it's been the biggest struggle for people at times.

Cultural Change and Education

Michael KrigsmanWhat about the cultural aspect of driving this kind of change? How important is that dimension?

Dave KatzmanIt's critical. It is probably the most important thing is to allow people the ability to evolve and innovate. Something that we've seen, especially in our space working with engineers where that's their entire job, in a sense, is innovation. But when it comes to innovating on the way that they do their jobs in the first place, it's really hard for them a lot of times because they're very risk-averse by nature.

What we've seen really be a critical component for this transformation to take place was for leadership to create that opportunity for people under them in their organizations to really understand and transform the way that they do their jobs and to give them that opportunity to really innovate. It is critical to have that support and that culture in and around the organization.

Michael KrigsmanI think that the issue of innovation is one that business leaders do get concerned about when you have a remote workforce.

Dave KatzmanAbsolutely. Part of that is the belief—this really comes back to what we were talking about earlier with collaboration—that people can't collaborate. Therefore, innovation gets stifled because they're working in silos.

I fundamentally believe, with these new ways of working, we're actually seeing the opposite take place. People have enough space to innovate but they can do it in a way where they're actually forced to collaborate on the actual innovation itself versus just on their own.

More people are getting involved in the process than ever before. People have always been distributed around the globe, around different parts in different offices. Because there are no boundaries, I could be anywhere right now having this exact same conversation with you. It makes it far easier, far more likely for me to bring newer voices and experiences into the conversation.

Michael KrigsmanLet's talk specifically now about the impact of all of this on product designers and engineers. The engineering industry has a reputation for being slow to change.

Dave KatzmanI think that's a very fair statement, yes.

Michael KrigsmanOf course, this change with COVID-19 has been required and basically just about overnight. How has the engineering industry coped?

Dave KatzmanThe truth is, no change is ever easy, especially a transformative change like what we're talking about here. It's not going to happen overnight, nor should anyone have that expectation.

The real critical component is to have the right vision and value for doing so. What we really spend our time on is educating our constituents—prospects, customers, partners—in both the reason to make the transformation and show them the pathway to executing on that together. Having that vision for where they're trying to get to and having that leadership and the cultural support for this transformation is really the critical thing. Most of our job is on education and on support more than anything else.

Michael KrigsmanYou're working with some of the leading product designers, developers, and engineers in the world. Why is that education necessary? These people are at the top of their game already.

Dave KatzmanAbsolutely. To say it's inspiring to see what they build and how they do it is an understatement. It's one of the best parts of my job is getting to work with these pioneers in various different technologies. When you're talking about a change in the order of magnitude that we're talking about, the first thing they have to understand is, what's the risk to them, and can it be done successfully?

It's not that they don't believe that it's a good solution and there's an opportunity. It's helping them feel that they can succeed in the change and transformation.

Michael KrigsmanDave, tell us about the education that you're providing to your constituencies, to your stakeholders.

Dave KatzmanThere are really two pieces to education, Michael. The first is that we want to help them understand what we are even talking about when we talk about transformative change. That it's not just putting a new tool in their toolbelt or maybe swapping one tool out for another one. It's truly reimagining their entire engineering process. That's really the first part of the conversation. If we don't get past that part, we don't move on to step two.

Step two is all about the how. How do you bring your team along for the ride? How do you make sure that they're set up for success with the right support system and the right timeline and expectation setting to succeed?

Michael KrigsmanI can certainly understand the reticence to change because, for example, if you're designing a bridge or you're designing a building or a walkway, the risk of change is that something happens in the design process that causes a flaw in the resulting structure, as an example.

Dave KatzmanThat's absolutely true. The one nuance there is a flaw. There are so many factors. Engineering platforms and technologies just are one piece of the puzzle. There is also the follow-on work, which really is a part of the engineering world, too, which requires all the testing and validation that just changing one piece of software or one platform isn't going to or shouldn't, assuming all the other controls are in place.

Collaboration and Business Processes for Innovation

Michael Krigsman: Collaboration and even innovation really are back-office processes that the customer doesn't see, and so, draw us the link between innovation and collaboration and work processes and that positive result that shows up for customers eventually.

Dave Katzman: The fact that it's a back-office is the really important part. That is important to understand because we do want to be out of the way. Actually, the fact that, if we're doing our job really well, no one ever has to know what people use to develop or how they design their products. It just means that they're getting a new or better product in their hands more quickly.

