Category Archives: Featured

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What Project Managers Can Learn from the Outdoor Enthusiast

Picture an avid outdoor enthusiast. It’s likely you’re thinking of flannel, heavy boots, backpacks stuffed to the brim, and an SUV with a giant roof rack. With their sense of adventure, they’re prepared for anything and are experts at planning ahead.

While the worlds may feel completely separate from one another, project managers and business leaders can learn a great deal from the adventure experts; our PMs for the outdoors.

Always be prepared: Be ready so you can shift nimbly as changes arise.

Anyone who was ever a scout has recited a version of this countless times. They check the weather, read trail reviews, ask their local REI for the best gear recommendations – all in the vain of being ready for whatever might head their way.

For the project manager, preparedness requires understanding where risks lie and being ready to address them should it become necessary. Inevitably, a resource will get sick or a part will come in late. Small changes can throw off a plan completely. So, how do you account for those issues in an effective way?

To stay prepared throughout a project lifecycle, PMs need to be aware of which resources are stretched too thin and which projects are approaching their maximum budget, as well as accounting for things they cannot control, like outside manufacturers or contractors.

Being ready to quickly absorb those changes and adjust your project plan will enable you to clearly communicate with clients, executives, and project contributors alike.

Only pack the essentials: Cut down on the extras, and get back your time.

Anyone who has ever been on a backpacking trip can tell you a lesson they learned the hard way: don’t take too much weight in your pack. There’s no quicker way to dampen the fun of being outside than struggling under the weight of superfluous items you’ll never use. What is absolutely essential? Food, water, shelter. The gadgets you see in the magazines? They’re just added weight that will slow you down.

The same can be said of time wasted gathering project statuses, spending countless hours in spreadsheets to produce charts that aren’t ever quite right, and updating static project plans that are thrown by the slightest change.

What is absolutely essential? Data. The right data, at the right time, with changes reflected in real-time. Clients want to know exactly when their projects will be finished. Executives want to know exactly where budgets stand and how efficiently resources are performing.

There will always be new applications and add-ons that seem to enhance your process. But are they truly adding value or just adding weight? Using a single tool that can plan, give real-time statuses, communicate with clients, and give executives the specific updates they want to see helps cut down on the burden of managing several disconnected moving parts. Leave the binders and whiteboards behind, get out of constant status meetings, shed the extra weight, and get down to the root of what matters.

Know your limits: How to know when there’s too much to be done and how to prove it.

Perhaps the most important lesson of all from our friends in hiking boots: know your limits. In the outdoor community, limits are definitively finite. If you haven’t hiked in years, your body will certainly let you know on the 4,000-foot elevation gain trail you chose. Don’t have an AWD vehicle? You should probably skip driving through the unplowed winter roads.

Every business has constraints that are equally finite: resources, machines, time, contract value. They can all make it difficult to know exactly what your team can take on and when they can finish their current workload. Using a tool that actually takes into account the priority of your work, availability of your resources, and an estimate of time to accomplish a task that takes variance into account can give you insight into exactly what your team can handle. Ultimately, taking on too much work will obviously cause delays, can completely disrupt your supply chain, and can lead to tension with clients. Conversely, not taking on enough work limits your team’s ability to perform most efficiently and optimize your growth.

So the next time you begin a new project plan, think of our friends in the mountains. Stay prepared, only take on as much as you can handle, keep only the essentials, and use a tool that can help you stay on top of all three in one place.

July Product Update: Seamlessly Allocate and Schedule Resources with Project Limits

Dedicating all of your work hours to a single project is becoming a rarity in today’s multi-tasking work world.

For many teams, working on multiple projects at the same time has become the norm, which makes effective management of resources and timelines even more important. Without it, project managers may spend hours seeking out status updates; team members don’t always know what work is the highest priority; and managers are left wondering how their team is allocated. This balancing act is time-consuming for everyone involved. (Been there, done that. We’re speaking from experience here.)

That’s why we’re excited to introduce Daily Limits on Projects. This new feature offers managers the ability to set a max number of hours per day for team members to work on a project.

For organizations that run multiple complex projects at one time, Daily Limits makes scheduling people and projects much easier. By setting Daily Limits, project managers can instantly see how their team’s limits impact delivery dates across the entire project portfolio.

Daily Limits offers managers the ability to set a max number of hours per day for team members to work on a project.

 

Daily Limits can be set on both projects and tasks. The applied Daily Limit will cap the amount of time that a team member is scheduled on a specific project or task for the day, which frees up their remaining availability for their next highest priority work.

In a world of competing projects and tight deadlines, Daily Limits helps teams understand these constraints and work more efficiently to get the job done.

Learn More About Daily Limits

Daily Limits is now available to all Professional and Enterprise LiquidPlanner customers. Not a LiquidPlanner customer? You can try out Daily Limits by starting a free trial.

To learn how to setup and manage Daily Limits, check out the video below, as well as this help article.

