Convert Failures into Success!

I recently came across an article from , on why IT projects fail.

It had some data on a study conducted in 2007 study by Dynamic Markets Limited of 800 IT managers across eight countries which showed that:
• 62 percent of organizations experienced IT projects that failed to meet their schedules
• 49 percent suffered budget overruns
• 47 percent had higher-than-expected maintenance costs, and
• 41 percent failed to deliver the expected business value and ROI

This got me thinking about the failure rates…in my opinion these numbers are on the low side. After all, no one wants to admit they were late or did a poor job on key company wide initiatives…

If you are trying to implement a new system, how should you go about it?

I would start with assessing

(1) Drivers for change: why do we need to change our current modus operandi for executing business process? Is there a clear advantage of the new system? Is it going to add value? Are we at risk due to obsolescence of existing platform(s)

(2) Are we ready for change? Even if the new system is the right thing to do, are we ready for change? Do we have the resources required to plan, define, test and implement this new system in addition to taking of care of day to day business? Do we have the discipline to adhere to the rules and logic built within this new system or are we going to modify it so that we can continue with business as usual but in a new locale? Is this a key initiative? If so is executive management aligned with requirements, costs and possible impact on performance?

(3) Do we really understand our current business processes and systems? In most cases, it is easy to blame the instrument (business solutions) and not the musician. If you truly understand your business process and can clearly identify the flow of information, material and finance at each and every step of your end to end processes, then proceed with scoping, feasibility, selection and vendor assessments. If you understand your system (process and business solutions), then in some cases, you may not need a new tool, you can super charge your existing toolset and reap the same benefits.

(4) Software selection, my approach would be is establish a budget based on fund availability. Then benchmark with companies within your space and similar sized companies not in your space. Analyze their success and failure stories, gather as much information as possible on how much they spent and on what. Get information on what vendors they reviewed and why they selected a particular vendor. Now that you are armed, create a check list of must have capabilities to support business process! Don’t focus on technology rather focus on capabilities to bring about success by implementing a new business solution. Be

(5) Implementation, ensure that your change is well socialized and aligned to at all levels, use best practices in IT change management, project management and run the implementation as you would run your business. Focus on your customers and ensure that their success is an integral theme of your implementation. Ensure you test well and properly to ensure that all your processes will execute well within the new system. Establish a super user community ahead of time and implement a “train the trainer” program. This will ensure that your support group doesn’t get overwhelmed upon go-live.

These points are general guidelines, over the next few weeks I will add more details on best practices for each of the bullets.

"Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are my own only and in no way represent the views, positions or opinions - expressed or implied - of my employer (present and past) "
"Please post your comments - Swati Ranganathan"

Phases of Data migration: Test

Before any data is moved, it is important that some portion of the migration plan be tested and validated. Results of the migration test determine whether modification of the migration plan—for example, time line, migration tools used, amount of data migrated per session, and so on—is required. For example, if testing shows that allowable downtime would probably be exceeded, the migration methodology needs to be revisited.

Testing is a key element of the overall lifecycle of the project. Why? It

(1) proves the capability of migrating the data with no impact to the enterprise

(2) provides a good understanding of risks

(3) provides the ability to accurately define the sequence for the final migration including timelines

Start this process by reviewing the outputs from the analysis and planning stages. Engage a cross functional team and assess the capabilities, knowledge and expertise of the team. If the team has the skills, knowledge and expertise and has gone through a similar exercise in the past, then this phase is greatly simplified. Follow the same sequence as identified early.

In most cases, you might have to start from scratch. In that case, start by outlining the dependencies for data extraction, sequence them in the proper order, once the data is extracted from the source system, validate against the target system to ensure data integrity and then proceed with a sample load.

This is the time to engage your IT administrators to the fullest. Review application, database, network and infrastructure architecture and optimize from a data migration perspective.

For e.g. most data migration projects involve persistence in databases but this activity needs to be kicked off from the application layer following a syntax and methodology involving some structure in flat files (txt, xml etc.). In this case, the application and databases need to be tuned to identify the right parameters which will enable you to accomplish the load in a timely manner.

If you have distributed or federated systems, you will need the assistance of network and infrastructure administrators/architects to tune the network and servers from optimum performance, for e.g. remove bottleneck processes or establish a dedicated network etc.

This phase doesn’t conclude with successful migration and establishing a proper timeline for go-live. It should also include testing of post go-live activities. In most cases, search engines will need to be updated so that the indices are refreshed with the newly loaded data. there a number of such related activities that are tied to post go-live which are usually overlooked causing performance nightmares upon start up after data migration.

