Flex direction vs. customer wish list?

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  • Updated 9 months ago
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  • (Edited)
How does Flex decide priorities for features?
I am interested in buying a model 6400 or 6600.  On a purchase decision this size, I want third party and end user feedback, so I posted this on eham.net:  https://www.eham.net/ehamforum/smf/index.php/topic,119092.0.html

If you ignore a handful of replies by "annoyers" or non-owners, a common thread emerges;  That many people who purchase a Flex love the HW, but are less than thrilled by slow progress on basic usability features vs. high end contester features. 

I ask innocently and honestly, how does Flex decide where to focus limited resources on improvements to SmartSDR?   I want to become a customer, so I want to understand my decision before I buy.   I also happen to work for a fortune 2000 computer company (+150,000 employees) as an engineering manager.  I have limited resources, just like Flex, but on a different level.   We talk to a broad range of customers and request input each year.   From several hundred requests, I can usually fund/staff a small array of the top 5 feature requests that come up more often across the most customers.

Does Flex use a similar process?   No company should ever promise dates, since we don't control what happens in real life events, but we can choose to publish a web page where loyal customers vote for feature requests.   No promise, but a list of feature requests.

My thread on eham is far too small a sample size to draw conclusions from, but I keep reading that many Flex customers would like to see more focus on improving basic foundation features in the radio, such as NB and NR, among other basic features like true FSK.

How does flex gather these requests and numbers from customers, and does Flex make engineering resource decisions based on those recurring basic feature requests?

I would hate to go ahead and purchase, and then risk becoming one of those customers on the thread that gets tired of waiting for basic features to improve.

Do you have any feedback that will help me make an informed purchase decision, AFTER you have reviewed the above eham.net thread where your current customers/owners were advising me?

Sincere Thanks,

Neal
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Neal Pollack, N6YFM

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Posted 9 months ago

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Bill -VA3WTB

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If you bother to do a search here, you will see a good deal of discussion about what your asking. Gerald has answered this in great detail.
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PERRLA, LLC - Agency

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Neal,

I bought the Flex for what it IS, not what I hoped it would become.  Sure, I would like to see some additional features but that doesn't keep me from loving what I've already been successfully using for the past few years.

Improvements have been made to the software, although many of those improvements have been made in areas that are of no interest to me.  It doesn't upset me, though.  I was content with the radio the day I opened the box.  If it gets better, it gets better.  If not, it's still a wonderful as-is.

So, my advice is to get Flex if you can be content with the radio as it is today.  If you think it needs more time to mature, you might be better off to wait a bit.  (Meanwhile, I'll be enjoying my Flex as-is! :-)   )

73,
Cliff (N4CCB)
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Al / NN4ZZ

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Hi Neal,
There is a process to get ideas from the  users and for others to comment and VOTE on them.   It is easy to see what is on the list and add your comments and votes.  

I can't speak to how FRS weighs the requested ideas against all of the other efforts but it is true that many of even the most popular ideas have been on the list for 2, 3 or 4 years.  

Here is a snapshot of the top few and how you can "refine" the criteria for the list that appears on the main community page to see them. 

Al / NN4ZZ  
al (at) nn4zz (dot) com
6700 & SSDR-W  V 2.1.30
Win10


CLICK on the snapshot to see it full sized.....

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Al / NN4ZZ

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Neal,
By the way, welcome to the community.  I agree with Cliff / N4CCB, there is a lot to like in the present software.  And with a lot of the big projects behind them, I'm hopeful we'll see more of the user requested SSDR features in the coming year or two.

With so many posts and threads, it does take a while to figure out how to find things here and the search process can be tedious.  But using the "refine" does make it easy to get a good view on the user requested ideas.

Al / NN4ZZ  
al (at) nn4zz (dot) com
6700 & SSDR-W  V 2.1.30
Win10
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Rich McCabe

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I am pretty sure that everyone would like to see more of the "me too's" get implemented but I think its great that Flex even does this.

It's the only manufacturer I have ever seen who pays attention to what a large amount of users want.  We seem to have a lot of contesters and remote guys running flex as that is where a lot of improvements have been made.

But I agree with the above. I would only buy one if its current configuration meets your needs.

Its a great radio and great company.

Rich
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Scott N8UMW

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If they need a tester for software changes to improve the NB, I'll l will gladly volunteer to test it on my rig. Seriously.
(Edited)
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Bill -VA3WTB

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I like the changes they did to the DSP lately 
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KF4HR

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I wish you luck with your third party and end user feedback, although personally I think you're wasting your time, at least on this forum.  Asking for responses from members of the Flex Forum about Flex products is akin to asking members of a Ferrari Forum whether they like Ferrari's. 

