The Secret to Collaboration in Design and Manufacturing

Trends / The Secret to Collaboration in Design and Manufacturing
collaboration in design and manufacturing processes

Summary: collaboration in design and manufacturing processes demand the flexibility and ease of P2P communication tools like email and instant messenger while also the tracking and enterprise governance provided by stiff formal process systems like ERPs and formalized workflows.


Every business has the “on paper” version of how something is supposed to happen…

… and then there’s the way it actually gets done.

We call these formal and informal processes.

And they’re getting a lot more important for collaboration in design and manufacturing processes.

Here’s how these systems shake out for complex manufacturing processes.

Formal collaboration in design and manufacturing processes

Formal communication systems to drive collaboration in design and manufacturing processes is when there are defined rules and formats for data and approvals that need to be met to move a project to the next stage.

The idea is closely tied to quality control and regulatory requirements.

there are defined rules and formats for data and approvals that need to be met to move a project to the next stage.

For instance, let’s say you were designing and manufacturing an office chair.

Your chair design needs to be approved by engineering, design managers, quality control specialists, plant managers, procurement, and product marketing/sales.

The process of presenting ideas and securing approvals happens in a specific software environment. That’s formal communication.

Businesses need a persistent record of who approved what and when before they launch to ensure legal compliance and product success.

The problem with formal communication

The challenge with formal communication isn’t that it’s bad.

The problem is that the processes are incomplete.

The problem is that they’re incomplete.

They fail to deliver projects on time and on budget.

First, they’re inflexible. They work fine when projects are going smoothly, but as soon as something goes wrong, formal processes are too stiff to respond.

Most are incapable of going back, reverting to a previous version, or incorporating other collaboration/communication methods.

Second, formal communication tools fail to account for how people actually work together. Emails, instant messages, phone calls, chat, and conversations in the hall – this is how collaboration in design and manufacturing processes really happens. But formal systems fail to capture this exchange.

The result is most businesses have “dual processes” – an on paper one, where every decision is tracked but doesn’t reflect how people do their jobs, and the real one, where tracking and regulatory compliance is spotty but that works well to synthesize information.

Informal communication

If formal communication is the uptight Victorians of the collaboration in design and manufacturing process, then informal, person-to-person (P2P) collaboration is the Wild West. Rules are fast and loose, requirements are few and far between…

… but by golly it gets things done.

For instance, how many times have you received a 400-word email that can be solved with a 2-minute conversation?

The problem with informal communication

First, it’s very difficult to create a shared and lasting record of who made what decision.

For instance, if you’re a compliance officer at a manufacturing plant that makes prefab walls for skyscrapers and they start falling off the 35th floor, you have a serious problem.

But if you have to trawl through your entire organization’s IM chats, emails, and phone logs just to work out what went wrong, you’re never going to find the answer.

Which, of course, if why formal communication emerged in the first place.

The second problem has to do with adoption. Humans are crazy lazy, and informal communication is what we all know and like.

Which means it’s the default communication when people turn up to work.

However, that also means lots of decisions aren’t tracked at all.

Is there a better way?

Well, funny you should ask.

There is a better way – our way.

We’ve cunningly united the P2P, informal communication that people actually use with structured, trackable formal communication that enterprise governance demands from collaboration in design and manufacturing process.

We’ve done this in two ways:

  1. We’ve embedded formal interfaces into informal tools. For instance, Upcahin users can access projects from within things like Outlook and Excel.
  2. We’ve created a system that links informal communication (e.g. IMs, emails) to the projects they relate to automatically.

It means that when you send an email asking for something, that email is tracked and documented.

See how we united formal/informal processes

What this means for collaboration in design and manufacturing processes

This debate isn’t new. For as long as there has been process, there have been efforts to circumvent it. Rarely does the easiest way to do things and the official way to do things overlap 100%.

The problem is, as products become more complex, quality expectations go up, and regulatory requirements increase, meeting the standard with hodge-podge, disconnected systems becomes more difficult.

What’s more, with the rate of new product introduction (NPI) increasing, complex manufacturers have less time to do more work.

Complex manufacturers have less time to do more work.

To be blunt, collaboration in design and manufacturing processes isn’t optional anymore.

The speed and functionality that informal communication provides is now a requirement for the successful launch of a new product. But it’s not like companies can abandon formalized communication methods. They’re critical to how businesses track information and integrate disparate data systems and needs (think ERP/MES integration).

The answer isn’t formal or informal. It’s about bringing together how people want to work with the data tracking that businesses need for enterprise governance.


Image credit: Joshua Ness via Unsplash

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2018-12-12T11:39:44+00:00April 24th, 2018|Categories: Trends|Tags: , , , |