Keep at it, you can almost see the light at the end of the tunnel, next phase is validation. Remember the mantra “I love data”

"Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are my own only and in no way represent the views, positions or opinions - expressed or implied - of my employer (present and past) "
"Please post your comments - Swati Ranganathan"

Design for Manufacturability

According to Wikipedia, Design for manufacturability (DFM) is the general engineering art of designing products in such a way that they are easy to manufacture.

The keywords to pay attention to are “art of designing products” and “easy to manufacture”. How many times have you bought a piece of furniture or toys for your kids and been stuck in the middle of the instructions because it wasn’t intuitive or if you were questioning the use of some material. For example recently I had to assemble safety gates to prevent my toddler from going up or down the stairs and I was puzzled by the use of plastic to fasten the gates to the walls.

In my mind IKEA has mastered the art of design for manufacturability. Some of the key features of their products that I like are
(1) simple design with minimal parts
(2) common parts and materials
(3) design for ease of assembly
(4) modular design with sub-assemblies
(5) mistake proof instructions (poke yoke)
(6) tools /kits necessary are clearly identified if not provided within the package

Companies embark on this process improvement methodology to
(1) reduce costs
(2) standardize manufacturing process
(3) reduce churn in design through ECO cycles which could be expensive if done later in the product life cycle
(4) get better control over product configuration and architecture
(5) eliminate/control risks related to reliability, manufacturability, feasibility, quality and liability

Some of the other benefits include
(1) get it right the first time
(2) lower production cost
(3) higher quality
(4) quicker time to market
(5) increased potential for automation
(6) increased re-use of components and fewer parts to manage via MRP/procurement cycles
(7) fewer ECO cycles

How do we go about design for manufacturability?
(1) Get your requirements clearly defined using MRD process
(2) Start to simplify designs and embark on optimizing product configuration and architecture
(3) Develop strategy for options / replacements per customer request
(4) Minimize number of parts and re-use components whenever feasible
(5) Reduce the number of specials manufacturing instructions (tolerance, surface finishes)
(6) Use the right materials to get the job done
(7) Increase collaboration between engineering/product development teams and the manufacturing teams
(8) Review design often and use a cross functional audience to explore options to reduce costs, increase re-use, reduce development time
(9) Use lessons learned from the past on failures and shortcomings of similar designs and avoid making the same mistakes

"Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are my own only and in no way represent the views, positions or opinions - expressed or implied - of my employer (present and past) "
"Please post your comments - Swati Ranganathan"

Career Advice from Top CIOs

Great article from with great insights and tips from great mentors.

the key takeaways: take ownership, don't be afraid of details, get your hands dirty, pick the projects that nobody else wants, admit your shortcomings, focus on your managers needs and fulfil their needs!

"Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are my own only and in no way represent the views, positions or opinions - expressed or implied - of my employer (present and past) "
"Please post your comments - Swati Ranganathan"

What is operational excellence?

As usual I will start by quoting the definition from Wikipedia, “Operational Excellence is a philosophy of leadership, teamwork and problem solving resulting in continuous improvement throughout the organization by focusing on the needs of the customer, empowering employees, and optimizing existing activities in the process.”

If you read through the definition, you can clearly identify the key tenets: leadership, continuous improvement, focus on customer, and optimizing current processes. Simply put, operational excellence is executing in an efficient and effective manner across the value chain with a focus on delivering value to customers.

The Operational Excellence program provides a framework to understand why and how performance needs to improve. The road to achieving operational excellence is by identifying value chain business processes, identifying strengths/weaknesses of them (based on key measurements and benchmarks) and redesigning these processes to align with corporate / strategic goals and ensure that organizations, resources and assets are utilized in the best possible manner.

When you pore through the reference material on operational excellence, you will see terms/phrases like “on par with industry”, “best in class”, “world class”. There are differences in all these phrases, if you choose to embark on operational excellence, focus first to meet/exceed your competition’s performance and then become the best of your peers and then become the best among organizations outside of your industry and region.

Each and every industry and organization/business unit within each company can create and run their operational excellence program. In most cases, value chain processes span across multiple organizations, so the focus should be on process execution (related to handoffs) and ensure the best use of assets and resources across the enterprise. Automation and business process re-engineering have great potential so does streamlining / integrating data and business system like ERP, CRM etc.

"Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are my own only and in no way represent the views, positions or opinions - expressed or implied - of my employer (present and past) "
"Please post your comments - Swati Ranganathan"

How to manage knowledge within CAD

In a series of posts, I will discuss my thoughts on how we can manage knowledge and leverage lessons learned to effectively and efficiently manage the product design process. In this post, I have outlined a few ideas and technology on promoting knowledge management and design re-use within the CAD domain.