Industry 4.0 Series: AI, IoT, and the Future of Manufacturing

This story is part of our Industry 4.0 series, which looks at the new technologies, techniques, and trends that are pushing manufacturers toward a new level of optimization and productivity.

Once the stuff of science fiction, the idea of artificial intelligence (AI) carrying out tasks that only humans could previously achieve has become a reality.

AI, which fundamentally converts large amounts of data into intelligence, is being adopted at an increasingly rapid pace across many industry sectors, most notably, in manufacturing.

The Role of AI and IoT in Manufacturing

Manufacturing was one of the first industries to harness the power of AI by using robots to assemble products and package them for shipment. Advances in technology have made assembly of increasingly complex items possible.

These advances are also revolutionizing mass production by streamlining production and boosting output. While a human workforce must operate in shifts to ensure continuous production, AI-driven robots can ‘man’ a production line 24-hours a day.

In addition to driving operational efficiencies, AI can reduce manufacturing operating expenditure. Although implementation of the technology would require major capital outlay, the return would be significantly higher.

This all bodes well for industry competition, as highlighted in a 2015 Boston Consulting Group report. The report revealed that the lower costs and improved capabilities of advanced manufacturing technologies, such as AI and robotics, made manufacturing in the US more attractive than in economies where the main cost advantage was cheap labour.

AI is just one of a number of new technologies being embraced by manufacturers. One of the most significant for this sector is the Internet of Things (IoT), a network of physical objects that contain embedded sensors, which enable these objects to collect and share data and communicate.

[ Further Reading: How Project Teams Can Prepare for Industry 4.0 ]

Businesses in all areas of industrial manufacturing, including automotive, electronics, and durable goods, are investing in IoT devices, and starting to see a return. According to a Tata Consultancy Survey, manufacturers deploying IoT solutions in 2014 saw an average 28.5 percent increase in revenues between 2013 and 2014.

IoT can gather data from multiple machines to deliver waves of real-time data relating to performance and workload. This enables goods to be tracked and equipment maintenance needs to be predicted. Advanced data analysis makes it possible to identify the factors that can contribute to equipment malfunction or failure, including extraneous factors like weather and temperature. With advanced data insight, machinery maintenance can be scheduled proactively, reducing the risk of costly downtimes.

But there is more to adopting IoT than simply producing insights from plant and machinery. It can also create a two-way flow of information, allowing the manufacturer to send information back to the connected devices, changing settings, orders, and operations, all securely and remotely. It will be possible to adjust manufacturing operations automatically based on real-time conditions.

What New Tech Means for Project Management

What does the advance of new technologies like AI and big data mean for the project management team tasked with delivering smart manufacturing projects? Does it enhance their strategic position, or cast doubts on its strategic importance?

The technologies are not unfamiliar to the profession; project managers are already using AI tools and software. A driver of intelligent action, AI enables project management teams to make smarter decisions and move much faster. It can remove many of the complexities of projects around budgets, tasks, and timeline, as well as deliver valuable insights for the project stakeholders.

By automating the administrative project management tasks, AI can free up time and support greater collaboration and improved project delivery execution.

It also has the potential to take over a significant share of the technical areas of project management, with intelligent automated systems that can trigger work authorizations, check deliverables, and analyze deviations from the plan. As numerous surveys have shown, this is something that many project managers would welcome.

One of the most common causes of project failure is poor communication. Having systems able to communicate with one another effectively, translated by AI software and communicated to the end user, makes AI an invaluable tool in the project management toolkit.

[ Further Reading: How Lean Six Sigma Moves Manufacturing Teams Ahead ]

Then there is the business acumen element, which requires project managers to make business decisions, set goals, plan strategies and respond quickly to change. They are already well supported in this field by advanced data analysis.

But best practice management relies on sound judgement that takes more into consideration than hard data alone. With an in-depth understanding of the organization and its culture, project managers will have a “gut instinct” that enables them to spot early signs of potential problems with the project at a level too subtle for AI to detect.

As more of the conventional project management tasks are made redundant by increasing automation and evolving smart technologies, the role of the project manager is also set to evolve, away from traditional “all-rounder”, to a role requiring greater people skills such as emotional intelligence and motivation, that for now are beyond the capabilities of AI. Learn how LiquidPlanner helps manufacturers keep pace with a fast-changing industry.

AI and other emerging fourth industrial revolution technologies are here to stay. They are changing forever the way that things are designed, manufactured, and delivered; compelling organizations and their people, including project managers, to adapt to new ways of working.

More from the Industry 4.0 Series:

Preparing for the Rise of Collaborative Robots

3D Printing in Manufacturing: Three Sectors to Watch

5 Ways Cloud-Based Project Management Software Saves Time and Money

It’s official: the cloud has gone mainstream. While early-adopters have been touting the benefits of cloud-based solutions for years, larger organizations, as well as those facing hurdles with new technology, have been slower to adapt. But, according to recent research from Gartner, Inc., that’s changing.

