Efficiency in product development workflow is a top priority when customers are waiting and time and human resources are finite. With a bit of research, and a good idea for what they wanted to accomplish, Mexico-based auto parts manufacturer Katcon was able to earn significant savings in time and costs with collaboration software that let them automate workflow and centralize communication -- putting an international network of engineering offices on the same page. Now Katcon touts "100% of new projects on-time" on their Website -- a big plus for prospective customers.
Katcon, a subsidiary of Bienes Turgon, has been a supplier to the automotive industry since 1993 and, after acquiring Delphi's global catalytic converters and exhaust systems business, needed engineering offices in the U.S., Luxembourg and Mexico to work in concert without wasting precious hours on email and teleconferences. They also needed to make sure that executives know what's in the engineering pipeline in order to shift priorities as needed to meet business goals and keep the entire operation on track.
From a human resources perspective, Katcon lacked insight into its engineering division's individual tasks, workloads and time spent on projects to see where they could aggressively reduce costs, increase productivity and focus on the right strategic activities. There was no comprehensive way to track that information -- despite Delphi's use of various traditional software tools for tracking projects.
"The system we had was too complex," explained Miguel Amado, Engineering Manager. "We couldn't manage time effectively, and we weren't able to automate processes or create customized dashboard views. We ultimately felt as if we were working for the system instead of the system working for us."
Modern Project Management = Collaboration
Katcon needed a comprehensive software solution that was flexible, easy to use, and provided granular project workflow and reporting capabilities. In addition, it was important to the CEO to have a quick implementation period without the need for extensive training.
Katcon found a progressive project management software tool from Daptiv that was tailored to meet its vision for collaboration and was available on-demand via the Web -- making implementation time negligible. They knew the software would make it possible to gain immediate insight into business-critical activities with the ability to monitor resources, maximize productivity and reduce costs.
Next Day Turn-Around? Local Consultant Makes it a Snap
Once Katcon found the right software tool, it worked with a local consulting firm in Mexico, IMR, to get started with the on-demand software and put new processes into place. The consulting firm provided training for Katcon's U.S., Luxemburg and Mexico offices and after just one day, Katcon's engineers began exploring the on-demand collaboration software and actively working on tasks, time sheets, and project timelines.
Getting Everyone on Board
The biggest challenge Katcon faced was convincing its staff that the new software would be a tool to work for them and make their jobs easier, rather than the other way around. Employees would also be required to track their time online for the first time. However, since meeting time and paperwork was cut drastically right away, the staff was immediately ready to put the new system to work.
To make sure that the changes went smoothly, Katcon put a big emphasis on communication and continuous monitoring. They developed a graphical report within the system that gave staff a clear view of the entire departments' status and held weekly reviews to make sure everyone was kept up to speed. Katcon also had great success with a new inexpensive video conferencing system that allowed them to hold meetings face to face, despite their far-flung engineering offices.
The New, Improved, Collaborative Workflow
- Specific requirements with established guidelines are sent by the customer to Katcon.
- Katcon Engineers receive an automated project request.
- Engineers then develop a timeline and begin their associated tasks and activities.
- Senior management is able to look at forecasted activities and can shift resources to ensure that strategic initiatives are on track.
- The executive vice presidents have the ability to review the resource reports and make final strategic decisions.
On Fridays, Katcon Engineers forecast their tasks and expected timelines for the coming week. The following Monday, the management teams review the forecasts to see which activities should be rescheduled and which activities are the most critical so resources can be shifted to refocus on the most strategic work. The CEO also reviews the resource reports to monitor the overall health of product development.
No More Six Hour Teleconferences
"We went from zero visibility to 100%," said Amado. "We now know exactly what people are working on and we're able to shift resources more effectively to maximize business impact."
The new system has also greatly empowered collaboration between different global offices. "We used to have teleconference meetings with different offices that would last for 6 hours," said Amado. "Each division would present updates and when the meetings weren't taking place, we would collaborate via lengthy emails and phone calls. Now, by using Web-based collaboration software, we can work seamlessly via automatic notifications and reports -- and we've reduced our meeting times by 50%."
Another benefit is the ability to aggressively reduce costs by shifting resources and increasing productivity. "We're now able to shift product development resources so they are always aligned with the vital areas of the business while reducing development expenses," said Amado.
Recognizing the value the new collaborative process is bringing to the Engineering division, Katcon is planning to use the apply the same system in other parts of the organization including:
QA & Manufacturing -- Katcon will use their new collaboration system to manage ongoing activities as well as development.
R&D -- R&D is a new area for Katcon and they intend to use their new system initially to manage research and then actual R&D work once the team and assignments are in place.
"Our goals are to monitor key business metrics and spread the use of our new Web-based software system and collaboration processes to other divisions," says Amado. "We'd like to cut our customer response time by 50% while ramping up our other manufacturing plants and technical centers around the world. In fact, China is being introduced to the new software and processes right now."
Chris Broyles is Vice President of Professional Services for Daptiv which provides collaborative business software. www.daptiv.com