Warning! Engineers Escape Cubicles to Interact With Other Departments

“Throw it over the wall!”

Whether or not we want to admit this collectively, you hear a lot of that in the product development world. In many cases this is related to an inability to effectively communicate with each other through our systems or due to bad processes inhibiting face-to-face interaction. Either way, tearing down these “walls” to enable communication creates tremendous value for organizations.

Imagine for a minute an organization where designers pass information between groups seamlessly, where feedback from manufacturing, field service, customers, and sales and marketing is easily accessible to engineering. Someplace where hand-offs between (and even within) groups no longer includes “throwing it over the wall” and hoping for the best.   What do you think this would look like?

For one organization I recently spoke with, it looks like success…

The aerospace and defense company I spoke with, let’s call them company “A&D,” had a “robust” process for design and manufacturing. I say “robust” because this process was propped up on multiple independent systems, lacking interoperability, that forced constant hand-offs and recreation of work. Their self inflicted process was stifling efficiency and innovation at every turn.

A&D knew they had to change so they started with a reevaluation of design. “We had to start with technology [design]. If we couldn’t design the products our customers required and get them produced on schedule, no amount of downstream efficiency would help us.”

When asked if the ERP system was part of the problem I was told, “Sure, it was a problem too, but frankly it was second fiddle when it came down to the real issue. Our inability to get through the design process effectively was killing us, we just didn’t see it.”

A&D started by looking at its various processes and standalone design systems. These different groups, with their various systems, were all walled off from one another. A&D decided to knock down those walls and made the tough decision to implement sweeping change. As they told me, “You don’t decide the pull the rug out from under thousands of people [and how they do their jobs] unless you have a serious problem.”

A&D selected a unified platform approach where the design team could now pass information step-to-step without the need to constantly recreate work. Simultaneously, it redesigned its human processes to take advantage of the new platform. When both were implemented the net result was a dramatic reduction in design cycle times. And with platform consolidation (and integration) in other areas (including new PLM & ERP systems), the door was opened for feedback to begin flowing back to the design process (marrying the eBOM and mBOM). The net result?

“Quality… quality and profits. Once we fixed the problems in design, every little change stopped being a mountain of work. We make rapid adjustments now, you know, parts breaking in the field, manufacturing finding better ways to run wiring, whatever. Our people feel enabled to get it done and they do it, plain and simple.”

And organizationally, the change created transparency into the design process. Before, other groups didn’t know how to penetrate the layers and navigate the various subgroups. With its revamped design process, supported by a single, unified platform, manufacturing, maintenance, sales and marketing now have clear lines of communication into the design group, facilitating the flow of information out of and back to engineering.

Over the years A&D had allowed itself to build up internal walls, stifling communications and creating unnecessary barriers to success. While breaking down these walls was required for its continued survival, it wasn’t easy. So the next question is…

How does your process look? Share your stories with us and help others to overcome similar obstacles.

Photo Credit: Robert S. Donovan on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

This entry was posted in Best Practices, Product Lifecycle Management and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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