Recently, more organizations, even large enterprises and slow adopters, have begun turning to the cloud. The worldwide public cloud services market is projected to grow 18 percent in 2017 to total $246.8 billion, up from $209.2 billion in 2016, according to Gartner.

“As enterprise application buyers are moving toward a cloud-first mentality, we estimate that more than 50 percent of new 2017 large-enterprise North American application adoptions will be composed of SaaS or other forms of cloud-based solutions,” says Sid Nag, research director at Gartner. “Midmarket and small enterprises are even further along the adoption curve. By 2019, more than 30 percent of the 100 largest vendors’ new software investments will have shifted from cloud-first to cloud-only.”

Quick Cloud Stats

Larger organizations are now learning what early adopters have known for years: cloud-based software can help you save time and money.

Here are some reasons to consider the switch to cloud-based project management software.

Anytime-anywhere access

Design team in Seattle, and production facilities in Detroit? No problem. Cloud-based project management makes collaboration across distances easy. Thanks to the connectivity of high-speed Internet, it’s now possible to work closely with someone you may never meet in real life.

For international companies like Rotork, a leading manufacturer of industrial valve actuators, the ability to access information from anywhere in the world, on mobile or laptop, is invaluable. The company’s gear design team is based in England, while their manufacturing team is in the Netherlands.

With LiquidPlanner, “everybody can access their projects and tasks from different locations and different time zones in the business. We can share information and keep our plans up to date, which will also let us manage common resources across multiple projects.”

–Steve Watkins, R & D Engineering Manager at Rotork

Learn how the Rotork teams use LiquidPlanner to hit their deadlines.

Less time lying awake at night, wondering if your data is safe

Security concerns stop some companies from switching to cloud-based solutions. The idea being that having physical control over one’s servers makes it more secure.

However, cloud software can be just as secure as on-premise. Most reputable cloud-based applications have strong safeguards in place to protect customers’ data while in-transfer and at-rest. For example, LiquidPlanner is hosted with Amazon Web Services (AWS). Our customers’ data is housed at AWS data centers in different geographic areas that are completely independent from one another. With servers in multiple zones, failure in one zone won’t disrupt service.

Here are some of the security headaches avoided by using a reputable cloud software service:

  • Data replicated to servers in multiple geographic regions to guarantee maximum availability.
  • Daily data backups.
  • Uninterrupted power supply, guaranteed with generators.
  • Fire detection systems, temperature and climate control, and video surveillance.

Security is a genuine concern, so be sure to thoroughly vet any cloud-based software providers you’re considering. See the steps LiquidPlanner takes to protect customer data.

Fewer emails, less time searching for documents

How many times have you scrolled through a never-ending email chain, looking for that paper clip icon. “Aha! Here’s the file,” you think, only to discover that this attachment is not the final version. Or is it? The document has been updated so many times, you’ve lost track. Now you have to ask your colleague for the final final version. And wait.

Meanwhile, your manager is asking for updates because she was left off the email chain and has no idea what’s going on. Hopefully, your colleague will issue the final version quickly, so your manager’s questions can be resolved and the new final version distributed to the team.

With cloud-based project management, you can cut down on back-and-forth emails and multiple versions of documents. Everyone on your team can quickly access the latest document. Changes, status updates, and comments are automatically sent to everyone who needs them.

For companies like scientific equipment manufacturer Lake Shore Cryotronics, cloud-based project management means better organization and a reduced dependency on email.

“Many team members are using the commenting features in LiquidPlanner to communicate and provide task updates. In the past, these project artifacts would have been buried in emails, with little in the way of organization or visibility. Now, comments are tied directly to the tasks and items they’re relevant to, in a way that provides visibility to everyone on the team.”

– Rob Welsh, Development Process Manager at Lake Shore Cryotronics

Learn how Welsh’s product development team uses LiquidPlanner to track and manage its complex workload.

Lower upfront costs: no investment in server infrastructure required

On-premise systems tend to cost more upfront, due to onsite software and server installation, software license investments, and the extra IT staff needed to configure and maintain the system. With cloud-based applications, all you need to get started is an Internet connection and a device.

When comparing the costs of cloud-based and on-premise systems, you should also take extra costs like monthly maintenance, hourly customer support, backup software, and electricity consumption into consideration. With cloud-based applications, you won’t need to worry about electricity and backup software fees. Most offer online help articles and resources, as well as customer support and troubleshooting assistance.

If you’d like to compare the total cost of ownership over several years for an on-premise system and a cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS) system, we recommend this calculator from SoftwareAdvice.com.

Zero time spent on software updates

You’re right in the middle of something, just hitting your groove, when a notification appears on your screen. “Restart your computer to finish installing important updates.”

Nooo. Not now, you think. And you ask for a reminder in one hour. Then you delay it again. And again. Before you realize it, you have 38 updates waiting for you.

With cloud-based solutions, you don’t need to stop your flow for updates. Once new features or updates are live, you have instant access. No download or upgrades required.

