Making Manufacturing Operations More Predictable

Sept. 22, 2008
Collaborative project execution has become a best practice and the basis of competitive advantage.

A combination of trends, such as outsourcing and off-shoring, are radically changing the way manufacturing organizations work. As a result of off-shoring, teams are often geographically distributed. Outsourcing creates another twist -- key tasks in product design, engineering and manufacturing are likely to be done by component suppliers or contract manufacturers.

Most importantly, vertical organizations are becoming a thing of the past. They are being replaced with cross-department, cross-company, geographically distributed, flexible teams. As a result of these trends, it is possible that a project team for product design, manufacturing or product launch is faced with trying to communicate between employees who work for different companies and are based in different locations. In addition, the rise of global competition, thinner profit margins and time-to-market considerations require that these virtual teams come together on short notice to create and execute an error-free project faster than ever before.

However, the success of any design, engineering or manufacturing project must begin with a good plan and then be executed flawlessly. As a result, collaborative project execution has become a best practice and the basis of competitive advantage. It is in the execution of the projects (and not the planning) that the complexity is huge, due to geographically or organizationally distributed teams working at a fast pace. As a result, 'planning-oriented' project management systems are no longer effective.

In the past, project management tools were created to address the project planning problem and were single-user systems. These PC-based project management systems were designed to allow a project manager to solve the project planning problem, working in isolation on their desktop or laptop. However, as manufacturing teams begin to be distributed, team execution becomes very important and these single-user project management systems are not designed to address such issues.

A convergence of SaaS and collaboration technologies is enabling organizations to deploy the next generation of project management applications that support this new way of working. The next generation of project management solutions leverage email as a mechanism to automatically query team members -- all in the background -- at scheduled intervals to capture the status of tasks. The team members receive an email containing an embedded form, querying them about task status and they reply with the status data. Since these solutions automatically consolidate all the responses to keep project status current, project tracking becomes automatic and managers save a lot of time because they do not have to chase team members for status updates.

Not only do the solutions instantly update status, they automatically provide alerts and highlights to managers, allowing them to stay on top of their design or their manufacturing project's ever-changing status -- proactively eliminating unpleasant surprises. Managers are then able to focus their time on addressing issues rather than collecting data.

The next generation of project management solutions focus heavily on leveraging team sharing technology to store and share documents, notes and discussion threads. No more emails with multiple versions floating around. In addition, always-on Internet access ensures that any team member can access project plans, task schedules and associated documents at anytime from anywhere. The team's location, travel schedule or organization they belong to does not hinder their ability to update members. Additionally, when a new person joins the team midway, all the context for all decisions and assumptions are in the notes and documents attached to the tasks.

This team sharing capability within the context of a project is especially critical as companies try to get their product development and process engineering teams to work together to accelerate their products to market. With product development and process engineering teams being shared between the company, contract manufacturers and component suppliers, and multiple products being launched around the year, there is no other way to ensure that things do not fall through the cracks.

Another new, important aspect is that these tools can be integrated with CAD systems, eliminating the chances of a disconnect between a project plan and a manufacturing project. Integration with mechanical CAD ensures they can access tasks and deadlines from within their CAD environment.

For example, Catalyx, an engineering company providing services in conceptual design, product development, prototyping, design automation and integrated manufacturing for aerospace, automotive and industrial markets needed to ensure that its projects were completed on budget and on time. They wanted to make sure their engineering managers were able to create project plans, drive execution through their teams and keep projects on track -- all without investing too much time in manually tracking project status or learning how to use the project solution. Through Clarizen, Catalyx's project plans are automatically updated using the solution's collaboration capabilities. The system gauges which projects are likely to be late, allowing engineering managers to spend their valuable time on addressing issues proactively rather than tracking project status. The project management and engineer's design environments are integrated, and documents are visible to project team members. Project plans are never divorced from actual work and the team stays on the same page. Clarizen has allowed Catalyx to achieve high project execution levels.

Avinoam Nowogrodski is the CEO of Clarizen (, a provider of Project Execution systems. Clarizen has seen tremendous interest in its product by focusing on collaborative project execution, rather than traditional project planning.

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