Category Archives: Dynamic Project Management

What Puts Manufacturing Teams Ahead: Lean Six Sigma

Manufacturing Six Sigma

In any given year, I attend a lot of project management conferences. There are always common themes that come up at these conferences, but these days it seems that you can’t turn around without getting smacked in the face by Lean Six Sigma. It’s everywhere, and it’s not a fad. Lean Six Sigma has been growing up for quite a while now. It’s no longer the new kid on the block. It’s more like the youth who went away to school and returned as a ripped 26-year-old athlete. It has matured in all the right ways, and right now it is entering a golden age.

Before we go any further, allow me to make a confession: I believe that Lean Six Sigma is the dharma path for much of manufacturing. That is true, at least, until someone discovers a better way, which they eventually will. It’s true for manufacturing projects, but innovators are also extending it to projects trying to create a standardized outcome for their service delivery. Quality is quality, and Lean Six Sigma can push yours higher.

Why Lean Six Sigma Now?

Manufacturing had a long, slow progression up until the industrial revolution when the shift from the craftsman to the assembly line changed everything. Despite the fact that we lost some of the handmade beauty, we gained two really powerful things: predictability and repeatability. The trouble is, just because something is predictable and repeatable doesn’t necessarily make it good or high quality. When I was growing up, my friend had a 1971 Pinto. It was very predictable, and we spent a lot of time on the side of the road as a consequence.

This is where Lean Six Sigma enters into the equation. It basically looks at the process, the design, and the outcome and makes data-drive decisions to guide you in improving them. Companies like IBM and GE that have implemented this have seen incredible results that translated into economic growth.

What Makes Lean Six Sigma So Great?

Lean Six Sigma tools and methodologies are a gift to project managers who are responsible to deliver world-class quality as part of their outcome. Here’s why: As the name implies, Lean Six Sigma is a philosophy and a toolset made up of Lean principles and Six Sigma methodologies.  The Lean component focuses primarily on efficiency and eliminating waste, while the Six Sigma component helps make things consistent and predictable. Together this is a combination that has not been surpassed. Seriously—it’s better than red wine and dark chocolate.

Lean Six Sigma strips down all of the processes to their shiny, bare essentials and then tunes them to be highly reliable. When it’s done right, your manufacturing project hums along like a finely tuned engine. In my opinion, getting to this stage is some of the most important work a project manager will do or oversee.

Waste relentlessly creeps into manufacturing projects from multiple angles. It is a distraction and a drain on profits at best, but it can sink successful companies when it rises to even moderate levels. The Lean community looks for waste in Transportation, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Over-processing, Overproduction, and Defects (abbreviated as TIMWOOD). Lean’s goal is to reduce and eventually eliminate waste in these areas, and it’s not a one-time activity. You perform it over and over, constantly seeking to improve your practice and waste less. The tricky part is that waste can sometimes be easy to see but difficult to eliminate. The good news is that once you do eliminate it, everyone benefits—your employees, the customer, and the performing organization.

The Six Sigma component seeks to make your quality consistent and to improve it to world-class level. It gives you tools to track issues, prioritize them, and systematically eliminate them. Six Sigma looks at the raw materials, the work being done, the product’s design, and the end result in order to tune them for improvement.

When Lean and Six Sigma are combined properly, it can create a magical benefit where your organization not only gets better, but it can achieve the mythical unicorn status of getting better at getting better. It’s like unlocking a secret level of efficiency.

How to Get Started

So If you’ve decided that Lean Six Sigma might be useful, where do you begin? Here are four steps to help you get underway.

1. Stop and look at your process.

Take a step away from your current process, and use fresh optics to take it all in from the top down. One great way to help with this is to create a Value Stream Map. This is where you map out the entire workflow, step by step, and carefully examine each element. Then you determine whether or not these steps add value. If it does not add value, then the step is flagged for elimination. A good Lean Six Sigma initiative puts a lot of energy into streamlining processes.

2. Measure and collect data.

If you have a manufacturing process as part of your project, then empirical measurements become all important. This is particularly true when it comes to issues and defects. Collect the metrics that tell the whole story. As Peter Drucker famously said: “What gets measured gets improved.”

Whenever something undesirable happens, lead your team through root cause analysis to understand the fundamental reason why. Then you attack these underlying causes, starting with the ones that will have the largest impact. Your goal is to get it right and then to remove any variance at production levels. In other words, nail it and scale it.

3. Train your team.

One reason training helps is that it develops a common vocabulary when it comes to production quality; another reason for training is to keep the concepts front and center. Lean Six Sigma can give quick benefits, but it’s arguably like exercise. The best benefits are realized over a long period time.

4. Focus on the Process

If you get the process right, the outcome will follow. Sometimes it takes time, but the process always drives the outcome. Be patient and relentless when it comes to this.

Even if you are not ready to commit to an entire formal Lean Six Sigma program, these steps will help you get started on the path. And this path is the one which separates the best companies in the world from all the rest.

What else puts companies ahead of the competition? A project Management process that stays up with the speed of doing business in today’s world. To learn more, download our eBook, Introduction to Dynamic Project Management.

An Introduction to Dynamic Project Management

What Project Teams Need to Succeed in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Productivity is on the rise in manufacturing, and employment is down. This trend points to a rise in automation, as well as the need for product teams to leverage the latest technology more than ever. There’s no doubt about it: We’re entering a new world of industry.

project team

The upcoming Fourth Industrial Revolution, also called Industry 4.0 is about a future with self-driving cars, 3D printers, and customized automation. This revolution begins when the cyber and physical realms converge in the form of data and analytics from the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), automation, mobility, and the cloud. Project teams who can harness these technologies now will find themselves leading their industries in this coming digital transformation.

The project teams that win in the new world are already positioning themselves to sail through the potential disruptions that these changes will produce.

You can count yourself as a 4.0 team if you are:

  • Implementing big data and analytics throughout the current project life cycle
  • Building IIoT experience through personal study, work, open source projects or side projects
  • Using mobile devices as the primary interface for some of your major systems
  • Getting automation to work for you (not as a replacement strategy), enabling teams and organizations to think more strategically
  • Moving your software systems to the cloud.