A good example would be during this COVID crisis. How many people flocked to transforming the way that they were developing these mission-critical systems because they required to do them in the new fashion faster than they ever have before. That was one of the biggest, rewarding factors for us was seeing people around the world collaborating with people, in some situations they've never even heard of or worked with before, to develop these emergency responses for this crisis. That was something that we've also seen as a big change in the workforce that we've been able to talk a lot about. The forcing function of people to get these new products out faster has really been exacerbated right now.

Michael Krigsman: That's a really interesting point that giving the customer what they, the customers, ultimately want relies upon the right type of collaboration, workflows, innovation, people working together. Customer experience is not just a kind of nice marketing term or a veneer.

Dave Katzman: Now, it's absolutely right. One of the things to think about is, at the end of the day, what you want to know is that you got the right and the best product out. You don't want to be at that final one-yard line and have the situation where you're making tradeoffs or making sacrifices to get the product out because of budget or time constraints. If you can allow people to work better earlier in the design process or earlier in the engineering process, it just so often will lead to a better end result for their customers, and that is so critical.

Advice for Business Leaders on Driving Change

Michael Krigsman: What advice do you have for business leaders for managing this change process and to do it as well and as easily as possible?

Dave Katzman: The biggest I can advocate for is creating the space for their employees and their team members to embrace change and embrace innovation, to create that opportunity. We hear about it all the time, "Great leaders allow people to fail."

The same is going to be true across when you're talking about transformation. You have to have your team encouraged and embracing the risk side of change in order to really truly innovate. I think that's what we've seen happening now more than ever.

A big factor with COVID has been, you had no choice. You had to make changes, so everyone had to be more tolerant of the risk factor. We've seen, I think, remarkable strides in the way people have worked because of that opportunity to really force people to change.

Michael Krigsman: Is the willingness to embrace change, and especially take risks, one of the foundations of successfully managing innovation and change?

Dave KatzmanAbsolutely. I don't think you can truly embark on a generational change or a significant transformation without that attitude and that approach.

Michael Krigsman: What can business leaders do to make change easier, specifically for product designers and engineers?

Dave Katzman: Business leaders, especially when it comes down to product designers and engineers, have really got to tap into the innovation sense of their team, which is so natural in the engineering community. Every engineer is innovating. That's their entire job. To help them realize that they can use that same drive and ambition to transform and innovate on how they do their job, not just the products that they're building, and finding that and creating that space for them to do that is critical.

Michael Krigsman: Are there key points of advice that you can offer, in general, to folks that are facing change and facing disruption? In theory, we all know, yeah, it's a good thing, but it's really hard.

Dave Katzman: The biggest thing I can tell everybody is, the first step is always the hardest. You hear it all the time, but once you start to dig in and peel back that onion, you start to see the forest for the trees and that's really what we're all about. That's why I talk so much about education and embracing the change.

The other part is, reach out in more networking events, more collaboration with your peers and sister and brother companies that have either undergone the transformation or are trying to figure it out themselves. What we have seen time and time again is, when we bring these pioneer companies and people together, their ability to understand what change really looks like is magnified – really.

Michael Krigsman: Dave, we all know change is really, really hard and it's so important. As we finish up, can you offer any advice, in general, to folks who are facing these rapid changes right now?

Dave Katzman: Yeah, I think there are two components to really embracing this. First, you have to take the first step. You have to start peeling back the onion to understand what it would mean for you and your business to undergo one of these or some of these transformations.

The other thing is, you have to start to embrace the community. With this remote workforce, that's really a unique opportunity right now in ways that have been severely lacking to build this community of other companies similar to yourselves and leaders similar to yourselves and discuss these types of challenges and opportunities in a much more constructive way.

Michael Krigsman: If I could summarize, number one, just start; just do it. Number two, get involved with other people who are taking a similar journey as you.

Dave Katzman: Perfect.

Michael Krigsman: Dave Katzman, head of customer experience and strategy for Onshape at PTC, thanks so much for sharing your experience and your insight with us today.

Dave Katzman: Thank you so much for having me. Appreciate it.

Published Date: Jun 29, 2020

Author: Michael Krigsman

Episode ID: 661