Many cloud-based solutions also offer integrations with tools you’re already familiar with. LiquidPlanner, for example, integrates with Google Drive, Salesforce, Zapier, and more. Also available is an open API, enabling you to build integrations with other tools.

Taken together, these five things make a compelling business case for switching to a cloud-based project management solution. Are you ready to join the millions of businesses who are managing their projects in the cloud? Start a free trial today to start saving time and money with LiquidPlanner, cloud-based predictive project management software.

Ask a Project Manager: School vs The Real World

 “Dear Elizabeth: I am a new project manager in my first internship. I’m out of my depth and overwhelmed with the new jargon. In particular, what I’m finding is that my work environment isn’t exactly like the theory I learned on my project management degree course. What tips do you have for me?”

 

Ah, are you finding out that real life isn’t like the textbooks? Yes, we’ve all been there. I met another intern recently who said to me that he’d learned more in the last 10 months working in the PMO than he had on the previous two years in his business management degree. There’s nothing like a bit of workplace reality for bringing home the skills you really need to make a success of a your career.

First, I should say that the great stuff you learned in your courses is not at all wasted. Please don’t feel so overwhelmed that you start to doubt the value of your education. That has given you a solid grounding in theory, vocabulary, and the concepts you need to be able to work in a project management environment. Even if it doesn’t feel like it right now – trust me, you know more than you think you do.

So, some tips for dealing with the new job.

Learn the jargon.

What you learned in your course might not be the exact terminology that your colleagues are using. There are lots of words that mean ‘risk log,’ and they are virtually interchangeable. However, you’ll feel more comfortable and you’ll fit in more quickly if you use the vocabulary that everyone around you is using.

Start a glossary and note the commonly used terms. If you hear one in a meeting that you don’t understand, write it down and ask someone later what it means. (You can ask in the meeting if you like, but I know it can be difficult to get up the courage to interrupt the meeting to ask newbie questions.)

Find out what your colleagues do.

Everything is less overwhelming when you know who is responsible for what. Then you know who the subject matter experts are when you need assistance.

Ask people to spend 30 minutes of their day with you and talk to them about their job. Where do they fit into the hierarchy? What does their team do? What do they need from your team? And, is there anything you can do to help while you’re here as an intern? Explain that you’re learning about the business and you want to be as useful as you can while you’re there.  I have done this every time I start a new position, and it’s helpful. I have never yet had someone say they didn’t want to talk to me about themselves and their expertise. Reach out. Book five meetings this afternoon.

Do your job.

You are there for a reason, right? At this point in your career, my best advice is to get on with what you’ve been asked to do. Make a good impression and do the work to the best of your ability. If you can offer something more than you’ve been asked to do (for example, an intern I once worked with completely redesigned a tracking spreadsheet I asked him to update, and made it a million times better and less work), then ask if you can do that and deliver it.

The reason I put this point in is that it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the business as a whole. Depending on where you are, you could be a small cog in a team of hundreds. Your day-to-day priority is to turn up and work through your To Do list. When you can break down your responsibilities into smaller chunks that you can do without feeling overwhelmed, then you can see yourself making progress.

It is helpful to understand the bigger picture, and I encourage all project managers to boost their business acumen skills and learn about how the company functions as a system. When you are struggling, it often helps to just think about putting one foot in front of the other.

Besides, you’ll be surprised at how much you absorb and learn just by doing that.

Connect your job to your course.

In no time at all you’ll be making connections between your tasks and what you learned on your course. Try to identify where someone is using a management style you’ve learned about, or what part of the project management process you are in now. Think about how you would identify stakeholders or run this phase, if it was your project, or what tools you would use that you studied that would help you at this point.

You won’t win any friends by going around saying, “In my course, I learned this…,” and, “I just realized your using situational leadership!” But, if it helps to share those thoughts with your mentor or manager, then do. It’s more important to try to associate what you have learned with what you do in the office so you can see the practical implications of using the techniques you studied.

And congratulations on your degree, by the way! That’s a big achievement, and if you can do that you can definitely succeed in your new position using the same skills.

5 Ways AI and Automation Will Change Project Management

Technology has made our lives easier. If you don’t believe that, go watch a few episodes of the PBS series, The Frontier House. While technology and automation have lessened some of the strain, they’ve also stirred up a lot of fear.

The Luddite movement in the early 1800s is one of history’s more famous examples of humans lashing out at automation. During a period of low wages and England’s war with France, English textile workers saw automation and textile machinery as a threat to their livelihood. The Luddites burned and smashed looms and other machines they believed were destined to replace them.

Since then, there have been numerous backlashes against technology and automation. In the 1980s, United States postal workers protested the introduction of letter sorting machines. Today, taxi drivers are protesting over ridesharing services like Lyft and Uber.

At its heart, automation is about solving a problem or a task that can be reliably offloaded from a person to a machine. Manufacturing has seen amazing progress due to automation, and now there are several opportunities for automation in project management to make our lives easier.