Odds are most of your responses are going to be skewed in the direction of the users decided purchase, be it Flex, Elecraft, ICOM, or whatever... and perhaps not for the same reason(s) you might be interested in (size, ergonomics, contesting, rag chewing, knobs vs no knobs, remote operation, display/no display, etc).  There are only a small percentage of hams who can afford to buy, test, and compare all the high end rigs on the market, but even those people make their purchase decisions based on their personal wants and needs.  

As for, "... a common thread emerges;  That many people who purchase a Flex love the HW, but are less than thrilled by slow progress on basic usability features vs. high end contester features" - I  own two Flex Transceivers, and I couldn't disagree more.  After 50 years in the hobby and owning most of the major manufacturers higher end amateur equipment I've found that Flex to be a company that is constantly working towards improving their already fantastic usability features, with a constant push towards improving contesting features (7th Order Filtering, SO2R based PowerGenius XL amplifier, incorporated remote antenna switching, etc).  Is there room for improvement?  Sure!  But there's room for improvement for every rig out there, but I have no doubt Flex will continue to be on the forefront of future improvements.   

Since the 6400 and 6600 use the same SmartSDR software as the other 6xxx series rigs, and the SmartSDR software is the heart of this transceiver series, what would offer you the least amount of financial risk would be to buy a used 6300, 6500, or 6700, and try it out for awhile.  Then if you find it doesn't meet your needs you could resell it and recoup most or all of your money.  
(Edited)
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Neal Pollack, N6YFM

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Regarding Flex users being biased toward Flex; that's OK.  That is why I posted my initial inquiry on eham.net, even though there are many nut jobs there :-)    But,  the answers on eham were surprisingly informative and positive.   That, coupled with comments here, indicate that even though some Flex users want improvements in things like NR, NB, and FSK, that they are also very much "good enough" to work with right now today,  and those improvements would not stop them from buying.

So my response today on the eham thread was;
I am a software hack, and also rather patient myself (w.r.t.  waiting for updates/versions/smartSDR).
You guys are giving me the feedback and details I need to "hit the purchase button"
with a little more confidence. 

I am planning to have funds for buying a 6400 or 6600 in late Spring.   Flex tells me that the wait time by then should be approx. 4 to 6 weeks.    Until then, I will continue to read replies here and learn from actual users what they like best on their Flex model.

Thanks,

Neal
N6YFM
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Ria - N2RJ, Elmer

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I stopped reading eHam's SDR forum except for the entertainment value occasionally. There is just so much angry there and some people clearly looking to beat down Flex. So I just don't bother. 

I have had my  6700 since 2016 and it is a fine radio. Not without faults, but still a very good radio. Can things be improved? Absolutely. However they can't please everyone and the radio largely does what I want with a few things I let known to the engineering team that I want to see happen. Given that I'm an alpha tester and elmer this is easier for me but they absolutely do listen to general customer feedback. 
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wb7ond

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As an Alpha tester, I was curious about the "first product" testing.  Do all of  you gather (electronically) to confer on a methodology that eventually comes up with a detailed test plan?    Do you have to annotate  the rudimentary things like power, frequency accuracy, radio sensitivity,  etc.?  What instrumentation is available for testing?  I am sure the test plan for the Smart SDR must be very complex.   Are those tasks divided among the testers to ensure all of the test plan is accomplished?   Would the test plan be divided among the testers based on their known skill-set?   It would be an interesting "talk" on the "life" of an alpha tester, without giving up trade secrets of course.  
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Mike - VE3CKO, Elmer

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Ria, I'm hoping they get 2m calibration implemented, or at least have RIT, XIT added to persistence in the meantime. I'm not one to complain as I have a deep understanding and appreciation of programming and quite happy with "as is", but having to set the RIT, XIT each time I open up 2m then everyone telling me I'm still off frequency, is just embarrassing considering I'm using the flagship of Flexradio products, the 6700. I do have the 5000 VU5K and do fire it up to use but the intention was to send the 5000 down the road as it was going to help finance the PG. Had to put that on hold.
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Ria - N2RJ, Elmer

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All alpha testing is under NDA. I cannot disclose specifics.
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Tim - W4TME, Customer Experience Manager

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There is something known as whitebox and blackbox testing.  When we implement a new feature (or fix), our engineering team performs the whitebox testing of the feature to make sure it meets specs and runs through some of the more common use cases the feature is intended to address.  Once it passes whitebox testing, the feature is sent to the alpha team with minimal knowledge of the operation of the feature (aka instructionless).  Our engineering team has a wide range of test equipment (sig gens, scopes, packet capture tools, etc) they use in determining problem root cause and verifying a feature is working as designed.