Another way project teams can resist the disruption of the fourth industrial revolution is through security expertise. The dangers of hackers will only rise in the fourth industrial revolution as even more critical systems connect to the internet.

To be successful today and into the future, here are five technology best practices that project teams need to embrace.

1. Get Ready for the Smart Factory

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) will give rise to what they call the smart factory. Here, all elements of a plant including machines, products, and virtually the entire environment are networked with each other and connected to the internet.

The smart factory marks some unprecedented changes for the manufacturing project team, such as:

  • Flexible production capabilities to respond to changing world markets for your company’s products
  • Greater efficiency with building materials and energy
  • Greater speed through smarter production processes
  • More intelligent logistics through technology solutions that support product manufacturing from the customer sales cycle through final delivery.

IIoT and big data serve as the “smart” in a smart factory. IoT turns manufacturing machinery and the supply chain into intelligent agents that generate data. Analytics tools pull in that big data for self-learning.

Project teams that harness that self-learning can move from being reactionary to becoming visionary because they grasp this technology evolution. The technologies behind the smart factory offer workers improved user experience (UX) not just in application user interfaces but a modern, efficient, ergonomic workplace.

2. Big Data for Everyone

For project teams, data analytics will play a growing role in the fourth industrial revolution. One of the main reasons is that IIoT is enabling firms to capture actionable data from machinery across all their manufacturing facilities.

This means, everybody on the team will have a graphical view into data anytime, anywhere—not just project managers. A picture of machinery health and other related data will always be a few taps away. Three breeds of analytics will start to dictate what your project team maintains on the factory floor:

  • Descriptive Analytics using data aggregation and data mining to provide insight into the past and answer: “What has happened?”
  • Predictive Analytics using statistical modeling to understand the future and answer: “What could happen?”
  • Prescriptive Analytics using optimization and simulation algorithms. The output can offer possible outcomes to operations and maintenance scenarios and answer: “What should we do?

For example, collaboration, project management, and enterprise mobility management (EMM) solutions will use analytics for security. Management may consult the analytics for usage trends before negotiating the next license with the platform vendor.

The first project team in a manufacturing organization that harnesses data and analytics is going to have a front seat to the fourth industrial revolution. It’s important for your team to factor analytics and data into your project management strategy and learn to tell data-driven stories about progress (and not see the analytics as intrusive).

Think of the team in the future that wants their employer to purchase new technology to extend their manufacturing platform. The investment makes sense to the technical people on the floor. Executives, however, aren’t such an easy sell because none of them have turned a bolt since they were out of school. The crafty project team can now present compelling data that can enable them to speak to executives like they are a fellow person, not a lower level worker on the manufacturing floor.

3. Get Behind Automation on the Manufacturing Floor

Another outcome of the fourth industrial revolution is going to be automation. Indeed, it’s a sensitive topic across many industries, as automation is going to disrupt project teams. Executives spy cost savings. Employees fear the unemployment line. This clash between employees and management ultimately needs to become a platform where both parties seek out the opportunities and benefits that automation delivers the business and how to cast employees into the future.

Automation speeds up production and delivery because it reduces manual intervention on age-old jobs. To gain the benefits you’re seeking from automation—whether it’s freeing up skilled hands for more important work or reorganizing your staffing structure—you’ll need to consider the following:

Inevitably, industry watchers and analysts say that automation is going to replace certain types of jobs, which may challenge the bonds of your project team. While automation-proofing your position and your team is difficult if not impossible, the smart and savvy teams facing down the fourth industrial revolution will be the ones developing, implementing, and managing automation solutions lest they might be one of the teams replaced whole or in part by automation.

4. It’s Also the Mobile Devices Revolution

Billions of people already reach for their smartphones and mobile devices first for information, collaboration and business interactions. However, the manufacturing industry is still relatively mobile poor in their technology stack. Industry 4.0 will change that by pushing mobile usage on the manufacturing floor for managers and technicians who need on-demand access to data. No more creating pivot tables in a spreadsheet; instead, think graphical rendering and reporting of data and statistics for machinery across the line.

Other factors like the rise of the citizen developer will also push mobile adoption in the fourth industrial revolution. These developers are digital age business users (not programmers) developing their own business apps using code-free or low code tools and cloud platforms. While manufacturing is seen by some as a mobile device poor industry because of budget and security concerns. Expect Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) to be the first step for manufacturing enterprises to use mobile devices every day.

5. Cloud Computing Powers the Smart Factory

With the dominance of IoT, data, and analytics in the fourth industrial revolution means that cloud computing will be the platform of choice because of its flexibility and affordability. While the cloud isn’t new to some industries, manufacturing firms are behind on this trend. The retiring of legacy applications and mobile apps will help push this trend on the manufacturing floor. Forward thinking teams and organizations are already moving to the cloud; going forward, the usage of cloud and application programming interface (API) integration will increase exponentially.

Project teams walking into a smart factory for work can expect the following:

  • Cloud-enablement of legacy systems
  • Cloud-based enterprise resource planning (ERP)
  • Proactive tools including analytics for scheduling of system maintenance
  • DevOps-like alerting for system and machinery failures.

While cloud security remains a concern across industries there have been security advancements by public cloud providers. The hybrid cloud, and the private cloud are lessening such worries for small to mid-sized firms that can’t afford in-house IT security expertise on a full-time basis.

Change Strengthens Project Teams

Change can be disruptive to some types of personalities and management structures. Some pundits and analysts tracking the fourth industrial revolution believe the role of government will become even more important. I say the role and power of the technology project team will become more important because they are the ones doing the work.

Today’s knowledge workers have some recourse for the fourth industrial revolution because they can educate themselves on the technologies powering the fourth generation to better position themselves inside their company.

How is your team preparing for the impending Fourth Industrial Revolution?

Managing projects in Industry 4.0 requires fast and flexible software to keep up with the speed of doing business and fluctuating demands. Learn more about the methodology custom made for innovative teams like yours. Download the eBook, “An Introduction to Dynamic Project Management.”

An Introduction to Dynamic Project Management

5 Project Management Trends for Manufacturing Teams to Watch in 2017

As 2016 comes to a close, it’s time to look at some project management trends we can expect to see in 2017. With all the talk of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and anticipation among future-thinkers and business leaders around Industry 4.0, a lot of industry trends and processes are focused on how to succeed in a new world of technology, market demands and productivity requirements.

