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Purpose

The purpose of this white paper is to provide the reader with a plan for forming an IT or Engineering Department that Users regard as superheroes.

·      You’ll become a trusted advisor to organizational leaders

·      You’ll create a predictable stream of new value to the business

·      You’ll make your team an All-Star team that delivers ‘all-stars’ results

Suggested Audience

·      IT / Engineering Managers or Directors who manage PLM technology

·      Organizational Leaders who want their IT to be more proactive than reactive

·      PLM Evangelists or Champions seeking organizational buy-in

Introduction

The work of the IT or Engineering Systems group is often unheralded and under-appreciated by those in ‘the business’. When the applications and network environments work, the team who makes this possible is somewhat invisible. When things fail, then the support group must work hard to keep perceptions of their value from negative to neutral. How often is the value perception positive? How often is the value perception wildly positive?

How does an IT or Engineering Systems leader move him or herself and their group into a position of being valued and perceived so positively that they are considered akin to superheroes within the organization? Let’s take this hero’s journey from the leader through technology onto the entire team.

Obi-Wan with the Tech

Star Wars’ Obi-Wan Kenobi was a Jedi Master who advised both his leaders: the Jedi Council, and his students: Anakin and (later) Luke Skywalker. Let’s ignore the tragic results of the Council’s and Anakin‘s demise, and instead focus on how being both a Master and a Mentor will make you a hero within your organization.

Become a Master of the Tech

– Oh, be one with the Tech! (Do you see what I did there?) To provide the most value, you will need to have a deep understanding of the features and value of technology. To become a master of the technologies within your control, you won’t need to understand every technical detail; you’ll want to understand the technology’s current value and potential value to the organization. How do you do this? By mapping three areas of expertise: Business Usage Knowlege, Knowledge of Technology Features, and the Ability to Map Problems to Features.

Business Usage Knowledge involves understanding how the business applies the technology today, the value it’s providing, and the problems, bugs, etc. with it currently. How do you gain this knowledge?

  • Observing and talking to the technology’s users
  • Conducting Value Stream Mapping exercises
  • Reviewing in-house support requests

Knowledge of the Features in the technology, in the currently installed build and the latest available build makes you the wise and knowledgeable guide that your organization needs. How do you gain this knowledge?

  • Visit the technology provider’s website, webinars, user guides, and user conferences
  • Have the technology provider’s application engineers demo the software
  • Subscribe to PLM and PLM technology blogs
  • Watch YouTube videos showcasing the technology’s features in use

Ability to Map Problems to Features is the critical skill to master. Knowing how to fix the businesses’ problems with unused features is how you shift the focus from being reactive to being proactive.

  • Expose users to new features and seek their feedback
  • Benchmark with peers in other divisions/companies who have applied the features, (local, regional, and national user conferences are a good way to do this)

 Become a Trusted Advisor to the Council

– Continuing with the Obi-Wan Kenobi analogy; Obi-Wan is often seen conferring with the Jedi Council. Likewise, you will need to become adept at conferring with your user representatives, their Management and your Management. Knowing how to resolve business problems is not the same as solving business problems. To get the opportunity, and let’s face it, to get the funding to make changes, you’ll need to become a trusted advisor to the users and Management. I’ll assume that you are already trusted to react well to issues as they occur. You’ll now need to build up a wellspring of trust to for the right to request unsolicited changes to the organization. Your requests should contain at least these five elements (in this order):

  1. Clear problem statement (the what) of what the business is experiencing
  2. Business impacts of the problems (the current why); and preferably converted into a dollar value per time period
  3. Business impacts of the proposed solutions (the new why); converted into a dollar value per time period.
  4. High-level technology and/or process changes to be implemented (the how)
  5. Cost to implement the changes (the new what) compared in relation to the benefits (i.e. the ROI)

By presenting solutions proactively, the IT/Engineering Services organization becomes a source of inspiration and added value to the organization.

Become a Mentor to the Chosen Ones

– The last key to becoming a master of your technological domain is to mentor your direct reports (i.e. the Chosen Ones) so that they become masters within their domains. Your direct reports should develop the same skills as described above, just to an even greater level of detail and provide you with the information you need to be successful.