The alpha team does blackbox testing of the new feature.  They first try to figure out how to use it so we can gauge ease of use, is it intuitive to use and grade operating ergonomics.  Once they know how to use the feature, it is run through its paces to make sure it meets the original design intent.

The second phase is to make sure the feature is compatible with a wide variety of operating styles and modes.  This is where the alpha user operates his or her radio in the manner they are normally accustomed to and provides feedback to the engineering team. This is what we refer to is wide range use case testing.  There is no formal test plan for this phase of testing. We do not design the test cases for them; their mode and style of operation covers a wide range of test cases.

Our alpha team is very good.  We select them for their knowledge, experience and the value of their feedback.  We have some prolific folks that find (break) things in the most obscure corner cases.  And they are very detail oriented, so yes, they report all sorts of operational metrics like power, frequency accuracy, and radio sensitivity.
(Edited)
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wb7ond

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Thanks Tim, pretty interesting.   I had never considered prior experience of use by the operator, I have only been exposed to an operator that had never seen the product before we put it in his hands and would require extensive training to use the device in all its modes...   Again thanks, I learned a lot...  Anxiously awaiting delivery, got my ship notice.....
 
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Brad A. Steffler

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What Ria said.

Brad
KE4XJ
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Neal Pollack, N6YFM

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Ria and Brad:

I think I was fair and level headed when I mentioned right up front that eham.net has no shortage of nut jobs.  But that said, the eham thread did receive many useful and positive posts from actual Flex owners.  (Yes, I was equally surprised :-)  )

As for those owners who LOVE the Flex hardware, and also claim the existing SmartSDR covers most of their needs, there were still a fair number indicating that it takes forever for new features to arrive.  But they were also balanced and indicate that those wished-for  improvements are not blocking them from enjoying their radios right now.

When I look at the "ABOUT" tab on your community web site, and look over employee titles, I only see one software engineer.     I have spent over 30 years in the embedded OS software industry and am very aware of just how large a team it takes to code, debug, and test even a dozen new features.
Some of my project teams for ONE new feature had 14 engineers on them, for example.

If you have only one or two software engineers, how do you prioritize a list of improvements or new features to work on?    I suspect the right answer is that it is very tough to do at this time, but that on shipping day the 6000 series already performs so much better than Icom or Yaesu, maybe it does not matter right now?  Would that be true?

What is it that you would like to see improved with your model 6700?

Cheers,

Neal
N6YFM
(Edited)
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Rich McCabe

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Neal, I think you are just looking at the senior management team and not the actual staff.

At Flex even the customer experience manager (Tim) has more experience programming than many other companies :)  There is a lot more engineering depth here than you think.
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Tim - W4TME, Customer Experience Manager

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At this writing, a little less than 50% of FlexRadio employees are doing programming as part of their primary job functions.
(Edited)
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Ria - N2RJ, Elmer

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If you have only one or two software engineers, how do you prioritize a list of improvements or new features to work on?    I suspect the right answer is that it is very tough to do at this time, but that on shipping day the 6000 series already performs so much better than Icom or Yaesu, maybe it does not matter right now?  Would that be true?
I manage a team of half a dozen people for DevOps at a fortune 500 running a few Alexa top 100 websites. Many are surprised that we do so much with so little. But some companies do that. It does take a toll on you but it's possible. We still get complaints but we work with what we have. I wish I could have 30 people on my team (my last job at a financial company and my team running two datacenters I had 13) but it's not happening. 

I'm sure that Steve knows his own company better than I do obviously but from what I have seen, even with a small team, Flex really gets a lot done. They just can't please everyone all the time right now. 
(Edited)
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Clay N9IO

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Hi Neal,
First off, the point I personally was sold and all in was at the 6300 release in 2014. I have seen and been aware of every version since the Flex 1000 from club programs over the years by my friend and Flex buddy/mentor Ken W9IE.
Aware but not sold until the 6K Signature Series.
Personally I hate sound cards, fire wires and all of the bs issues that come with them so the idea if virtual RF proof DAX and CAT was a big part of the game changer for me.
If SSDR Stayed as is right now at Ver2 this would still be the industry standard to me yet over time this will evolve to even greater heights.