2017 project management trends

As always, market forces continue to influence how businesses manage their projects. To prepare for what’s ahead, here are five project management industry trends that will gain traction in 2017.

1. IIoT becomes a project foundation

While IoT made our 2016 project management trends list, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is going to hold sway over manufacturing project teams in 2017 and well beyond.

Open source development platforms will make IIoT development possible for even smaller to mid-sized manufacturing firms. Each of those IIoT devices implemented across a manufacturing facility will generate data on the health of the machinery. That data, in turn, will be a foundation for new implementations, maintenance, and just daily operations.

IIoT will bring changes to project management, including:

  • New challenges to support a constant availability of systems
  • More analysis work on part of project managers and their teams because of the explosion in data that  IIoT bring to the company
  • The need for an IIoT strategy across the manufacturing floor.

Such a fundamental change in the foundation of projects will drive project managers to adjust their frameworks, strategies and how they deliver projects to their customers.

2. Big data and analytics join the project team

Big data and analytics are transforming the manufacturing industry. I’ve been tracking the influence of big data and analytics in IT project management, but manufacturing project management is going to take these technologies to a whole new level.

With IIoT, project teams will be building out more analytics tools and dashboards to give executive management insights into the manufacturing systems under their control.

Analytics will also have some profound changes over project management because of the unprecedented access to analytics including:

  • Descriptive Analytics using data aggregation and data mining to provide insight into the past and answer: “What has happened?”
  • Predictive Analytics using statistical modeling to understand the future and answer: “What could happen?”
  • Prescriptive Analytics using optimization and simulation algorithms. The output can offer possible outcomes to operations and maintenance scenarios and answer: “What should we do?”

While prescriptive analytics might seem a bit Star Trek, think of how simulation algorithms could improve how you plan projects and even staff scheduling!

3. Flexible knowledge management

The changing workforce in manufacturing is going to require project managers to keep knowledge management (KM) flexible to meet the learning needs of a transitional workforce on the manufacturing floor. You can expect to see more KM in the cloud, as more companies retire legacy KM solutions that have been cobbled together over the years. Don’t expect to see any new KM platforms entering the market; with the volume of data and documentation that manufacturing project teams produce, cloud collaboration platforms (with full featured mobile clients) will effectively handle the growth in KM.

2017 will also mark more decentralization of KM because of the growth of the cloud inside the manufacturing enterprise. Project teams will add KM to their already growing list of tasks.

4. Project management platform by API

Project management tools started on paper, moved to the desktop PC, then evolved into the cloud and mobile. You can expect to see what I call project management by application programming interface (API) as a future trend. It’s where project management extends beyond your cloud project management platform of choice through integration with other backend business platforms–whether it’s your enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform, customer relationship management (CRM) platform or some legacy applications your internal development team has already migrated to the cloud.

Digital transformation and the onset of the Fourth Industrial Revolution will start pushing this trend in 2017 and over the next few years.

5. Mobile project management tools and strategies

The primary interface to project management applications in a manufacturing environment is going to be mobile first. Project managers walking the floor, going to meetings, and working with machinery will need real-time access to project management data anytime, anywhere–and not just from their desk.

Mesh networks and next-generation WiFi will help push this trend forward. Not to mention, project management tool vendors must continue improving user experience (UX) and customer experience (CX) to push this trend fully to its potential.

Look for service engineers to get their assignments and report on their activities directly from their mobile or handheld devices. Some are saying that mobility faces an uphill battle in manufacturing. I see project management as the best on-ramp for firms to go mobile. I see shadow IT and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) igniting this trend inside mid- to large-sized companies until budgets and the IT department align.

To a successful 2017!

It will be interesting to see how this year takes us further into Industry 4.0. However the markets unfold and affect businesses, the way teams manage projects is changing to keep up with shifting productivity demands. The organizations that can harness these trends will find themselves as leaders in their industries.

If you plan to join Industry 4.0, your team will need a project management tool that’s as dynamic and responsive as the changes that unfold during a product’s lifecycle. To learn more, download our eBook, “An Introduction to Dynamic Project Management.”

An Introduction to Dynamic Project Management

Advice for Project Managers: Preparing for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and Setting Goals

Advice for project managers
 

Are you grappling with a stubborn project management work issue? Ask Elizabeth! Email your question to: marketingteam@liquidplanner.com. Anonymity included.

 

Dear Elizabeth: My company’s management team is talking a lot about the incoming Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0. I’m hearing a lot about how we’re going to have to increase productivity and flexibility in our processes. As a product team manager this sounds exciting but I’m not sure what to do to prepare. Advice? –Lagging Behind

Dear Lagging: Industry 4.0 is all about the Internet of Things and bringing computers and automation together in an entirely new way. It’s pretty cool, and it’s great that you are thinking about it now.

Being more flexible and increasing productivity is something that managers through the ages have aspired to. The reason we have robots on manufacturing lines is because someone wanted better productivity than what could be achieved with human workers. So in many respects, the ideas are things that you’ve been subconsciously aware of for some time.

I would start by looking at the flows of work in your area and around your product. Approaches like Six Sigma and Lean can help here: Ultimately you are trying to find duplicated effort and waste in the process so that you can strip it out. I’ve always thought that was a good starting point but it doesn’t go far enough. Sometimes you’ll need to totally re-engineer a process to make it incrementally more productive and your team might already have some ideas about how to do that. Why not ask them?

Aside from that, think about the tools you use and how they are going to support you. Software like LiquidPlanner allows you to stay flexible and shift between priorities, so make sure that you have the underpinning infrastructure and systems to meet the demand for flexibility when it comes.

Dear Elizabeth: It’s that time of year again—reviewing the year gone by and preparing for 2017 goals and commitments. I could use some new ideas to get myself and my team excited about reviewing what they’ve accomplished and using that to set up some goals they’re excited about. Any tips? – Goal Tender

Dear Goal Tender: First, congratulations on caring enough about your team that you want them to be excited about the coming year and what they’ve achieved. Far too many people in your situation see end-of-year reviews as a bureaucratic process to get through before they leave for the holidays. So, kudos to you!