Rather than replace the role of project manager, which I don’t see happening any time soon, I think automation will relieve us from some of the more mundane tasks and help bring consistency to our daily lives.

Technology has been steadily impacting the jobs of project managers for years now, but recently the pace has quickened dramatically. Now project managers, like almost everyone else, are seeing automation on the horizon. Rather than run in fear, I suggest that we may find this technology is the friendly kind that can help.

Here are five ways I believe automation will impact our jobs in the near future.

1. Offloading Truly Routine Tasks to Increase Value

We are already making progress in automating things like tracking time, updating estimates, and reporting schedule progress. When put together, these have the potential to reduce meeting time and improve accuracy. All of this can free up your team to focus on the more valuable tasks.

The project manager can use a central hub to collect information and updates from team members, which will help ensure that updates are timely and thorough. We have seen some of this already. But, with heuristics and quality assessment algorithms, the best is yet to come.

2. Improving Assessments to Identify Risks

In the 2002 movie Minority Report, authorities were alerted to serious crimes before they even occurred. You would think all of this proactivity would make life easier, but that would have been a boring story.

Imagine, however, that you had a list of likely delays, risks, and problems before they occurred. This technology already exists in the supply chain world, and it’s only a matter of aggregating the right pieces of data for it to work for project teams.

Some projects already receive weather, traffic, and shipment notifications to alert them to problems before they manifest. Add to that the possibility of supplier problems, failed quality checks, delays, and personnel issues, and suddenly you have the potential for a robust risk tool.

3. Employing Metadata to Detect Problems

You may have noticed how your phone has become smarter in recent months. It can predict what you are going to type next and even anticipate where you are walking or driving. While this is the result of a relatively straightforward process of monitoring and then predicting your behavior and routines, the impact is downright amazing.

We now can unobtrusively collect metadata and look at how team members do their jobs. Many thought leaders believe that we can understand more from this metadata than by looking at the actual work product. There is a gold mine of information waiting. We just need to learn to mine it effectively.

In fact, many industries, including credit scoring, counter-terrorism, and financial institutions, are using metadata to predict events before they happen. In my community, a large EMS provider uses metadata and analytics to predict where and when traffic accidents will occur and proactively station ambulances near those intersections. The results are uncannily accurate.

Soon, project managers will have tools that give us a treasure trove of information about our teams’ performance. A lot of predictions can be made by analyzing the habits, the communication, the focus, the time spent on task, and other attributes of the person responsible for doing the work.

4. Facilitating Communication to Improve Accuracy

Automation can offload mundane tasks. For example, an application could get updates from the team, produce key reports, and raise triggers and alerts when problems were detected. Communication is one of the trickiest areas for a project manager to master. Software already exists to correct grammar, but other algorithms are being deployed to help identify potentially problematic phrases, and improve accuracy and truthfulness

5. Coordinating Tasks to Increase Efficiency

When I started out in project management, the ideal project manager was a directing and controlling figure who handled everything and everyone. Over time, the idea of monitoring more and controlling less has emerged. Today, the role of a project manager is trending toward that of coordinator and coach and less of dictator. This concept of monitoring becomes important because the project manager is supposed to be proactive, and if something can alert us to an emerging problem then we are ahead of the game.

And the good news is that coordinating is something software can help with. Everyone is connected, and now real-time decisions can be made about tasks and their priorities. This allows an algorithm to make decisions about who completes which task in a way that can optimize the project. This has particular potential with agile projects where “generalizing specialists” who can be deployed somewhat interchangeably within the team are favored over siloed individuals. All of this holds the potential of freeing up the project manager from refactoring the schedule repeatedly.

There will always be the need for project managers to get things done (or as Snoop Dogg says, to “put paint where it ain’t”), and the fundamentals of project management remain the same today as they have been for decades. It is our job to develop a solid understanding of success, build a good team, plan carefully, communicate well, adapt, resolve conflict, and manage the value delivery. Automation has the potential to make many of those tasks easier, but it likely won’t replace people any time soon.

How Manufacturers Can Gain Competitive Advantage Through Servitization

In a fiercely competitive global market, manufacturers’ product margins face increasing pressure, forcing them to look for ways to differentiate their businesses. Many are going down the servitization route, a digital transformation that enables them to provide services and solutions that supplement their traditional product offerings.

It also means gaining a better understanding of customer needs by forging closer working relationships with them, overwhelmingly the main reason for adopting servitization, according to the 2016 Annual Manufacturing Report. Three quarters (74%) of manufacturers surveyed cited their main reason for offering servitization was to build “closer relationships with customers”. Almost half, (46%) were seeking to boost profitability through the provision of added-value services, while 44% were looking to increase revenue.

This transition from making goods to selling services represents huge change that creates major challenges for many traditional manufacturers, as their product effectively becomes the platform from which to deliver those services. For some, the solution will lie in developing product-service systems, combinations of products and services, to deliver the outcomes their customers want and value. They will also need to bring in new technologies.

