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How Does Social Computing in PLM Help Collaboration?

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What I learned this week … is based on responses and my own reflection stemming from my post
Is Social Networking in PLM Just More Collaboration? from last week. In that post I talked about how social networking capabilities can add more than just collaboration by extending into “discovery.” But what I want to circle back on now is that yes, social networking capabilities can also play a significant role in collaboration. Happy People CollaboratingIn my enthusiasm with what could happen for manufacturers that are willing to stretch the boundaries of their current business, I may have made some pretty big assumptions in regards to people understanding what is most likely their first step in embracing these technologies in product innovation and engineering – which is enhancing collaboration in design and product development. So in this post, I want to step back and comment on the near at hand values of social computing and PLM, and potentially put the horse back before the cart for many. Will social networking make your product development team as happy as this picture? Probably not, but it might just help make your products more profitable.

Why Social Networking Extends Traditional Collaboration
I started my last post with “Why Social Networking Complements Traditional Collaboration.” I believe that there  is significant new business value that can be unlocked by using social networking to find new people to collaborate with. But I don’t want to ignore some of the benefits that can be achieved by extending collaboration with existing contacts. To explore this, let me share some scenarios:

A Non-Engineering Scenario – The Product Manager Checking on Their Launch Date
Let’s start outside of Engineering and look at a common scenario. A product manager is planning a product launch and needs to get an idea on when a packaging issue will be resolved and get a better sense of the impact recent activity has had on the delivery of a prototype to be used at a tradeshow. In a small company, he may yell over the cubicle or catch up with the people he needs at lunch. But that is not the case for most manufacturers today. In this case, the packaging is being done by a contractor and the project is being managed from a different corporate facility. Let’s look at each part of this separately:

Is my Packaging Issue Resolved? Is it Going to Be? Really?
If I was the product manager, I would want to know if I need to step in and intervene or let things go their course. Step one should be to check existing information. If the company has an integrated PLM system, it should be relatively easy to look at the latest packaging design. If their PLM goes beyond the basics, it should be possible to look at the project plan. But looking up what is on record is probably only a part of what the product manager needs in this scenario. Like you or me, the product manager will want to know what is “really” going
on. They will want to get the “inside story” by checking into progress and having conversations with those involved – enter social networking.

Associated with the packaging design, how valuable would it be to see a threaded discussion that shows the
history or the issue and those involved? A quick look into that would say a lot more than a one word status on a
workflow step. Even if the company was doing really well in PLM and had project issues documented and linked to the project, seeing the interactions is much more insightful. Are they really close to a resolution, or is that just wishful thinking? This is where formal documentation lets us all down, but the more informal communication of social networking gives us more valuable information. It helps replicate the “let me walk down the hall and see what is really going on” in a global, distributed product development environment.

When Will the Prototype be Done?
OK, now what about the impact on the date for the prototype? Maybe there were some unexpected design changes, or a supplier was late with a design. Of course the formal project timeline will be up to date, right? And again with a well put together PLM system maybe we have documented issues and ready access to the latest status reports. But what I would  want, and I assume you would to, is to talk to somebody about it. Wouldn’t it be nice if we insert presence detection and instant communication? Looking at the project plan, I would love to be able to “Right-Click” the person assigned to the task and send them a quick instant message, or ring their mobile phone, to
get an unfiltered view of the status. Or if that is not possible (due to policy or security) I would like to be able to
instantly speak with the project manager about status. But I wouldn’t want to look them up in a corporate directory and get their administrative assistant, I want to connect. Now. Instantly. I am looking at their name on the status report, I want to “right click” them instead of leaving a voice-mail and waiting to hear back.

Implications for Manufacturers?
I hope the scenario approach helps paint a picture about how the social nature of product development can extend the value that PLM provides. PLM took collaboration to a certain level by offering centralized information. But what is missing? The people side of things. This example shows how social networking
integrated with the PLM information (product, project, suppliers, etc.) helps. I will share a more engineering-centric view next time, that will explore why tighter integration to the engineering information itself is important.

So that is what I learned this week, I hope you found it interesting. Let me know what you think.

 

Note: Originally posted on my Manufacturing Business Technology Blog in March, 2009.

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