I find that team members have short memories and will often only bring to the table things that they have achieved in the last few months. You could give them a template that says things like:

  • In March I achieved . . .
  • In April I delighted this customer . . .

And so on. Ask them to go through their project plans, notebooks and emails to find the examples if they don’t immediately spring to mind. There are a ton of achievements stored in their project management software so they will be able to find something, I promise.

As for 2017, you could think forward and ask them to imagine what their 2017 end of year review would look like. What do they hope they have achieved? What projects would they like to have worked on, or what skills would they have developed? This can help build a sense of interest in the coming year.

Finally, use the end of year conversations with your team to share with them as much as you can about the wider business plans. People are inspired when they know they are part of a company that is going somewhere. Talk about the plans you have for new clients and new projects and business developments. Show them what they could be part of over the next 12 months.

Have a question for Elizabeth? Email:  MarketingTeam@liquidplanner.com with the subject “Advice Column.”

Wait, there’s more! If you want some insightful and practical solutions to common project management problems, download the eBook, “How to Solve the Top 9 Project Management Challenges.”

How to Solve the Top 9 Project Management Challenges

Are Your Project Plans Helping You Execute Successfully?

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
– Mike Tyson

Project plans exist for a reason. And while your odds of success improve if you actually use them, plans are all too often consigned to the rubbish bin during the execution stage of a project. Why? Even the most meticulously crafted plans get tossed aside because they struggle (and often fail) to deal with change and uncertainty. This uncertainty could be driven by changing customer demands, seasonal events, resource availability or even by a lack of sufficient historical data or analogous projects for estimation.

project management

While project managers try to account for this uncertainty in the planning process, most traditional tools do a bad job of setting teams up for success. Project managers and teams have no choice but to move heaven and earth to ship projects on time, on budget, and to the quality standards that were agreed on initially. These heroics are not sustainable. They are also not scalable as companies seek to expand.

The Costs of Abandoning the Plan

Creating a project plan is the most effective tool in a project manager’s arsenal for aligning resources to the requirements of the project. This plan is what helps your business deliver on its potential and execute on strategy. However, a plan that doesn’t help a business cope with uncertainty can actually end up hurting the business when projects aren’t delivered on time or when projects aren’t flighted at all.

Not sticking to project plans can also hurt the team. Unclear and shifting priorities translate into randomized teams that aren’t working on the right thing at the right time. In addition, project contributors burn out when they chase deadlines that have become unreasonable because of some unexpected change. In a day and age when technical teams are stretched to the limit and it’s hard to hire new talent, this misguided commitment to unrealistic dates can be catastrophic to employee satisfaction and ultimately, the bottom line for the entire business.

Then, there are the personal risks for project managers. Committing to unrealistic delivery dates forces project managers to abide by a social contract based on bad incentives. If a project manager puts her name on a deadline and then doesn’t hit it, she feels incompetent, and she feels like she’s let the team and the company down. If abandoning plans is so painful, why then do we set ourselves up to fail?

Death by Uncertainty

The major driver that undermines the project manager’s best efforts is uncertainty. In spite of their textbook planning process, teams find that the reality that they encounter during the execution of the project is unforeseen, unpredictable, and sometimes just plain unfair. Static and rigid project plans are no help in dealing with this uncertainty.

The more detailed a static plan is, the higher the number of built-in assumptions, and therefore the more brittle the plan. This static nature makes it hard to adapt when assumptions or conditions change. A key driver of the static nature of plans is the fact that they’re based solely on tasks and dates.

Tangled in Tasks and Dates

Traditional project management systems like Microsoft Project and spreadsheets start and end the project planning process with tasks and dates. This approach causes teams to overlook the two major drivers of business success: people and priorities. The lack of connection between people and priorities on one hand and tasks and dates on the other is what makes project plans rigid and unresponsive.

Tasks and dates matter, of course. It’s just that they should enter the picture only after you’ve sorted out your priorities work items, and the people that will take on the appropriate set of priorities. This approach ensures that your allocation of resources is driven by your strategic business goals. It also ensures that you’re not over or under assigning work. Traditional tools often get this wrong because they treat resource allocation and work estimation as an afterthought. These traditional tools are also subpar when it comes to project estimation.

Inaccurate and Under-utilized Estimations

The best way to represent uncertainty in a project is by estimating the amount of effort required for the work. That being said, estimating projects is hard. The only time you know precisely how long it takes to complete a project is when it’s done. Up to the point of delivery, teams use educated guesswork to predict the future. And the bigger and more complex a project, the hazier that future. There are three reasons why faulty estimations let teams down.

First, project managers account for uncertainty as single-point estimates, that are typically padded guesses. When someone asks you how long it takes you to drive to work, you probably say something like, “somewhere between 20 to 35 minutes,” not “23 minutes.” Traffic, like projects, has a lot of variables. When plans are built off of single-point estimates, there’s no room for error or adjustments.

Second, people confuse effort with duration. Estimating work in terms of effort is very different from guessing the number of calendar days until a task will be done. If a task is estimated at 5 to 10 days, that means you expect to put in 5 to 10 full days of work in order to complete it; you’re not specifying when that work will be done. Since there are many other factors like dependencies, vacations, wait time, and availability that can impact the completion date of a task, making a guess about duration just isn’t good practice.

Third, traditional tools are designed to be used by project managers alone, so estimates are often out of sync with what project contributors know about the work they’re doing. Many project managers have good intentions when they spend a large chunk of their day checking in with their team and getting status updates. Then, they try to capture all of that input in their tool of choice, but by the time they’re done with this tedious process, it’s time to do it all over again because the project schedule is already out-of-date. No one ever has a good sense of how much work is left because the people that truly understand the requirements and constraints at the tactical level aren’t contributing to the plan.

The end result is pretty grim. Everyone seeks refuge in the siloed hell that is email inboxes and spreadsheets, expecting that those static documents will help them see the future more clearly–but they don’t. Teams deserve so much better.

A Better Way

The complex process of running a project in the modern age needs a new approach. It needs a system that deals with the reality of project planning and execution. What does this system look like?