The MCU Effect

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has changed the way Hollywood makes Super-Hero movies. Other studios are creating shared universes combined from different and distinct properties. This has been called “the MCU effect” (Samuel, 2017). Similarly, your technological environment probably consists of different and distinct applications. Your challenge is to simplify and combine them into a shared universe of business solutions. You are going to change the ways PLM is maintainedcommunicated, and updated to create your own MCU effect.

Maintain the best of your environment – Similarly to scriptwriting, it’s important to first simplify your ‘shared universe’ by editing out redundant and difficult to maintain components. Then your team can become more efficient and effective at maintaining the current applications. DevOps is a way to do this. Development+Operations or DevOps is a software engineering culture and practice that aims at unifying software development and software operation. (DevOps, n.d.) DevOps is becoming more prevalent in maintaining enterprise applications. Some of the categories of tools (specific needs and applications may vary) in a DevOps toolchain are:

  • Code — code development and review, source code management tools, code merging
  • Build — continuous integration tools, build status
  • Test — continuous testing tools that provide feedback on business risks
  • Package — artifact repository, application pre-deployment staging
  • Release — change management, release approvals, release automation
  • Configure — infrastructure configuration and management, Infrastructure as Code tools
  • Monitor — applications performance monitoring, end–user experience (DevOps, n.d.)

Communicate your upcoming blockbusters and deleted scenes – This area is the least technical of the three, but arguably, the most important. Communication cannot be over-emphasized in understanding the business (see Obi-Wan with the Tech section) and help the business understand what your team is doing. Take some cues from the movie business and release regular and consistent updates of the blockbusters soon to be released (i.e. upgrades) and major deleted scenes (i.e. bug fixes). Use at least the first four of the same five elements from the section on Becoming a Trusted Advisor:

  • Clear Problem Statement
  • Business Impact of the Problem
  • Business Impact of the Solution
  • High-Level Technology and/or Process Changes

Use the most effective one and two-way communication tools and methods within your company. If you have an Organizational Change Management group, partner with them to build an effective communication strategy and efficient delivery tools. If you do not have internal resources, qualified consultants are worth the investment.

Update the software to add value consistently – Your PLM software changes often with bug fixes and new feature updates. Your maintenance payments cover these improvements. When you let a newly released build go unused, you are literally leaving value on the table. If you and your team are becoming masters of the technology, you’ll be able to articulate the value in new builds and get approval for updating the software. Update the software consistently to add value with approaches like:

  • Know what new features/modules/software add value by knowing what the organization needs (not just what they ask for)
  • Make each application’s Technical Support organization your ally in preparing for and applying updates.
  • Apply a DevOps approach (see Maintain the software above) to software updates. Especially important are the testing tools to uncover any regressions in the new build.

Doing these three things well will create an MCU effect that, like Marvel’s, will create consistent anticipation in your user community to be a part of the next new thing.

The All-Star Initiative

In the first Iron Man movie (and the acknowledged start of the MCU), Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Nick Fury had a very impactful line: “I’m here to talk to you about the Avengers Initiative.” It was the start of the current 20+ movie arc. Well, I’m here to talk to you about the All-Star Initiative. This will be your start to a super-heroic team that saves the world for your organization’s users every day.

Assemble an All-Star Team

– Many organizations have created Centers of Excellence to centralize the expertise around a given domain. A PLM Center of Excellence could be created to assemble an All-Star team focused on PLM. Key actions necessary in building the team are:

  • Make super-heroes out of each team member through applying the same “Master of the Tech” approach for specific applications and/or capabilities. While you focus on high-level features and value, your all-star team will master more detailed and lower-level capabilities (including implementation and administration requirements). By doing so, they can provide you and the users with informed advice to support sound business decisions.
  • Create complimentary roles – Ensure that you develop teammates that have complementary skills and can approach problems and solutions from both technical and business process viewpoints. Ensure that application and infrastructure expertise is available and finally ensure that business analysts or business representatives are acting as true voices-of-their-customers.
  • Pass the mantle – As your team becomes stronger and more inter-dependent, you can focus more on being proactive and finding value and let the team handle problem resolution and DevOps.
  • Get All the Stars in Customer Satisfaction – Most support organizations judge their effectiveness with satisfaction surveys. If your group were judged on a scale of 1 to 5 stars, how would they go about consistently getting all 5 stars?
  • Be proactive – As you resolve routine problems and launch new features, actively seek out stakeholder (i.e. users and managers) feedback. Often it helps to seek this feedback just after the change and 30-60 days later after the change has had time to become more routine.
  • Go look and see – Surveys are helpful but going out to look and see users in action is even more insightful. Apply the Japanese management approach of the Gemba Walk. Gemba translates to the real place where value is created and the actual work is done (Lean Tools Spotlights: GEMBA WALK, n.d.). You and your team should go out and observe users using the technology. Observation followed by targeted face-to-face questions will not only provide better insight but will also provide real-time responsiveness to user issues and concerns. All of which improves user satisfaction.
  • Set then exceed expectations – An effective communications strategy will help set stakeholder expectations. The effective leader will then work to have themselves and their team meet and, where feasible, exceed those expectations. Most don’t complain about having problems fixed ahead of schedule or under-budget.

Being proactive, being observant, and exceeding expectations will go a long way in earning top marks in your specific customer satisfaction metrics.

Conclusion

Hopefully, I’ve laid out a solid case for building a super-heroic IT group. This may seem to be hyperbolic but so are Superhero movies. By becoming “Obi-Wan” with the Tech, you can ensure that you and your team are respected as trusted advisors and change agents. You can build your very own MCU Effect by maintaining, communicating, and updating your technology landscape in consistent and well-communicated ways. Lastly, you can build an All-Star Team in terms of capabilities and commitment to customer satisfaction. The combination of these things should make you super-heroic, or at least, not the villain.

Key Take-Aways

  • Be a Master of the technology’s value and functions. You don’t need to be a master of the technical details.
  • Having a Technologist’s Mastery allows you to be the organization’s Trusted Advisor and change agent.
  • Maintain and continuously upgrade the technology along with consistent communication of the improvements’ usage and value to all stakeholders.
  • Develop an all-star team to lead the organization’s use of the technology
  • Develop a team culture that works toward maintaining top ratings in customer satisfaction

About the Author

Lewis Kennebrew leads the Business Process Consulting function at Archer Grey LLC. He has over 20 years’ experience in New Product Development (NPD) and Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) technology strategies and technologies. Lewis has experience helping Clients across many industries in every area from Strategy development to Business and Organizational Change Management, to technology implementations across many of the top PLM systems.

About Archer Grey, LLC

Whether you’re just beginning the PLM journey, looking for ways to optimize an existing solution, have poor adoption or no significant ROI, ArcherGrey is here to assess, guide and help you deliver along the way. ArcherGrey’s comprehensive PLM service offerings span a system’s complete life cycle – from initial strategy and planning, through design, development, and deployment, to ongoing system maintenance, upgrades and support, then finally, retirement. We strive to provide highly effective solutions that are aligned with your environment that enable your business objectives while equipping your staff with the proper knowledge and training to be self-sufficient moving forward.

All references to commercial works of art and trademarks are the property of their respective owners

White Paper: “Super-Heroic IT” ©2019 Archer Grey LLC

Works Cited

DevOps. (n.d.). Retrieved 3 28, 2018, from Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DevOps

Lean Tools Spotlights: GEMBA WALK. (n.d.). Retrieved 3 28, 2018, from http://www.getkaizened.com/blog/lean-tools-spotlights-gemba-walk-4/

Tomovic, C. L., Ncube, L., Walton, A., & Grieves, M. W. (2010). Development of Product Lifecycle Management metrics: measuring the impact of PLM. International Journal of Manufacturing Technology and Management, 19, 167-179. Retrieved 3 16, 2018, from http://inderscienceonline.com/doi/full/10.1504/ijmtm.2010.031366

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