If you have not seen this particular DCC video of Gerard Young blood talk about FRS the accidental company you need to watch this to gain a different perspective of who they are and where their passions lay. Certainly made me even more content in my decision.
Someone posted the link in an earlier thread so I am doing the same here.
The video has been compiled by Gary Pearce in You Tube so once you get beyond his commercial end of the video at 7:01 Gerald speaks.
Enjoy, please report back here on your thoughts.
Welcome to the community site...
https://youtu.be/HBlkinewdHM
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Ria - N2RJ, Elmer

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There is definitely more than one member of the engineering team. They are still a small company. If you attend the banquet at Dayton you can meet the engineering team. They’re usually there.
(Edited)
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Steve - N5AC, VP Engineering / CTO

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Official Response
This is a timely post as we have finished our work on the new models and are planning what we're going to look at next.  This process of what we decide to do varies from year to year.  In some years, we had discussed features in advance that we wanted to go work on that were significant investments, such as the remote capability in version 2.0.  In general, though, we take a two pronged approach: we look for input from our customers from several places including the idea section here, defects that have been reported, what we see in message boards here in general, and specific solicited input from our advisors and our Alpha team, which tests everything we come up with and N6WM who manages our contest feature list.  Henry Ford is attributed with saying "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."  This simply says that often existing customers ask for enhancements that appear to be along the line of where the company is going rather than come up with wild ideas that might revolutionize the market, industry, etc.  So we also look inward to what we could do. We have a fairly endless stream of ideas for new products and software and we weigh what we have the resources to do against the suggestions from customers and generally end up picking from both areas the things we think will do the most for our customers and entice new prospects to join the FlexRadio family.

I will say that with every passing year as we have more customers and consequently can have a larger staff to support those customers, the additions to the engineering team have allowed us to do more each year.  We do hear sometimes that the progress is slower than people want and I totally get that.  It's, in some respects, slower than I would want too.  Our engineers are terrific, though, and if you compare our "output per capita" against other companies I have no doubt we'd stack up handsomely.  Our engineers are very talented and prolific.  It's difficult to hire new folks because we are fairly demanding.  There are no freeloaders in our group and it would not be well tolerated if there were (they wouldn't last long).

So that's the process.  If you have inputs, you can certainly communicate them here -- on the community in the ideas section -- or even send one of us at FlexRadio a request.  We like getting those because we like spending time thinking about what "could be" in the world of amateur radio.  We also like turning the what could be into the "what is."
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Dan -- KC4GO

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Steve writes "There are no freeloaders in our group" as I saw Gerald setting  unpacking and setting up the display at HamCation then work all day to talk to the visiting hams I would say this is very true. Flex works hard for us. 
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George Molnar, KF2T, Elmer

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Neal, welcome to the Community. I bought a 1500 several years ago on a lark, and was so taken with its performance and ease of use that I pre-ordered a 6500 when they were announced. Started using SmartSDR at the beta level. At each point along the way, things got better and better. At no time did I consider “basic features” lacking, although there were some frustrating days adapting to the SDR approach, and a few grimaces during “construction.” It IS a transition, and some who gripe don’t appear willing to make the leap.


I’m about to take delivery of a 6600 in a day or two. As with every hardware and software revision I have had the pleasure of using, it promises to be a “brand new radio” experience. I’ve used a lot of radios in 41 years. My two Flex Radios are the two best, right out of the box. Expect the 6600 to top the list.


As others have said, if the feature set now appeals to you, and the concept of a constantly evolving radio works for you, jump in and enjoy. I wouldn’t dream of going back to a superhet and knobs.
(Edited)
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Al / NN4ZZ

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@Steve,
It's great to hear you are at a point where you have some time to look at the next phase of new features.  

Everyone has their favorite ideas and for me the "current top 3 by user votes" are also my favorites.  It would be super to see them in V2 or V3.



Al / NN4ZZ  
al (at) nn4zz (dot) com
6700 & SSDR-W  V 2.1.30
Win10
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Clay N9IO

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I like the direction you're thinking Al.
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Gary L. Robinson

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I suspect that if all the features that even half the people who have suggested were implemented in SSDR it could culminate in a bloated program that would become unstable and/or hard to manage.  The 6000 line of radios is much more complicated to program for than the previous rigs that used PSDR.

While, I too, would like some more features built in, I don't want SSDR to become an over complicated unstable program.

I just think that many features should be left for third party solutions.  Many people don't like that though.

Just my two cents worth and vote :-)

---Gary WB8ROL
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David Orman

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Features don't mean bloated/unstable software by definition. Sloppy engineering/development practices and poor test coverage are what lead to those problems.

I think everyone would agree unstable software would not be ideal, but this isn't an either/or scenario. FlexRadio indicates they have top tier talent just a few posts above, so having our cake and eating it too is a distinct possibility, and I look forward to the future development. +1 to your desire for stability, but +1 to new functionality like more sophisticated noise filtering and adaptive pre-distortion and other areas of innovation in the radio world.
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Chris DL5NAM

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... and before FRS start with wishlist they have to work on bug list !   :-)

Chris DL5NAM