  • It starts the planning process with people and priorities, and not tasks and dates.
  • It provides a mechanism for estimating in the form of best case / worst case scenarios so uncertainty and change is accounted for accurately.
  • It gives the team one central location to see priorities, update estimates, and collaborate.
  • It uses estimates to automatically update the project schedule anytime a contributing member makes a change.
  • It provides insights and analytics to project managers so they always have their finger on the pulse of the project.

These are the core principles of Dynamic Project Management (DPM). Teams who have adopted DPM say that it has helped them execute better and faster.

Tim Hughes, Director of Solutions and Services at Taghleef Industries, says that DPM “transformed the way [the team] performed and acted and changed what they did to meet the deadlines. You don’t argue with the estimates. You change your plan so that it will work. We actually ended up finishing the project a few days early.”

Since using DPM, John Person, Vice President of Engineering, estimates that his company, Tangent Engineering, has seen a 30-40% increase in the amount of projects it can handle. “We had a project recently that normally would take three to six months to complete, but with [DPM] we laid out the plan and executed and delivered in six weeks.”

Teams like Taghleef and Tangent found a better way that dramatically improved how they plan and execute their projects. Dynamic Project Management increased their confidence in the plan, and increased their team’s confidence in them, resulting in better execution of projects and saved time and money for the business.

Could your team benefit from Dynamic Project Management? Take our project management diagnostic to get a sense of the health of your current project management system.

To learn more about Dynamic Project Management, download our ebook:

An Introduction to Dynamic Project Management

How Project Management Accelerates Product Development

Long ago, in a city not far away, I worked for a very profitable company that got its start in the garage of one of its founders. We had grown to about 120 people with worldwide sales. Our products were the undisputed gold standard of the field. The employees were well paid and generally quite content. What’s not to like?

project management

But if you looked closer, there were some problems. Our product line had never been refreshed; 12-year old designs were getting harder and harder to build as components went end-of-life; the manufacturability and reliability of our flagship product was poor; new product development was sluggish and unfocused.

I joined the company as an engineer, but it was obvious that we didn’t need our twentieth engineer; we needed our first project manager. As such, I wrote the company’s first requirements document, and got the stakeholders to agree to the product definition. I did what I could to add rigor to the development effort.

When I took over the project to write the software for the refresh of our flagship product, I created a giant flowchart that showed every possible interaction that a user could have with the product.

This story almost had a happy ending

In the end, I couldn’t get any of the other project leads to follow my example and use a project management process. As a result, a redesign project that should have taken less than three years to complete took seven.  Sure, there were challenges getting the hardware to work, but these challenges paled in comparison to the delays caused by the lack of project management and a product development process.

My experience at this company served as both a motivating force and a warning for the importance of applying project management practices to the product development process.

If your team struggles to develop new products in a reasonable time, you could be missing a simple tool: project management.

Here are four ways to incorporate project management into your product development process.

1. Have a requirements document

Every project should have a requirements document that describes what the goals of the effort are and what “done” looks like. The flowchart I mentioned earlier served as our requirements document: If it was on the flowchart, we’d implement it, otherwise we wouldn’t.

Your requirements doc can be short and simple or long and detailed, depending on the situation. More importantly, it should be approved by all of the stakeholders.

By putting requirements in writing, you can avoid false consensus, where everyone thinks they know what the end product will look like, and someone has a different idea. You will also need a process to update this document, because there will be changes as you progress. All of the stakeholders should understand what these changes are and why the requirement is changing. In the end, it’s much easier to move an arrow on a flowchart than to change code and retest.

2. Have a process to start and stop projects

Just like people, healthy companies must grow and mature. They go through stages of development, and project management should grow along with the company. Too often, as companies grow, project management is one or two stages behind where it should be.

As you grow, you’ll need a process to green light new projects, making sure you have a requirements document and the resources to do the work. You also need a way to kill the projects that don’t make sense as soon as possible. Having a prioritized list of every project will help when there are resource conflicts.  Finally, have a list of pending projects, so that good ideas have a place to wait until you have the resources to start the effort.

3. Treat project management like your other disciplines

You want to grow your company’s project management maturity along with the size and number of the projects that are happening. If your company is big enough to have a director of mechanical engineering, it’s probably big enough for a director of project management who is responsible for mentoring the project managers and developing good process.

You should also make sure you have top quality tools. I’ve seen companies skimp on this one, and it just doesn’t make sense. If you’re paying your project managers and engineers a good salary, a tool that increases everyone’s productivity will have a positive ROI.

4. Always focus on adding value

You need to guard against process that doesn’t add value. To do this, update your old processes to make sure they fit the reality of what the company is and will become—not the company that was.

One process that always adds value is bug tracking. If you find a bug that you can’t fix right away, you need a proper database to store it. It’s better to ship a product with known bugs that you’ve decided are low enough risk than to ship with unknown issues. The truth is, there are always some unknown bugs. What’s unforgivable is when you ship with bugs that you’ve just forgotten about. All of the bugs in the database need to be prioritized. Prioritize them as compared to the other bugs, as well as to new features.

Conclusion

Proper process is critical to running a healthy company. If you just let everyone do what they want, a rogue trader may cost you two billion dollars. If you run a multinational corporation like a startup, there’s no way for management to say, “We need to focus on the internet” and make things happen. The key is to have the appropriate level of management that allows people with good ideas to bring value to their projects and the company while still allowing the management to set priorities and direction.

Is your project management process holding you back? Find out! This 9-question multiple-choice quiz will diagnose the health of your PM tool and process.

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Project Management in Manufacturing: Solving the Resource Management Issue

resource management

If you work in manufacturing, you’re likely familiar with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) or Materials Resource Planning (MRP)—the system used to manage product planning, inventory management, production, fulfillment, and other aspects of production management and control. What’s more, you probably have a decent appreciation of how ERP/MRP systems have enabled manufacturing companies to optimize core business processes.

But what about the rest of the picture? Contrary to the “R” in the name, most modern ERP/MRP systems fail to fully address a key type of resource—namely, the people whose work supports and feeds into your core manufacturing operations.

