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Do You Plan to Excel? Or Not to Excel?

Dec. 16, 2020
For manufacturing organizations, early, high-level planning reduces costs, increases collaboration, and allows for greater control -- from conception to development, to improvement.

The ability to rapidly iterate and adapt is what moves markets. Manufacturing is as much about agility and flexibility as it is testing and introducing new products, yet even in this fast-paced environment we’re relying on dated tools meant for an entirely different world.

An organizational approach to early, high-level planning reduces costs, increases collaborative efforts, and allows for greater control in every step from conception to development and later iteration and improvement. Product managers within these organizations benefit from technology that moves at the pace they require, tools that allow for efficient planning and decision-making while aligning organizational goals with the markets they serve.

And, while the benefits of using the right tools are clear, many organizations rely on spreadsheets and paper chains even as the complexity of development grows and the time between launch cycles shrinks.

It’s a nightmarish scenario. We’re in the midst of challenges on multiple fronts, not just of consumer demand, but bringing together multiple segments of an organization itself. As technology continues to improve, using the right tools allow for the type of collaboration needed to excel, regardless of the market you serve.

Collaboration between engineers, product managers, marketing, sales teams, and even the executive suite is all too often a piecemeal approach, a bandage stretched to within millimeters of failure. And while we can see the obvious point of failure, we’re still hesitant to find better solutions, in this case planning software that works for an organization and the people within it.

Today’s product planning and management tools come with inherent problems. Manufacturers recognize a need to digitally transform product configuration, including a shift toward automation, visualization, and greater analysis capability. In spite of what we know, a recent Gocious survey shows that most product managers are still piecing together corporate strategy using a combination of emails, spreadsheets, and project management tools that are not specifically designed for manufacturers.

Spreadsheets and emails are too rigid, incapable of the flexibility needed to manage the most complex parts of the manufacturing process. Emails are an even more scattered and rigid approach, offering a solution to a number of problems presented by spreadsheets, but only when you can find them. Both solutions are less-than-ideal, and disregard needed options for collaboration at scale with colleagues and managers.

Product lifecycle management (PLM) software is a little better, though it too is not without its problems. PLM software is designed from an engineering perspective, where it works well in most cases. It’s a way to tie product configurations to engineering specs for precision in manufacturing and iteration, though it’s equally rigid, and even less friendly to those without the knowledge to use it. They leave little room, for example, for product teams to collaborate on features and product offerings as they aren’t designed around the needs or voice of the consumer.

PLM is built for engineering solutions, not collaboration between those who do and don’t understand the suite of software meant to keep them connected.

In an ideal world, one would look to a unified solution, one that is easily understandable by scientists and engineers, but also product managers and executives. This software would establish product direction while granting to various teams the needed insights to use it. It would align organizational goals while sharing product definitions and configurations with an ease of use that would making it accessible to everyone.

Unfortunately, this is why most manufacturers still are using spreadsheets and email; they’re understandable at a glance, even though most would agree that they are a solution with some rather cavernous gaps -- gaps into which important details often are lost.

To make informed decisions we must first look at the software we use to connect our teams, or our organization as a whole. And so far, unfortunately, that means we’re too often reliant on age-old solutions while better options exist.

It’s time for manufacturers to rethink the solutions that serve them and ask whether they are serving their purpose or functioning as a point of potential failure. If it’s the latter, then it’s time to abandon those solutions for something better.

Maziar Adl is the co-founder and CTO of Gocious, a cloud-based product planning software for manufacturers in auto/mobility, industrial equipment, and high-tech sectors, where he oversees end-to-end design, implementation, and development of products. Contact him at [email protected]

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