CAD users, like engineers and designers, work in a fast paced environment with the pressures of reduced time to market and faster design cycles. In most cases, this results in little or no design re-use. Over the last 10 years, CAD vendors have come up with many features like
(1) shape indexing
(2) user defined features
(3) saved sketches/profiles

Shape indexing is an excellent feature by which the CAD system indexes shapes used within 3D models and alerts users when they are trying to recreate a similar shape. This can be tricky to implement and manage but has many advantages once you overcome the teething pains. Much like document/metadata indexing, shape indexing can be configured for optimum performance.

Multiple studies have indicated that 25-40% of designs are duplicates. While this might be warranted per business processes like interchangeability, we should be mindful of unintentional waste of resources. Shape indexing can be the key to improving efficiencies. In the past, I setup PTC’s ModelCHECK and was impressed with the results.

User defined features and saved sketches are similar in scope. These capture certain pieces of design that are often repeated. By creating these using best practices for design, users can embed these in a plug and play manner by just specifying the references. This saves $$$ in wasted repeated non value added tasks.

Metadata, like part/assembly description (or names), revision, manufacturer name and number are often not standardized. These tidbits of information when managed properly can support design re-use greatly. In most cases, since manufacturer part #/descriptions are not properly managed, engineers waste valuable time in modeling hardware like nuts/bolts/washers etc, when they could be focused on design and adding capability to their products. Again, tools like ModelCHECK can greatly contribute significantly by ensuring that standards are followed and adhered to.

"Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are my own only and in no way represent the views, positions or opinions - expressed or implied - of my employer (present and past) "
"Please post your comments - Swati Ranganathan"

Customer Experience Management!

With increased focus on systems and internal processes within most companies, customer experience seems to have been missed.

While addressing issues within business systems and business processes to improve efficiency, cycle time and efficiency is good, the focus should be placed on the customer first. Ensure that you have
(1) the right offers/experiences setup for your customers
(2) processes and systems by which the offers/experiences can be served to your customers
(3) focus on end to end execution of business processes and not within individual organizations to ensure customer satisfaction, in most cases hand-offs between organizations cause significant delays and adversely impact customer experiences
(4) ensure repeated delivery of value to your customers

These 4 points apply to all types of customers (not just the ones buying the products/services of your company...)

"Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are my own only and in no way represent the views, positions or opinions - expressed or implied - of my employer (present and past) "
"Please post your comments - Swati Ranganathan"

Do you know what your customers want?

I read an interesting blog post on "How Knowledge Can Hurt Innovation", which clearly illustrated how most of us assume that others are aware of what we know and what we are talking about.

After years of managing of technology and business processes, I have learned to listen to my customers (internal and external) and make sure that I have understood their requirements and follow up with multiple sessions of deep dives and alignment to ensure that my understanding matches their requirements.

What you say may not match what your customers heard, and the converse is true, what you heard may not be what the customer told you. Don't make assumptions in important projects. Constantly challenge yourself and your teams to check if your assumptions and views are aligned with customer expectations.

"Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are my own only and in no way represent the views, positions or opinions - expressed or implied - of my employer (present and past) "
"Please post your comments - Swati Ranganathan"

Cost Benefit Analysis

As part of problem solving approach, you will end up with multiple solution options, how would you evaluate each of these and pick the optimum solution?

Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA) is one of the evaluation techniques to identify the right solution; it is a widely used technique to analyze solution options and decide on an approach to remedy a problem or implement a solution for an opportunity. CBA provides a means for systematically comparing the value of outcomes with the value of resources required to achieve the outcome.

Generally feasibility studies analyze viability of projects and solutions; technical feasibility looks at factors like architecture and scalability primarily from a technical perspective. CBA focuses on economical feasibility and determines if a solution is cost effective and economically sound.

Best practices:

(1) CBA must document all assumptions

(2) CBA must contains at least 3 solution options, one of the options would be “no change” or “as is” condition, to highlight cost of avoidance.

(3) Customers /Stakeholder must be the ones to identify and determine how to measure and evaluate the benefits.

(4) Customers/Stakeholder must be interviewed to identify the potential impacts of new or modified systems.

(5) CBA must have data for 3-5 year time frame to paint a better picture of one time and ongoing costs and benefits.

Be mindful of the fact that both costs and benefits are made up of one time and ongoing elements.

Costs are made of the following elements:

Labor /Services- labor costs include the salaries and benefits of employees and contractors/consultants assigned to the project. Sometimes this may also be referred to as services costs.

Software – All applications or software which has to be purchased or programmed. This may include not only price of procurement but also cost of licenses over the maintenance time frame.

Hardware- Equipment required to implement solutions for e.g. CPU, storage, RAM, servers, laptops, desktops, workstations etc.

Training – costs related to training project team members, stakeholders, super users and the larger user community. This could include monies spent on training material, instructors, software, training delivery and workshops/conferences.

Depending upon the project type, you might need to look into additional cost items like materials, supplies, facilities, travel, lodging and telecommunications related costs. There might be projects or software implementations which would involve additional headcount requirements which may involve additional costs related to recruitment and so on.