Why an Optimized Manufacturing Floor Isn’t Enough

To remain competitive, you need to continually improve your products and optimize your manufacturing processes. Regardless of where an idea originates, the “heavy lifting” to make it happen isn’t done on your manufacturing line; it’s done by the engineers, designers, technicians, and other skilled professionals whose work supports—and feeds into—your manufacturing floor. And therein lies the problem that many companies face: after handoff to manufacturing, things go rather smoothly. Before that handoff, however, it’s likely to be much more of a free-for-all, with each person’s immediate priorities often based on who’s yelling the loudest.

More often than not, this is due to a lack of proper project management. Many companies still use spreadsheets to plan and track peoples’ work. Rarely does this yield more than a static, infrequently updated list of tasks.

While this approach may be OK for initial, high-level planning, it quickly falls apart as the rubber meets the road. Tasks take longer than estimated; customers submit change requests; team members get pulled off projects; budgets change; corporate priorities shift; and so on. There are endless examples. Regardless of the specifics, without proper project management, as things change, people waste time spinning their wheels—and decisions are made without full visibility into how they may affect other commitments.

Boosting Productivity

The fact is that you need to treat each team member like any other enterprise resource—possessing a finite amount of output over time. And like any constrained resource, to get the most out of it, that resource’s output must be optimally orchestrated with respect to the work done by other resources.

While people aren’t machines, and the information or inputs they need to start a task are different than the raw materials that land on your loading dock, you can still think of the collective results they produce as a system of inputs, outputs, dependencies, units of effort, potential bottlenecks, and so on. Of course, unlike a machine that produces widgets at the rate of 600 per hour, when it comes to people, you’ll also need to take into account the uncertainty that comes along with estimating how long a task will take.

Given this, how do you best allocate the efforts of all team members to maximize your overall business throughput? That’s where the right project management tool can help.

A Better Way

You wouldn’t try to optimize your manufacturing operations without your ERP/MRP system, would you? Then why not take advantage of the same computational power that makes this possible to optimize how the people who support your production processes work, letting it do the “heavy lifting” (i.e., algorithmic optimization) to determine the optimal path forward?

A good project management tool, applied within a proper project management framework, can help you to:

1. Manage your team as a set of constrained resources. You need to apply the same discipline to planning and orchestrating peoples’ work as you do to optimizing your supply chain and production floor. This starts with realizing that, just like the machines on your production line, your team members are constrained resources—capable of doing one thing at a time, and capable of only so much output (or effort) in a given unit of time. A plan that’s effort-based (as in “this task will take between 35 and 40 hours”) instead of date-based (as in “management wants this finished by the end of the month”) will make sure your plans are grounded in reality instead of wishful thinking.

2. Create realistic schedules based on availability. Given the effort required for each task in a project, a project management tool that incorporates resources and availability into its scheduler across all your projects can help you estimate realistic delivery dates across your team’s entire workload. Delivering by the end of the month may be key to your job security, but without a plan that’s based on the actual effort involved and the availability of the people who will do that work, how much confidence will you have in hitting your date?

3. Handle the uncertainty of innovation. Unlike the amount of time required for a machine to crank out a widget, the effort required for an engineer to first design that widget is less deterministic. You never know what can happen, and a good project management tool can help you take that uncertainty into account. Look for a project management tool that lets you input task estimates based on best case/worst case scenarios—or, even better, one that lets the people who will actually be doing that work estimate the effort involved. This helps lead to a project schedule that’s grounded in reality, taking into consideration that you’ll probably encounter a few unexpected issues along the way—a common occurrence when attempting to innovate.

4. Make your team a part of the process. Modern project management tools are designed to tie team members into the project management process—enabling them to see their individual tasks (ideally in priority order); take ownership of that work from start to finish; and see how their efforts relate to the efforts of others and the bigger picture. Many collaborative project management tools also deliver other team-centric functionality, such as commenting, document sharing and notifications.

5. Monitor progress. As team members mark tasks complete, your project management tool can use that information to recalculate delivery dates in real time—provided you’ve chosen one that includes this functionality. This will help you quickly identify potential issues, such as a late task that’s threatening your delivery date, so that you can investigate further and take any necessary actions. Remember that, no matter how much you plan, things won’t go exactly as expected. The question is: Do you want to know about potential issues as soon possible, or do you want to hear about them for the first time in your weekly status meeting—if they get brought up at all?

6. Track time. In many companies, tracking time to project codes (think timesheets) is mandatory. Some project management systems have this built-in, eliminating the need for people to use a parallel process. Even if this isn’t required for your organization, the ability to look back on past projects can be invaluable when it comes to refining your task estimates for the next project.

7. Adjust to changing priorities. Everyone working on the right tasks at the right time is essential to optimizing team output. A project management tool can help you easily prioritize (and re-prioritize) peoples’ work, in a way that’s clear to everyone on the team. While this can be invaluable within a project, with the right project management tool, as overall project priorities change, individuals can see this shift in their task assignments across all projects—and know that, every day, they’re focused on the same number-one priority as the company as a whole.

The above capabilities can help you apply the same discipline to managing peoples’ work as you do to your core manufacturing processes—think of it as “ERP for Your Peeps.”

So if you’re still using Excel to manage your work, it may be time to dump the spreadsheets, find a real project management tool, and put it to proper use. Before long, your schedule estimates and project plans will likely improve. And with team members tied into those plans, you’ll likely have a more accurate picture of project progress and potential threats to meeting your deadlines. Best of all, you’ll eliminate a good deal of the chaos, churn, and frustration that often accompany a lack of proper project management.

To learn about how other manufacturing companies have met their project management needs, read one or more of these customer stories: Rex Materials Group, bf1systems, and ETEL

There’s more! Managing resources is a tricky business—and well worth doing impeccably! To learn more, download our eBook, “5 Best Practices to Manage Project Resources Effectively.”

5 Best Practices to Manage Project Resources Accurately

Customer Story: How bf1systems Adapts to Change in the Motorsports Industry Using LiquidPlanner

bf1systems

What’s the most advanced, technically and physically demanding event on the planet?

It’s motorsports. The machines are purpose-built, designed to last for only one race at a time (a few hours). Manufacturing tolerances for these race cars require an insane amount of precision, to both increase power and reduce weight. Furthermore, in a motorsport series like Formula 1, the difference between winning a race and losing it can be measured in one-thousandths of a second.

