Small and medium-sized organizations are very interesting. Their problems are very much similar to the problems of large companies, but their resources and organizational capabilities make the process of transformation much harder for them. Modern days digital transformation brings so many tools and technologies, but companies are failing to adopt these tools and are stuck in their “not organized” form.
These small and medium-sized manufacturing companies need to streamline their product development process, but they are using Excel to manage BOMs, change processes and share data using various tools such as cloud file sharing and email transfers. When I’m talking to all these companies, there is one common ground that is shared among all of them – the change is hard. It takes time and understanding how to organize processes and data in a better way. Which leads to the following question:
Why is it so complex to make a change?
To answer this question we need to get down in the bits and bytes of how product development and manufacturing processes are managed. An average manufacturing company has a set of processes regardless of how they do so and what system is used. And with the absence of the system to manage the data, a company needs to manage all existing products, configurations, and all changes. All together is done somehow using homegrown tools, tons of Excels, sharing drives, and emails. While most of the companies are aware that the process is bad, it is hard for them to overturn the process.
PLM Agile Steps
While there is usually a broad agreement about a single version of the truth and placing a centralized system to manage all data records and a powerful workflow engine to manage all NPD processes, the process is hard to start. Even a small manufacturing company usually has too many balls in the air – existing databases and Excels, engineering data (sometimes in CAD files and sometimes in PDM), procurement, financial systems, and accounting. The real challenge for a company is to wrap their head around all these processes and decide about the solution.
Agile baby steps are the way to go. But even, I can see the usual agreement about the concept of a “staged approach”, the practical implementation of this approach is hard to bring up. The typical block is usually around two main goals – centralized data and downstream process. To make it happen you need to decide on the right size steps and projects to implement
Centralized Data and Change Process
For most companies, the process of data centralization is usually focused on establishing a model to manage all parts (also known as items sometimes), its lifecycle, and the Bill of Materials. Consider all parts – engineering, standard, and other items to be managed and controlled. Don’t try to boil the ocean, but trying to bring a reasonable chunk of the data under control. Create a formal process of tracking revisions and history. Once data and changes are settled, move to the downstream process.
A typical manufacturing company is using established data baselines to control the BOM and manage the way BOM is used by different roles in the company – for production planning and purchasing/procurement services. This type of activity is very sensitive because it requires tons of coordination. This is where it usually fails.
Project Rightsizing – Not Too Big Or Too Small
The art of escaping from Excel is to set up the size of transformation. Taking too much and the process will get stuck. Taking too little, the impact will be insignificant. My recommendation usually is to start with the pilot project. If you have a new project, the NPD is a good place to start. If NPD is not an option, think about modules, sub-assembly or sub-system, team, or department.
PLM Tools and Technology
The common opinion that culture eats strategy for breakfast, technology for lunch, and stays hungry for dinner. Nevertheless, the right tools and technology selection is indeed important. Modern SaaS and cloud PLM technologies and products allow you to start quickly and test products during the planning of transformation. Every PLM system works in PowerPoint slides, but the best service for an organization is to have hands-on with the system during the planning process. The availability of tools to convert your existing Excels and extract data from CAD systems is another critical element of success.
What is my conclusion?
Escaping Excel is a complex process that starts from culture changes, planning of data handover in an organization, and applying tools and technologies in the right steps to get a legacy data converter and process organized. To provide sufficient support for organizational change combined with the right tools and technologies is the key to success. Just my thoughts…
Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing a digital network platform that manages product data and connects manufacturers and their supply chain networks.