Process of the product development consists of many steps that are often very complicated, time consuming and not well defined. It is common that companies are struggling to track the progress of the development and keep the documentation up to date. The main challenge that I would like to focus on is the continuous need to improve the product. Because we do not live in the perfect world the changes are unavoidable – whether it is just a small fragment of the design that needs to be updated, the part you have been using so far is no longer available or you have to make sure that the product meets the requirements of the new markets.
Change your products effectively
If you think about how hard it could be you have to assume the worst-case scenarios could happen:
- constantly changing requirements,
- new employees that are not familiar with the process,
- searching for the documentation,
- looking for the available employees to do their part of the job, waiting for the review…
The list goes on. And now remember that this process could be repeated. And that you have hundreds of products! Suddenly you realize that this amount of work could not be done manually in a reasonable time. It is a quite common scenario – companies have some defined processes and a way of working that used to function efficiently for some time, but over time the process itself was never revised and improved. And even if it was, it usually does not scale well as the number of employees and products grows. At some point, someone has to make a decision to draw a line and prepare a plan to improve. This is the time to automate, standardize, and optimize the process – introducing the Change Management.
Advantages of the Change Management
One of the essential components of PLM software is the Change Management module that provides you with the framework to make changes effectively and keep track of them easily. Change Management is the process of managing a change request through the defined cycle of steps. Standardized methods and procedures are used to ensure the changes can be handled according to the plan. Change Management in PLM is the answer to the increasing pace of product development and need to minimize the unwanted disruption at any stage of the process. Implementing Change Management is not an easy task, but the reward is worth the pain at the beginning. What are the advantages of Change Management, why do companies think it will give them profits and decide to utilize it?
Ensure the integrity of your data
Before I go on to the specifics of Change Management, there is one aspect of the Product Lifecycle Management that really makes life easier. To fully take advantage of it, you must treat it like a single source of the data about your products. When there are no competing systems, you don’t have to waste time to look where a particular information is stored. Moreover, you rule out the situation when by accident you try to change the product in both systems independently. Assuming that kind of mistake happens, and you prevent it from propagate further, you waste time to check it and to fix it, not to mention that someone could have done the job where it really mattered. Managing the product and changes in one system keeps the integrity of your data intact. You will always work on the up-to-date versions and the changes you have made will not be overwritten or duplicated by others.
Process standardization and optimization
One of the first thing that comes to mind in terms of the benefits of introducing the Change Management is process standardization and optimization. Every company has some internal processes related to changes. The most counterproductive mistake is to use processes that are not defined or not well-defined and not transparent to others. You get the feeling of it when you think about confused employees that are wondering what to do next, what is the next step of the process. That brings unnecessary chaos to everyone and has many side effects – errors, delays, costly overruns. It is fair to say that most of the changes occur on the early stages of the product lifecycle – my conclusion is that the sooner the error is made, the greater the consequences. In order to stay flexible and competitive, this is simply not acceptable to be exposed to these risks. That is why creating process templates are so crucial for effective work. Without definitions, we don’t know what to improve. In Change Management processes are easy to define and easy to maintain. Process actors and their roles are defined from the start. At any point, you can check what is the current status and who is responsible. You are also able to see which activities are yet to be done.
Automation in Change Management
The other area where Change Management shows its true potential is allowing to understand the impact of the change you would like to perform. Managing BOMs with hundreds of parts would be unbearable if done manually. Seeing what will be affected and what will be the result of the change is what makes the process a whole lot easier for engineers. Within the Change Management module in PTC Windchill PDMLink there is also a business rules framework that allows to specify all the business logic with all conditions that need to be satisfied to release the change. With the amount of data to analyze, sometimes it is impossible to catch errors and data integrity problems. With automated tool the system will check it itself and will not allow to proceed. Minimized risk of errors and minimized number of steps where errors can occur raises the overall quality of delivered products.
Save time and money with Change Management
The factor of time is a recurring theme of the points above. There is nothing new in saying that we want to optimize and save time to reduce costs. In Change Management, these is no separate factor that influences cost reduction. The whole idea of Change Management has its roots in the need to eliminate redundant overhead, automate repetitive tasks, increase the visibility of changes. Good communication within the organization and the team is also the key to increase productivity. PTC Windchill PDMLink is a system that makes the cooperation plain and simple – it guarantees the fastest exchange of information and enables to take actions faster. At any time, you have the ability to communicate, preview the progress of tasks, share the documents with your team. With advanced search engine, you can look for any change, part, or type and see the results in the blink of an eye. The benefits are at every step you take!
Challenges of the Change Management
Now when we know how great of a tool the Change Management is in good hands, let’s think about the drawbacks. Of course, nothing is as simple as it seems. Also nothing is as simple as many people that offer PLM solutions would like you to think it is. What are the main difficulties to create a robust implementation of Change Management in PLM? It is quite a challenge as you have to think about all the details and caveats of the process. The challenge not only for the developers and business analysts. A significant amount of work is on the client’s side too. I would say that the implementation must always be a joint effort to get maximum of what is possible to achieve, but it is the client that will be using the software and he should care the most to get involved at all stages of the cooperation. It is recommended that at the beginning some form of workshops should be scheduled and performed to help and verbalize the exact expectations, define the specification in details. Without it you are most likely to get the product that won’t meet your demand.
