This has not been a pleasant paper to write. Recounting these observations has opened a large collection of incompletely-healed wounds; anticipating the reaction of those who read these opinions is unpleasant to one who values placidity and amity as much as I do; and making the recommendations that follow mean in large part consigning many of the idealistic goals I had for software development when we organised this company to the dumpster.
But failing to come to terms with what I believe are the facts, and choosing not to act to remedy a situation I believe already dire and rapidly moving beyond hope of salvation, will sacrifice much more than some six year old hopes and dreams and cause far more anguish than some lost friendships and working relationships. If we allow AutoCAD to lose its technological leadership, then I believe it is inevitable, sooner or later, that its market leadership will also be forfeit. If we allow competitors to count on our abandonment of every new product entry shortly after shipment, we are expending our development resources merely to produce prototypes for our competitors to use against us. If our product development does not meet the standards expected from an industry leader, in volume, scope, imagination, quality, and timeliness, then any attempts we make to compete with established industry leaders on their own turf, workstations and major accounts, are foredoomed.
If we do not act rapidly to totally professionalise the technological sector of our business, from senior management, to product definition, to project management, to quality, then we put at risk all we have worked for so long and hard. For years we have been furiously working to catch up with the big guys, and our limited resources have made many of our decisions for us. This allowed us to adopt and survive with a passive, reactive style of management of our development department. This mode of operation is not only inappropriate in a company with a development staff of 50 people and a bank balance of $100 million, it is a prescription for disaster when our company attempts, as we must, to pull out from the pack and extend our leadership position in PC CAD to the CAD market as a whole. We must make these changes even as we acknowledge that they will make the software development department less attractive to entrepreneurially-oriented self-starters, including myself.
The issue here is not a technical department issue; it is the future of our company. The evidence that something is seriously wrong in the software development side of our business has been apparent to me for months, and increasingly people have been coming to me without prompting to share their worries on the subject. This is a problem which imperils our company at least as much as earlier crises in marketing and sales, manufacturing, and accounting. We met those crises head-on, fixed them, and moved on to greater successes. We must not shrink from this one.
Editor: John Walker