[Further Reading: 5 Project Management Trends for Manufacturing Teams to Watch in 2017]

A study on the future of servitization, carried out by the University of Cambridge, found consensus among capital equipment manufacturers (CEM) on five key technology requirements to enable servitization in the future. These included predictive analytics to anticipate specific failure modes, remote communications to resolve issues from a distance, consumption monitoring to create customer-specific service offerings, pushing information to employees, suppliers, sub-contractors and customers via mobile platforms or the internet, and mobile platforms to access business software remotely for maintenance techniques, production outputs, etc.

Servitization involves digital transformation on a massive scale, and not surprisingly it has created a huge demand for project management skills.

[Further Reading: How to Be a Project Team of the Future]

There are plenty of examples of manufacturers that have been successful in moving to servitization, including Rolls Royce, which famously stopped manufacturing aero engines and instead contracted with customers for its ‘power by the hour’ service. In this model, the customer buys the power that the engine delivers, and Rolls Royce provides all of the support to ensure that the aero engines can continue to deliver that power. It was a seismic shift in business model, but the result was a much closer alignment between the interests of the customer and the provider.

Rolls Royce is the poster child for servitization, contracting with customers for its ‘power by the hour’ service.

In its manufacturing heyday, global technology firm IBM was churning out a range of products, including computers, data storage devices, and software. It also offered a number of services, including networking and related services. When the company began to flounder in the early 1990s, it switched strategy and focused on its services, which included supplying integrated IT solutions to business. The result? IBM became a one-stop shop IT service provider, a move that strengthened its position in the market.

Of course, these global enterprises have the internal resources needed to make the switch from product to service focus.

Can smaller manufacturers achieve the same? Many already are, selling products that are combinations of manufactured goods and services. In the digital age, however, the servitization journey is largely driven by new technology that will take them beyond the bundling of manufactured consumables and spare parts with scheduled product maintenance tasks to forging much closer relationships, some would say partnerships, with their customers, where they know in real time what they need, and can respond in real time to provide it.

For many traditional manufacturers this presents challenges that require the digital skills and expertise of project management professionals to facilitate their transition to a servitization model.

Modern technologies, particularly in the project management and ERP (enterprise resource planning) spaces, are great enablers of this. In some organizations, effective servitization relies on the use of sensors embedded in products, so IoT applications and platforms will have a role to play in this process.  They will need the capability to record and control the services they are offering, which requires data analytics expertise.

Successful project managers are already using technology as an enabler for delivering successful servitization projects, achieving maximum efficiencies in the process, delivering the best outcome for the manufacturer and their customers.

[Further Reading: How Contract Manufacturing Teams Keep Up With the Speed of Innovation]

There are many business benefits of switching to a servitization model; the most obvious being the opportunity to increase revenue streams from selling services as well as selling manufactured products. Delivering consistently well on service contracts will boost customer loyalty and retention and create further opportunities for upselling of additional products and services.

There are also potential risks. Moving to a servitization model needs the buy in of leadership, and that can require a significant shift in corporate mindset – designing services is quite different to designing products – as well as a shift in culture, from ‘make it, sell it’ to ‘support it throughout its business lifecycle’. Investment in skills training may be required to ensure that staff can deliver a customer-centric service, and there is always the possibility that customers may initially be deterred by a new offering, which comes with different contracts and payment models, etc.

If they are to survive in a global market, manufacturing companies need to increase their competitiveness. Servitization is seen by the industry as an effective way of doing that, with a third (33%) of manufacturers polled by the 2016 Annual Manufacturing Report citing it as a means to “shut out the competition”. Around a quarter (26%) see it as a route to improve competitiveness through faster product development and a smaller proportion have identified it as a way to improve cost monitoring and management.

With the right resources available, integrating value added services into their full portfolio offerings would enable manufacturers to achieve these business objectives, but also to become successful digital businesses focused on the complete customer experience.

June Product Update: New Custom Fields for Better Work Management

Custom fields are the perfect way to track and report on any part of your workflow. This month, we’re excited to share several new Custom Fields updates that offer increased visibility, insights, and customization.

Now you have more ways to capture and report on the things that matter to your team, like project health scores, approval dates, and project costs.

Add New Color to Your Dashboards

Bring your dashboards to life with new color indicators. Administrators can now set colors for Pick List Custom Fields on the Custom Fields settings page. Colors can be used to convey project status within the Projects tab, quickly visualize project status, and customize executive reports. The selected colors will show wherever Custom Fields are exposed: on the Edit Panel, in your Personal Columns Display, in Analytics Reports, on Dashboards, in Resource Workload Report, and on the My Work Tab.

To display Custom Field colors on a Dashboard Donut Widget chart, set the Ring Emphasis to your color-coded custom field and select the “Default” Color Palette.

Dashboard Donut Widget chart with colors assigned to custom field values.

Track and Report the Values Unique to Your Business

LiquidPlanner already allows you to track, monitor, and report on things that are common across business and industries, such as estimates and hours logged.

