Sooner or later, engineering and design companies realize they need to take control of their rapidly growing collection of data files. There are many solutions on the market, with varying approaches to product data management. With more than 20 years of experience, Synergis has settled on a KISS approach. Not KISS as in “keep it simple, stupid!” but as in “keep it simple for success.” Instead of creating a large proprietary database management system just for engineering, Synergis Adept offers a file-based approach that makes sense to users and administrators alike.
Once a company has decided to go with Synergis Adept, it is time to plan the implementation. Again, the motto “keep it simple for success” is the best approach. From start to finish there are straightforward ways to keep everyone affected by adoption involved, motivated, and informed.
Put people first
The most important task is to make sure every team member feels like a participant. Not everyone will be hands-on for installing and customizing Adept, but everyone needs to come out of the process with a sense of ownership. Implementation usually works best when there is a small team planning and overseeing the project. This group needs to represent all parts of your user community, including those whose need to access information may be infrequent.
Just as you need adequate bandwidth on your data network, make sure to use all of the bandwidth between the ears in your company. Make sure the core team is reporting regularly to their constituency. This means selecting people who are naturals at sharing, or at least are willing to be accessible and open about what is going on. Remember, the information flow regarding implementation needs to be two-way. Ideas need to come from all corners of the company, not just from the corner office. [I love this.] Core team members need to be clear about the changes coming, and clear about communicating concerns and ideas back to the implementation. The more you keep the lines of communication open, the more you get buy-in from every colleague.
Map the new neighborhood
The old phrase “to fail to plan is to plan to fail” is at the heart of a successful PDM implementation. With guidance from your vendor or implementation consultant, make sure to conduct a comprehensive assessment of company needs. You also need to write a clear statement of what a successful implementation looks like.
If the project is complex, sometimes a phased implementation is the right approach. Other times the end goals can be achieved all at once. Either way, the advisory group and the core team need to agree on the scope of work, the workflows to be modified, document naming schemes, the nature of transmittals, and other essential aspects of data management. Mapping the new neighborhood means the team has taken the time to turn broad goals into specific deliverables.
Two points to remember about data: One, there is always more data to be managed than initially expected; and two, some data is more valuable than others. For example, is it part of a current workflow, is it archive only? Who uses it? Who relies on it? How clean is it (ready to be re-used)? The more deeply you understand the data to be added to the PDM, the easier things are afterwards.
Build a bridge to somewhere special
Sometimes when adding a new design or engineering-based PDM, you need to take connectivity into account . Maybe there is already ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) or work order management software in use, and the PDM needs to connect to it. Or maybe the company is looking ahead to installing other business automation systems in the future, and will want the PDM to be flexible enough to share data.
Either way, it is important to think about extending beyond PDM before the implementation starts. Again, “keep it simple for success” should be the mantra. Don’t make a custom extension to an existing or future system too complex at first; you can always grow and evolve as needs change. Don’t let “what if?” thinking turn into fear-based thinking; be practical and well-grounded in the current realities of your company’s processes. Be specific about the problems to be solved by connecting to another business system, and make sure everyone understands how the connection will work.
Practice makes perfect
So you involved everyone in the planning, and you’ve thought through how your company will use PDM. You implement the solution. Now it is time to get everyone on board with using it. Holding a few classes before the system goes live is not enough. Everyone learns differently. Some will “get it” immediately, some will need a few classroom sessions, and some will need one-on-one time with a mentor. It is best to plan for all the modalities, including “over the shoulder” ongoing support for a season.
When you go live, technical users will have to change some habits. Effective training before, during, and after the switchover can increase user confidence, which in turn decreases time to value and increases ROI.
Advice from an expert
For 20 years Todd Cummings has been an enthusiastic advocate of engineering data management solutions, and has been a part of hundreds of successful implementations of Adept as vice president of research and development for Synergis Software. Recently Todd distilled his experience into a short white paper that boils down successful data management implementation to six steps. It is excellent advice no matter what PDM software you select. You can download Six Critical Steps to a Successful Data Management Implementation.
Randall S. Newton is the principal analyst and managing director at Consilia Vektor, a consulting firm serving the engineering software industry. He has been directly involved in engineering software in a number of roles since 1985.