Balance between customization and configuration
Even though modern PLM software is very developed and capable, do not be deceived that out of the box solution is the answer to all your problems. Yes, it supports many use cases and years of implementation helped to introduce the best practices, but there are no identical companies with two identical structures with identical processes. Although it is possible to use Change Management with just configuration and no customization, the experience shows that customer always wants some sort of modifications of the software that are specific to his needs. What is important is to keep the balance between configuration and customization. To many customizations will be painful in future maintenance, too little could mean untapped potential.
Change Management – natural step to organizing your processes
Something you also must be aware of, the delivery of the Change Management will take some time. As you can see above, the task we are faced with is not trivial. Many people must be involved, many hours must be spent. Gathering the information and creating documentation is really time consuming and to be honest – just the beginning. You have to think about which processes are working and which are not, which processes to merge, which to separate, which to remove. Some have to be reshaped. Add up the role definitions, business rules, access control and make it work with the data types. All of that has to be ready before the real implementation begins. But wait – isn’t that what you wanted to do in the first place? You can come to conclusion that Change Management is just a tool but the effort you put into it helps you realize and coordinate the innovation. You wouldn’t be wrong!
Change Management process workflow
In PTC Windchill PDMLink you have the ability to automate the processes using workflows. The workflow is a well-defined list of steps in which information and tasks are distributed among participants. Although there are several out-of-the-box workflow templates, you are encouraged to create your own that you can design to accomplish specific business goals. Templates can be categorized and created on different contexts – for example, you can have common and separate templates for all organizations. Categories are also helpful as the workflows are not specific to the Change Management. You can automate any process you like!
A recipe for a good process template
Workflows can be created, edited, and saved in Workflow Template Editor – easy to use drag and drop graphical tool. Steps of the process are represented by the nodes and they must be linked to each other to determine the flow of the execution. Each link contains information about the event that led to it and can be configured to fire at the completion of predecessor activity or any other specific routing. Each template must have the start node and at least one end node. There are several of node types:
- Activities: they represent the work that participants need to manually complete in order to go on with the process. The task is automatically added for the assigned user when the workflow reaches this node. There are also ad-hoc activities for which the participants must be selected at runtime.
- Connectors: used for creating the logic of the process flow – managing branches, loops, and checking the conditions.
- Robots: these nodes are the activities that don’t need an assignment to the user and can be completed automatically.
There are many available robot nodes in PTC Windchill PDMLink, the most useful being:
- E-mail Notifications: when the workflow reaches it, a custom message is sent to the specified list of recipients
- Method: a robot that includes a set of predefined actions, for example, the object could be set to the specific lifecycle state or be checked out
- Execute Expression: a robot to execute a Java expression in the workflow
- Synchronize: used to synchronize the start of some process depending on another event
- Timer: delaying the start of the node execution for a specific amount of time
Let the change start!
There are multiple ways to start the workflow in PTC Windchill PDMLink. Usually, the workflows are linked to the lifecycles of the different types available in the system. By linking certain states of the objects to the template, the workflow engine will automatically start the process when the instance of the type is created or when it changes from one state to the other. For example, each change object starts a change process at the initialization. One instance of the object could have multiple associated workflows, but you must be careful that they do not influence each other in an unforeseen manner.
The other way to start the workflow is to call it independently from the code or from the UI. The common scenarios for this case are when the user manually selects some action or when there is some associated event running in the background.
Stay updated on your changes
Of course, administrators have a great variety of features to help them coordinate and manage all changes. In Windchill PDMLink there are multiple built-in monitoring tools – you check on the progress of the process at any time, see its current status and identify remaining tasks. Not only that, but administrators can also preview the full history of the process execution – which team members have taken part in the process, which path of the process has been chosen, which activities have been started, what was the time of the task completion, etc.
Apart from the single process preview, there is a great choice of very useful dashboards and reports. They are invaluable in getting any information you need from the overwhelming amount of data that can be stored in the system. Immediate and continuous access to the information gives managers the opportunity to create views and summaries for the whole organization, teams, specific products, and users, so they can be up to date with everything that is going on in the company. One of the other benefits is also the possibility to identify potential bottlenecks in the change process. It is clear that with that number of tools and resources you are able to design, model, implement, and track any change process you could imagine!
To sum up, implementing a Change Management is a necessary step to push your company’s abilities forward. It is critical for delivering continuous and systematic product improvements. It is the best way to leave manual, complicated, and undocumented processes behind. Stop wasting your time with constantly searching for up-to-date data. Reduce the effort for getting the job done. The alternative is already there – with Change Management in PLM you can manage the change the easiest way possible. Use standardized processes and a single source of truth for the information. Improve communication between globally distributed employees and vendors, define responsibilities clearly.