With our latest update, you can now create date, number, and currency fields to track and monitor what’s unique to you.

Date fields can be used to house and track important dates in the life of a project (e.g., kickoff dates, customer sign-off dates, ship dates). Currency fields will now create consistent formatting across all of your custom financial metrics, such as contractor costs or material budgets that are attached to your projects. Number fields can be used to track numeric values, such as quantities and weight of parts.

Ready to add that extra bit of personalization to your workflow? Log in now and give the new colors and custom fields a try.

To learn more about these updates, read the release notes.

Industry 4.0 Series | 3D Printing in Manufacturing: Three Sectors to Watch

This story is part of our Industry 4.0 series, which looks at the new technologies, techniques, and trends that are pushing manufacturers toward a new level of optimization and productivity.

There’s much more to 3D printers than plastic trinkets. The industrial market for 3D printing has been heating up, with manufacturers exploring new ways to capitalize on additive manufacturing’s latest technologies.

By 2020, 75 percent of manufacturing operations worldwide will be using 3D-printed tools, jigs, and fixtures made in-house or by a service bureau to produce finished goods, according to a 2016 Gartner report. Gartner also predicts that 10 percent of industrial operations will incorporate robotic 3D printers in their manufacturing processes by 2020.

While 3D printing is expected to grow in manufacturing operations, there are several sectors that are already utilizing this new technology.

Healthcare

When people think of 3D printing and medical devices, prosthetics or implants usually come to mind. But the applications for 3D printing within the healthcare space span beyond that.

The ability to quickly and inexpensively produce prototypes using 3D printers is a big win for the medical device industry. Engineers and designers can now produce prototypes in-house, making it easier to communicate ideas and designs to stakeholders.

By being able to hold the device in their hands, designers, engineers, and stakeholders can more accurately and quickly evaluate the device. Modifications can be made and tested in a day, rather than weeks. Using 3D printers to create prototypes can also help manufacturers avoid wasting time and money by finding issues in the device design before it moves too far in the development process.

3D printers are also being used to create life-size replicas of the human anatomy, allowing surgeons to practice complicated procedures on realistic replicas.

Such was the case when researchers created a 3D model of the brain of 5-month-old Gabriel Mandeville. To help treat his violent epileptic seizures, Mandeville’s parents consented to a hemispherectomy, a complex medical procedure that removes or disconnects the healthy side of the brain from the side of the brain that’s responsible for the seizures.

Using the Simulator Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, the doctors printed an exact replica of Mandeville’s brain out of soft plastic. Blood vessels were printed in a different color to differentiate them from surrounding tissue.

Before the surgery, doctors were able to do a practice run of what Joseph Madsen, director of the epilepsy program at Boston Children’s Hospital, called “one of the most challenging operations in pediatric epilepsy surgery.” The 10-hour surgery was a success.

Aerospace

The aerospace industry is at the forefront of the additive manufacturing movement. From NASA to GE, aerospace and aviation companies are finding new ways to use 3D printing to create more efficient processes, develop prototypes and parts, and create designs that are unachievable with traditional manufacturing.

In 2016, GE began creating the fuel nozzles for its next-generation LEAP jet engine using direct metal laser melting, a technique that fuses fine layers of metal powders together with a laser beam. Compared to earlier models, the 3D printed nozzles are 25 percent lighter, five times stronger, and printed as one component, rather than 18 individual pieces that required assembly.

Each LEAP-1B engine has 19 3D-printed fuel nozzles, made from a nickel cobalt alloy. Image credit: GE Aviation

Last September, GE acquired two European metal 3D printer companies, Arcam and SLM Solutions, for $1.4 billion, illustrating that GE believes 3D printing can bring big benefits to the company.

Automotive

Rapid prototyping, mass customization, and fast production are the biggest benefits automotive manufacturers will see from 3D printing.

With 3D printers, manufacturers can now quickly produce accurate prototypes to validate design. Previously, manufacturers relied on machine shops to produce prototyped parts. This process cost both money and time, especially if a part needed modification. With 3D printers, manufacturers can now print their parts in-house and test and iterate quickly.

3D printing will also help usher in the era of mass customization for the automotive industry. Last year, automaker Daihatsu partnered with 3D printing company Stratasys to bring customers customizable body panels for its Copen model. The 3D parts, known as “Effect Skins”, are available in 15 patterns available and 10 different colors. Customers can mix and match to create their own unique looks.

Local Motors’ Olli is the world’s first 3D-printed autonomous shuttle. Image credit: Local Motors

And, what about printing entire cars? The potential is there.  In 2015, Local Motors introduced the world to the Strati, the first road-ready 3D-printed car. A year later, they printed a self-driving electric shuttle, called Olli, that has been serving commuters in Washington DC and Berlin.

More in the Industry 4.0 Series:

The Case for Multiple Project Management Methodologies

A multiple-methodology approach to project management may lead to happier project teams, according to a new report by LiquidPlanner.