How bf1systems Shows up on the Race Track

While fans and viewers are focused on the flashy drivers, their colorful cars, the loud noises and potential death-defying crashes, the race teams and factory engineers are focused on other details—like the amount of pressure in an F1 tire and how it helps or hampers tire performance throughout a stint. In order to get reliable data on tire performance, teams throughout major race series, from F1 to NASCAR, Formula 3 and FIA World Rallycross, turn to the engineering team at bf1systems.

The #1 Challenge for the bf1systems Team: Responding to Change

The bf1systems team juggles up to 40 projects at a time. These range from one-month projects (such as designing a new housing for an existing sensor) to major 18-month projects with multiple deliverables. One example of a major project is the development of an entirely new wheel sensor system for a Formula One Team, which might include sensors, control modules, antennas, embedded software and diagnostic software.

For years, the business struggled with managing fast-paced, highly design-driven projects.

For Peter Harris, Electronics Project Manager at bf1systems, the biggest problem this presented for his team was an inability to accommodate change.

“We have a huge push at the start of the Formula One season, when things can change on a daily basis,” he explains. “Without proper project management, if a customer wanted a change on Project A, we had no way of evaluating the impact on that project—let alone the effects it would have on Projects B, C, D, and so on. The lack of a consolidated view of resource usage across all projects only exacerbated this pain.”

Time to Find a Better Solution

With a list of requirements in hand, Harris considered a new list of project manage­ment solutions. “After I had a clear idea of what we needed, LiquidPlanner really stood out,” he recalls. “It was the only affordable solution that ticked all the boxes. It was also clear that LiquidPlanner had the right product direction: an effort-based approach to project management that could help us address rapidly-changing priorities and keep everyone on the team tied-into the current project plan. With the case for LiquidPlanner clear in my mind, I sat down with our Technical Director and Operations Director and got their buy-in.”

Benefits of Using LiquidPlanner

Harris’ team isn’t just using LiquidPlanner to capture hard data, such as task estimates versus the actual time required to complete that task. The team is also using it to capture “softer” aspects of project history, such as the email thread that may have led to a change in the plan. And because this information is accessible to all, it keeps everyone up-to-speed and on the same page in the face of continual change.

“We’re using the community tools in LiquidPlanner more and more,” says Harris. “I love the space it provides for notes; in fact, the extent to which team members are using the commenting features in LiquidPlanner has been a very pleasant surprise.”

For a data-driven engineering group, LiquidPlanner has enabled bf1systems to get a solid grip on historic project data and use this information to shape future projects. In addition, the team is able to deal with rapidly changing requirements and ad hoc projects throughout the race season in a more efficient way.

For more, you can read the full bf1systems customer story here.

Interested to learn more about the methodology that helps bf1systems manage continual project change? Download our eBook, “Introduction to Dynamic Project Management.”

An Introduction to Dynamic Project Management

 

 

How Do You Plan for the Unknown? See How LiquidPlanner Customer Project Creation Studio Does It

For the past year and a half, Ian MacDuff has been testing a new approach to managing customer work with great success.

As Vice President of Client Engagement at Product Creation Studio (PCS), a Seattle-based design and engineering firm, MacDuff is a seasoned product engineer and team leader. He and his ace team at PCS are responsible for helping aspiring innovators in the technology and healthcare industries develop some of the world’s most recognizable and interesting products. These range from name-brand fitness trackers to amazing machines that help slow the spread of degenerative vision problems. PCS is in the middle of bringing these inventions to life; consequently, the company places a great deal of emphasis on managing each project efficiently and effectively.

project management

Building and Solving for the Unknown

When a client comes to PCS with a new idea for a product or machine, Ian and team are responsible for nurturing the idea and turning it into a working prototype for testing. If successful, they go into full-scale manufacturing. No two product ideas are ever the same. And with every new concept comes a series of engineering, design, user experience and production challenges that his team has never before faced. This uncertainty, which takes many forms—form circuit board, software and user design related roadblocks, to budget related issues—can crush months of work in the blink of an eye. This is especially true if the product design team struggles to quantify and communicate challenges with customers in the moments when they crop up.

A GPS Approach to Project Management

Ian knew it was important to make his customers fully aware of every bump, snag and change throughout the product design lifecycle. As a result, he hit on a simple yet effective way of managing risky project work that takes into account changes, and enables real-time communication with customers. He calls it a GPS approach to project management. This might just be the key to a new way to work in which risk, change and uncertainty are no longer viewed as destructive forces, but things to be embraced as part of the journey.

We sat down with Ian to learn more about how his unique GPS style of project management. In the following video, he tells us how his GPS project management integrates with LiquidPlanner’s:

 

 

Do you have the tool it takes to manage project uncertainty? Find out! Take our Project Management Health Check, a 9-question multiple-choice assessment of your project management process.  

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How to Solve the 5 Top Challenges of Manufacturing Projects

When you work on a manufacturing project, you face some unique challenges, often with a lot at stake. You have to deliver your product at consistently high-quality standards, navigate end-to-end supply chains and manage strict time-to-market deadlines driven by demanding customers or seasonal demands. To top it all off, the entire project might be following a process where design, scope, cost and time scales were fixed at the very beginning of the project—or it could be a first-time project so who knows how long parts will really take?

manufacturing problems

Here, we’re going to look at some of the challenges specific to project teams working in the manufacturing industry—and how to solve these problems using project management practices and a dynamic tool.

1. Managing Stakeholder Expectations

It’s always tricky to manage a disparate set of demands, visions and expectations on any project; but it’s even trickier in manufacturing. A common problem is that stakeholders have a tendency to set unrealistic deadlines and make unreasonable demands—and through no fault of their own, really. This happens because expectations aren’t set early on in the project.

For example, a stakeholder responds to a date the customer requests, without knowing how long it takes to complete the work. And then you’re stuck managing an overwhelmed team who has to work overtime, and maybe even sacrifice quality, feature requests or more. So how do you set stakeholder expectations realistically from the very conception of the project?

