Process Optimization — Fine-tuning the Manufacturing Enterprise

An in-depth look at how one company combined vision with execution to gain insight and control of its critical-path processes


For example, many development tasks and processes were linear, involving multiple functional silos as the product definition evolved. If problems occurred or errors were uncovered, the change request process and rework could add days onto the product lifecycle. Locating problems early on could deliver significant returns if events and triggers could be tracked and requests for action (RFAs) quickly processed. The only way to find out if the legacy application could do the job was to design a program that supported QA work in progress and could serve as a pilot for an enterprise process optimization initiative. However, the challenge was to convince diverse business units and managers, who spoke different "process languages" and used different systems and methods, that standardizing processes was a good idea. The necessary leap of faith was considerable, and though it took some time to build support and move forward, our process champion prevailed. In her words: "We wanted to create a single process that was really a way of thinking and working with software tools and with each other so quality was always the outcome.'

The scope of this quality process management project was ambitious. Working closely with the technology provider, the quality team identified 12 key processes spanning the entire product lifecycle and began working with department managers and critical-path quality and governance groups to roll out the plan across seven worldwide locations. Active participation by the pilot group was essential, not only to improve the targeted processes, but to help identify and log all non-quality events into the system as part of their daily work routine.

A typical non-quality event might address service problems related to part replacement. If the system doesn't provide enough detailed information and directions, it's possible that a replacement request for an incorrect part may be fulfilled with exactly the same part. When this problem is identified and submitted to the digital quality process system, an RFA is created and, if validated, resources are assigned. Using advanced workflow and data management tools, humans and systems work together to immediately contain the problem, then perform rigorous root cause analysis and build the documentation. Based on the results, corrective actions, including new business rules and process templates, are submitted for review and approval and an implementation schedule is activated with appropriate workflows and a feedback loop to ensure the problem is handled correctly.

Since the inception of the program, requests for corrective actions have averaged around 5,000 at any one time, with over 75 percent now processed in minutes rather than days. As the system evolves and participation increases, the resources required to manage the requests continue to plummet. Standardization has reduced risk and streamlined processes, making most operations easier to modify and adapt to changing conditions. The piles of paper have disappeared, accelerating throughout and reducing errors. Stakeholders from every region and function now participate enthusiastically or are requesting training and support for their departments. In fact, the chief executive officer reviews all RFAs every Thursday, so it appears that the company's process champion will have no problem maintaining momentum for quality process improvement going forward.

As they prepare for the next phase of implementation, the quality teams plan on extending access to the Web, enhancing querying, monitoring and reporting capabilities, and integrating the system with external applications — including global business partners, suppliers, and customers. While the success of this project was due, in part, to an individual with deep tribal knowledge of the organization and its processes, it would still be in the pilot phase if not for a sound tactical and communications strategy, advanced tools, and rigorous documentation and oversight.

Finally, this ambitious program confirmed that without support and participation from the executive team on down, optimization projects can never get off the ground, nor will continuous process improvement become a permanent part of the corporate culture. Because enterprise processes can control the outcome of thousands of "transactions" between humans and systems every day, they truly are the revenue engine of any large organization…and this engine is taking off.

About the Author: Lance Murphy, Product Marketing Manager of Dassault Systemes’ ENOVIA Brand, has more than 10 years experience in product management and marketing. He has expertise in product lifecycle management, enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management domains, including design for manufacturing best practices. He can be reached at lance_murphy@enovia.com.

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