Solving User Push Back Issues When Implementing Engineering Document Management

Resistance to change is a near-constant theme in engineering software. From the first generation of computers in engineering to today, people become familiar with routines and processes, and are reluctant to change without either significant external motivation or proof the benefits clearly outweigh the effort to learn new skills and adopt new workflows.

The engineering team at Eastern Shipbuilding Group (ESG) is familiar with this theme of reluctance. They were the leading candidate to win a major contract from the United States Coast Guard (USCG), but winning the contract required a significant upgrade of their data automation processes. After a thorough search of alternatives, ESG decided to replace its existing document management system with Synergis Adept.

Before Adept, ESG was using Microsoft’s SharePoint technology to manage engineering documents and connect team members. SharePoint is a technology rooted in 1990’s file management practices, with file size limits that seem quaint by today’s standards, and rudimentary search technology unable to exploit metadata or take specific advantage of CAD and related data types. SharePoint for engineering is usually a requirement placed upon engineering by the IT department, and significant changes are required to make it functional in engineering.

To win the US Coast Guard contract, ESG needed to create a single site for all US and foreign subcontractors. The USCG also required that ESG implement automated processes for tracking and reporting export specifics, for routing related to controlled data, and to be able to use metadata tied to specific classifications. The existing SharePoint system was unable to accommodate any of these new working methods. “We needed our users to be able to view data in multiple aspects,” says Jessica Riley, the contract and deliverables and data manager at ESG for the Coast Guard Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) project.

“We did a review process for several data management products,” notes Riley. “It was a contract requirement to have an integrated data management environment. When we went through the process, Adept consistently stood out as the one that met all of our needs. Some of the solutions met one or two requirements; only Adept consistently met them all.”

Internal Pushback

Once ESG standardized on Adept and installed it as the engineering document management system for the new group assigned to the USCG contract, the real work began. Riley identifies five different ways her team experienced “pushback” in the implementation process:

Generalized pushback: Everyone was familiar with the traditional tree-structured data management approach, but not all employees or external stakeholders had worked with metadata query. It was the classic “sort versus search” issue common to process automation.

Engineering pushback: The Data Card (formerly known as Library Card) is a key to organizing metadata in Adept. Successful use of Data Cards requires changes in how engineers think about information, but the payback is extremely fast access to information. Engineering teams were also comfortable with their existing methods of data transfer, either email or SharePoint, which only offer rudimentary tracking features.

Export Compliance pushback: The workflow for the compliance team needed to modernize, but the information to be reported did not change.

Purchasing pushback: “Why fix what’s not broken?” seemed to be the refrain from ESG’s Purchasing team. There were expectations of hard copy routing for reviews and approvals. Migration of data to the new system was also met with initial resistance.

Project Management pushback: Cost was a major issue with Project Management; they wanted the seat count kept low to save on license fees. Project Management also pushed to make training a low priority, even though research shows employee training on new systems such as Adept is a key to increasing productivity.

From Pushback to Push Through

To overcome resistance and inertia, Riley’s team won the support of senior management to adopt a “push through” strategy based on three principles: prevention, education, and adaptation:

Prevention: Before implementation, Riley’s team worked to predict and investigate potential areas of concern from each constituency. They met with department heads and team leaders in “blueprinting” sessions to identify issues, goals, and concerns. Their work in this phase led to better design of all aspects of their Adept installation.

Education: There were training sessions before Adept was rolled out to all users, and there is now ongoing training for existing and new users. ESG is currently alternating between bi-weekly live recorded webinars and bi-weekly training handouts. Current topics include search and upload; engineering change management; contract documents; government furnished information; and the deliverables review process.

Adaptation: “Flexibility is key,” says Riley. “Adept is a living, growing, and constantly improving database.” The team managing Adept maintains configuration of linked templates, processes, data card fields, and workflows.

“Our use of Adept is unique; we are limited to one program for the software but we have multiple departments including engineering, logistics, and purchasing” says Riley. In addition, about 85% of resources for the USCG program are located off-site via subcontracting. Seamless integration of engineering and logistics with subcontracted companies on multiple time zones on multiple continents was critical. “Adept has done this flawlessly,” says Riley.

The ESG’s USCG team now successfully manages a wide variety of information types in Adept. There are processes and procedures, vendor-furnished information, technical drawings, supporting data, and all the engineering work created in AutoCAD. “The experience I’ve had with Synergis Software from the beginning — from implementation up to currently where we are refining our processes — has been great,” says Riley. “Everyone has been more than supportive, everyone has been passionate.”

Watch Jessica’s video interview for more information. https://youtu.be/m9Y0_XGRCFI


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. More information is available at https://www.linkedin.com/in/randallnewton.

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