Estimate work and share the schedule

Get stakeholders involved from day one and make them a part of the process. Start by providing a schedule that includes thoughtful estimates for everyone’s work—by the people doing the work. If management challenges the timeline and wants the product launched sooner, you can have a data-driven conversation by using the schedule and estimates.

Encourage teams to estimate their projects as realistically as possible. Insert buffer-time and account for risks that might occur. When people estimate there’s a tendency to be over-optimistic which can set a team up for failure. Some teams invite outside experts to help them improve their estimation, and make use of methods such as ranged estimates or three-point estimation. Make the schedule accessible and visible throughout the project—so status is clear, and there are no unexpected surprises.

To share schedules, use a project management tool that offers a way to curate project reports with just the information your stakeholders need, like dashboards. This way stakeholders can keep up with everything throughout the project lifecycle.

2. Inflexible processes

Since manufacturing projects are highly sensitive to time, cost and quality, they can be extremely demanding to run. This often results in senior management asking for a very controlled and rigid project management framework to be followed. In my years as a project management consultant, I’ve observed in manufacturing of machinery, consumer goods, instruments and chemicals, that such a controlled framework has its place, but it can be a big challenge as well.

The downside of a controlled environment is that project teams have to commit to a solution and a timeline upfront. Consequently, they’re left with little scope to make adjustments as the project evolves and new information comes to light. Imagine for instance that you are running an 18-month project to design and produce a new type of consumer appliance and you have to commit to the design and plan very early on without the ability to later adjust it. Now that’s a challenge!

Use a dynamic scheduling tool and test early on

There is a way to address inflexible processes while still satisfying senior management’s need for control. Allow teams to experiment more up front and to iterate through the solution to prove the concept before they commit and lock down the design and manufacturing process. In other words, a longer inception phase with some trial-and-error, and with the view of driving down risk and uncertainly early on can be a win-win for all parties.

Build this time into your plan from the get-go. And use a scheduling tool that is adaptable and dynamic—one that updates automatically every time a change is made. This way the team can keep up with changes as they occur and respond accordingly earlier on in the process to meet hard delivery dates.

To keep your team a step ahead of fluctuating schedules, use a project management platform that builds uncertainty and predictive finish dates into the scheduling engine.

3. Change management

The more a team experiments and creates physical prototypes that can be assessed by their clients, the less likely their clients are to change their minds—or to ask for new features. But even the best of prototypes and the tightest of scope statements won’t protect against changes.

Change requests are an inherent part of product development, and they’re bound to happen—either because of wrong assumptions, unexpected constraints from the vendor, a change in the marketplace or a change in the client’s strategy. Imagine for instance that a new technological advance in the marketplace will make your planned product look markedly inferior. You have to respond, and make the adjustments. Otherwise, you could be working on a project that is out of date upon delivery.

Get buy-in for all hands on deck

If a project needs to be fast-tracked it’s imperative that the path of escalation is clear and that the project has an effective steering committee and decision-making forum. Research by PMI shows that senior level buy-in is one of the most significant factors for success on projects. Also, if the team really must deliver sooner than they’re comfortable with, the team leader can ask for dedicated resources all the way through the project and ensure that issues can be unblocked and decisions made swiftly by management.

Use project management software that integrates resource management features like workload reports and resource leveling into the project plan.

4. Ownership

A project might have many different departments involved during the project lifecycle, from market research, R&D, production to sales, marketing and distribution. For the project to be delivered successfully these different departments need to collaborate instead of operating within each of their silos. One particular decision that’s important to get right, is deciding who should lead the project.

In most cases, a technical project manager will lead the project because the majority of the effort is focused on designing and producing a technical product. But when a technical project manager is in charge, the risk is that he or she focuses on the technical aspects only and forgets about the business case, the market need, sales and distribution.

In some companies, project management responsibility is transferred from one department to another as the project passes through the different departments; but then, a sense of continuity and overall accountability suffers as no one has the end-to-end view.

Consider sales and marketing

Another option is to have someone from Sales or Marketing (or the commercial department) lead the project. Due to a strong commercial awareness, Sales and Marketing will find it natural to focus on developing the right product for the market and ensuring that the business case stacks up. These team members aren’t technical experts they aren’t equipped to lead the technical aspects of the project, but they can still be excellent owners of the project from beginning to end as long as they work with a strong technical lead.

In my experience, many organizations would benefit from choosing a project manager from sales and marketing, instead of forcing an excellent technical manager to also own the many milestones that aren’t technical.

5. Managing Supply Chain Complexity

Adding contractors, vendors and additional third parties to the production process increases the risk of error and miscommunication exponentially. Not only do you have production work occurring in different locations by different teams, each team might be using their own tracking software for their scope of work. Accounting for all the moving parts—materials, people, teams, quality, supply chains, product cycles, etc.—gets tricky.

Historically, manufacturing organizations have used tools that are driven by fixed start and end dates. They’re too rigid to accommodate the changes inherent to project and production work. The schedule is often overseen by one person, so the rest of the team—and teams—don’t have visibility into what’s happening. Plus, manual updates are laborious and can’t keep up with the rate of change. So, as priorities shift, and events occur that delay production or shipping, there’s no way for teams to see this reflected in the project schedule and react immediately.

Use collaborative software with visibility for everyone
The best fix for seeing what teams are doing across the production process and the globe is to find a project management tool that’s collaborative and provides visibility for all. This way, anyone at any time can access the project schedule, see where progress and status stands, and follow communication strings that relay important information.

This is the best front-line defense to knowing what’s going on with all your multiple vendors and manage dependencies. If all the vendors—and the project teams—can access the same project management tool, it takes away the blinders and lets everyone see how various aspects of the production are going.

Focus on the Work That Makes a Difference

Manufacturing projects are complex and filled with endless challenges—in a good way! The work is innovative, creative, hugely collaborative and global; and it’s all those moving parts that makes the industry such an exciting one to be part of. What teams need is a dynamic project management system that can respond as fluidly to the changes and unexpected occurrences that are part of manufacturing project life cycles. By taking out some of the stressful uncertainties and reactive demands, teams can focus on making a product that best meets the customer needs day after day.

Is your project management process working as effectively as it could? Find out! Take our Project Management Health Check, a 9-question multiple-choice assessment.  

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