A good place to start the documentation of costs would be the current setup Review activities and resources engaged in the current process this indicates the labor/service costs. Review current system architecture and identify all software applications, this will lead you to software costs, resources costs for administration and license/maintenance costs, hardware used and then to hardware’s cost, depreciation, maintenance.

Benefits are the services, capabilities, and qualities of each alternative system, and can be viewed as the return from an investment. To estimate benefits, first identify the benefits for both the customers and the organization that provides the service(s) to the customers. Start by analyzing a number of factors to thoroughly review all potential benefits like: Accuracy, Availability, Performance, Compatibility, Efficiency, Maintainability, Modularity, Reliability and Security. Some might refer to benefits as return on investment (ROI).

At a simplistic level, if you compare the costs and benefits of each of the solution options then you are doing cost benefit analysis. In later posts, I will discuss how this type of analysis can be combined with other techniques to evaluate all solution options for e.g. maturity of solutions, impact to business process, technical feasibility etc.

"Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are my own only and in no way represent the views, positions or opinions - expressed or implied - of my employer (present and past) "
"Please post your comments - Swati Ranganathan"

A CAD World without Standards

an excellent article on impact of no standards...

"Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are my own only and in no way represent the views, positions or opinions - expressed or implied - of my employer (present and past) "
"Please post your comments - Swati Ranganathan"

Blog Disclaimer.

I recently came across a number of articles on how (1) bloggers have now become authors of sponsored content...(2) Copyright violations via blogs. This has prompted this post: Disclaimer to my blog.

The views and opinions expressed here are my own only and in no way represent the views, positions or opinions - expressed or implied - of my employer (present and past) or anyone else.

My thoughts and opinions change from time to time; this is a natural offshoot of having an open and inquisitive mind. This blog’s primary purpose is to document how we can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our customers by documenting an approach to problem solving, improving business process execution by analyzing a multitude of approaches and technological solutions.

In the past, I documented my thoughts and views in a document; to serve as a repository of knowledge and I intend for this blog to be the same. By posting on the web, others are welcome to learn from my knowledge and views but keep an open mind.

"Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are my own only and in no way represent the views, positions or opinions - expressed or implied - of my employer (present and past) "
"Please post your comments - Swati Ranganathan"

CAD standards, What/Why

Standards in CAD (computer aided design) can be important enablers. Sometimes, designers and engineers complain about standards and the burden placed on them to adhere to standards and how this impacts their productivity.

I can emphatically state that CAD without standards is a recipe for disaster.

How can I back this up?
(1) I have over 10 years of experience in designing and managing CAD implementation (multi CAD, multi locations)
(2) I wrote the training manual for CAD standards and system administration and taught CAD/PDM administrators how to efficiently setup CAD environments and manage them effectively.

Benefits of CAD Standards include,
(1) Repeatability and quality of design
(2) Increased efficiency of drafters, designers and engineers
(3) Reduced costs by enabling reliable, standards-conformed, data

What should be included in CAD standards?
(1) Best practices for modeling

Include all aspects of design for e.g. casting, molding, chamfer, rounds, tolerances, inseparable assemblies, mirror etc. Document the processes with references to part number conventions used within the organization so that all users can name their assemblies, parts, features in a consistent manner and follow the same process/procedure to create 3d models.

(2) Best practices per CAD software

Every CAD package manages parent-child relationships in a different manner. Parent child relationships sometimes cause extensive problems in CAD data management and upgrades of PDM systems. Try and leverage the best practices per the vendor or the user community.

(3) Design drafting standards

Modify templates (for parts, assemblies and drawings) and configuration files to use the right units, views, drawing conventions like symbols, notes, tolerances, arrows, cross sections etc.

(4) Attributes/Metadata

Include attributes into the templates (for parts, assemblies and drawings) and prompt the user to enter this information as part of the creation process, this will ensure that the information entered is consistent. In most cases, if this is not entered during creation, it never gets captured. Most CAD packages have the capability to allow the drawing tables to be populated based on part/assemblies linked to them. In addition, this information can be passed from CAD into PDM systems and then into PLM/ERP systems.

(5) Software Configuration

Ensure that the software configuration on client's machines are consistent. If you dont control this configuration, then users can modify the settings and you will end up with standards not being followed.

If you don't include internal best practices/design drafting standards and match them with CAD vendors' best practices, you could end up with a mess on your hands. CAD systems are complex, and if you allow your users to have a free reign, data management becomes a hassle and will have a significant impact on down stream processes used within supply chain and manufacturing.

In a later post, I will discuss how to go about setting standards & how to go about cleaning a messy situation!

"Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are my own only and in no way represent the views, positions or opinions - expressed or implied - of my employer (present and past) "
"Please post your comments - Swati Ranganathan"