The 2017 State of Project Management in Manufacturing report found that 74 percent of the respondents who said they were highly satisfied with their existing project management methodology actually used a combination of methodologies.

At first glance, using multiple methodologies seems odd, especially in manufacturing organizations optimized with repeatable processes. The natural reaction is to respond “What’s wrong with my methodology?”

PMOs and process specialists spend months developing standard processes, methods, and templates to achieve predictable results. Believe it or not, the PMO doesn’t create a new template or a new process out of sadistic pleasure. Many PMOs seek to provide structure and guidance while letting project teams adjust and scale the methodology to the project.

Despite the amount of focus user group surveys, subject matter expert collaboration, and thoughtful process analysis, there will never be a single, perfect methodology for getting work done. It’s natural for project managers and teams to use a combination of processes and templates from multiple methodologies, such as waterfall, scrum, lean, and Six Sigma.

Here are six reasons why:

1. Methodology is not a silver bullet.

A methodology is merely a tool in a team’s toolkit to guide them to a successful outcome. The team delivers the project using methodology as a guideline. Effective teams still need strong leadership, project management, and clear communication to deliver. The best methodology in the world won’t help a struggling team from failing; it will help them fail according to the standards. This is why effective teams know to pick the best tool for the job, independent of prescribed methodologies.

I’ve participated in several project turnarounds where the project manager followed the methodology but failed to actually lead and manage the project.

One of my favorite projects successfully launched and delivered its objectives without a signed project charter. Methodology should be used to provide directional guidance and teams need to know how to adjust accordingly.

2. Projects don’t always follow a predictable path.

Projects are not a production assembly line. Methodologies are developed to provide guidance to produce a predictable result. However, few projects follow a predictable path.

When you’re working on a project, it’s likely that there is a methodology to follow. Yet, the journey to get there won’t always be a predictable journey. No two projects are the same; the people, environment, project constraints, and potential risks will be different.

Even my commute to work doesn’t follow a predictable path, and I drive it every day! Traffic, weather, and delays getting the kids into day care all impact my “project” to drive to work. If we can’t exactly predict when we’ll get into the office, how can we be expected to be 100 percent accurate on project end date six months out?

The key is to adapt and adjust. This also means tweaking the methodology.

3. People deliver projects, not methodologies.

We staff projects with talented people to leverage their professional experience and ensure project success.

I’ve met several certified PMPs, Black Belts, and Scrum Masters who shouldn’t ever lead or manage a project. People may be experts in a methodology, but if they lack the professional experience and subject matter context, the chance of project success is lower.

A few years back, a process quality assurance (PQA) analyst wrote me up as “out of compliance” because I wasn’t using a prescribed methodology template for meeting minutes. Instead, I used a mind mapping tool to capture the notes and actions and sent them out in a Word document. The team found the mind mapping format easier to follow and it actually lowered the administrative burden.

I understand the PQA analyst had a role to play, but it wasn’t in delivering the project.

4. Methodologies lag behind best practices and feedback loops.

The time it takes to introduce methodology changes, gain consensus, update documentation, and communicate the change doesn’t enable a project team to shift easily. Within the PMO, methodology changes can be launched quarterly to ensure best practices are incorporated and teams have time to learn and adjust. The lack of an updated methodology should not stop a team from implementing their own best practices.

Project teams need short feedback loops (an Agile principle) and should be encouraged to fail fast and experiment to find the best solution. Just because a methodology has a design phase, doesn’t mean the team can’t run small incremental proof of concepts to validate the design. As humans, we do this all the time and course correct.

5. External pressures and politics influence project decisions over process.

How many times have you presented a project launch date only to be told “not acceptable” or “go back and sharpen the pencil”?

You can incorporate every step of the methodology into a project schedule, but senior management’s requirements (or mandates) will always have an impact on the project.

After all, people are not machines. Politics play a role in project decisions and predictable outcomes. Unfortunately, teams that seek to skip “all that process stuff” end up with a troubled project that fails to deliver the intended result. Consequently, teams look to multiple approaches to solve project problems.

Project teams will always find a reason why a specific methodology won’t meet their needs because their project is “different”. Rather than constraining them to one methodology, allow them to pick the best tool for the job.

Of course, project governance still needs to be in place to ensure the project doesn’t “run off the track.” At the organization level, a portfolio manager or the PMO needs to ensure standard project milestones and checkpoints are being met regardless of the tools, templates or processes used in specific methodology. If project teams are encouraged to use the tools and processes that best fit their projects, the PMO and the project team need to align on the approach upfront.  Otherwise, some project teams will take this advice as not following a methodology at all.

The best way to strike a balance between methodology, delivery, and process-centric organizations is to tailor the methodology to the project and gain agreement. If I had done this one my past project, I may have avoided a non-compliance report from the quality assurance analyst!

After reviewing the 2017 State of Project Management in Manufacturing report, it doesn’t surprise me that more than half of respondents use a combination of methodologies. Those teams are selecting the right tool for the job. While that may not be 100 percent process compliant, it sure is smart!