“Project management can be defined as a way of developing structure in a complex project, where the independent variables of time, cost, resources and human behavior come together.” — Rory Burke

MES (Manufacturing Execution Systems) applications have become highly sought-after solutions in the modern manufacturing landscape, which is being driven by the availability and successful harnessing of information at the core of the current industrial revolution, Industry 4.0.

A Manufacturing Operations Platform, which focuses on building a robust and yet flexible supply chain, geared to preserve profitability and provide strategic agility,  mandates the need to have manufacturing at the epicenter, with an MES that is perfectly suited for your particular industry segment, driving the whole endeavor. 

Establishing the need for an MES application for your global manufacturing infrastructure to connect the value chain, orchestrate manufacturing operations, create compliant and efficient processes and deliver actionable, real-time information which is tailored for the hierarchical level it is delivered to, is only the tip of the MES iceberg. It is only after the top management realizes the need to implement an MES, or to update the existing legacy system, that the MES project starts to take shape. With it comes complexity and fear of failure; so, to alleviate those fears, today we will explore ways in which you can ensure that your MES project is a success.

Dealing with Complexity

IT projects, especially MES implementation projects have a high level of inherent complexity, simply because of the large number of variables and deliverables, millions of transactions happening simultaneously and a diverse group of stakeholders having different priorities; yet there’s the pressing need to create a harmonious baseline in and across manufacturing plants, which are not only sometimes separated by geographic locations, but may have other complexities such as varying manufacturing styles.

It is vital when you are starting an MES project to have a clear vision of what is needed, how it will be pursued (do you use partners or an in-house team, for example) and what should the end result look like. Achieving this without guidance is challenging.

To ensure that your MES implementation succeeds, it is vital to get certain foundational things right; this will lead to a successful implementation. So, without further ado, let’s get into the requisites of making your MES project an absolute success.

The Six Ways of Ensuring MES Project Success

1. The Right Team

As is the case in any successful business pursuit, the right set of people on the project can make all the difference. In an MES project, it is absolutely critical to have the right mix of personnel in the selection through implementation team; representations from plant and shop-floor levels are a must. The winning formula is to have a capable and neutral leader from senior management lead, with a cross-functional team assembled, consisting of personnel from IT, Manufacturing, R&D, Compliance/Quality, Sales, Supply Chain and other important functional areas. Personnel from other plants of the group must also be included if your company has operations across the world that will be included in the rollout.

The right mix of people will also be influenced by your industry segment, core activity, operational maturity and availability of functional experts. What is important is to have personnel with deep functional insights and the ability to see beyond their own priorities and look at the ‘big picture.’ They should also be willing to see the entire project through as active participants. They understand what an MES project entails and how it benefits both the organization and their own functional area.

The Leader’s role in steering the project and keeping it on track can’t be emphasized enough; the person chosen should be a person who values reason and leads through logic, but at the same time knows how to rally both internal and external parties to deliver what must be achieved from a project perspective. A leader equipped with in-depth knowledge of operations and IT projects, who knows the drivers behind the MES project, and a team that has the singular goal to have the MES project succeed (realizing how it will help improve their daily work-life) is the right team for you.

In the case of any MES project, the participation of process owners, who will be the primary users is essential and will determine the success or failure (complete or partial) of your MES project; this must be taken into account when assembling your MES ‘dream team.’

2. The Right Guidance

Before looking outward for third party or external consultants, it is advisable to seek internal guidance to identify the areas which are in need of most improvement from a value chain perspective. Knowledge of your own operation is key to a successful MES implementation, so internal guidance must be sought from process owners, IT leaders and supply chain partners to clearly understand the status quo.

The leadership of the organization using this internal guidance can then map what a future operation orchestrated by an MES application would look like. This activity of seeking guidance and understanding, then subsequently categorizing areas of improvement or areas in need of technological reconfiguring, will be a vital contributor in determining how the project will perform.

Other resources at this stage may be industry peers, industry analysts or third party white papers. The goal is to create a broad set of project deliverables, while identifying areas in direct need of improvements, re-engineering or upgrades. Once determined, the base document that is created can be used for discussions with both potential implementation/services partners and MES vendors.

3. The Right Goals

Once a base understanding of why the MES is needed and which areas is it most needed in are determined, the next (and probably the most defining step) is to establish clear goals and deliverables. For a project as large and complex as an MES deployment, it is easier said than done!

The approach to determining what an MES needs to deliver should result from the self-analysis and base document prepared in guidance of the internal stakeholders. Strategic goals should be considered and the goals of the MES project must be aligned with those strategic goals.

MES vendors and their product offerings traditionally have a diverse set of functionalities; each vendor and their application will have different market focus and strengths. Unless it is absolutely clear what your organization needs from the MES, choosing and subsequently deploying an MES application is challenging. So, refer to your basic needs document and then outline a set of must-haves which are absolutely needed from the MES. For example, depending on your industry segment, your need may be to have process execution and scheduling capabilities. Similarly, in industries which are highly regulated, quality and compliance might have priority over the ability to upgrade system functionality regularly; understanding this internal set of requirements and trade-offs will help you forge the goals of your MES deployment. Once you have determined the goals, you can move onto the next steps with a degree of certainty.

4. The Right Implementation/Consulting Partner

The choice of the right MES implementation or consulting partner is absolutely critical in the success of the impending MES project. In order to make the right choice, asking the right questions is key: whether the partner has relevant industry experience; whether they have been a part of (or lead) successful MES implementations with the same or similar manufacturing operations; whether they have the right MES vendors aligned with them; and whether they are located in key geographies which map to your plant locations; generally, any of the questions which are associated with your needs and goals need to be determined.

 In meeting with potential partners it should be ensured that they are given a very clear picture of what the core team believes is to be achieved through the MES deployment; seek their views on establishing timelines, exploring potential vendors and affirming goals which have been set internally are reasonable and achievable.

If and only if the potential partner or consultant meets the above criteria (along with any other qualities you feel important) should you proceed with them, again reemphasizing the importance of in-depth industry knowledge and collaborating with the right application vendors.

5. The Right Timeline

The right timeline is everything when it comes to a project. There is no point implementing an MES project which theoretically will last for years and find upon completion that new industry dynamics, technologies and offerings have made your solution obsolete because it took too long to finish.

Establishing the correct timelines can be done through clear engagement of internal core team with the selected implementation consultant and MES vendor. As is the case in any multi-dimensional project, trade-offs may be needed at this stage to set a clear and agreed-upon deployment timeline.

While setting the timeline, the most important thing to remember is that project should be divided into critical milestones, but should not end at the rollout, but rather should continue until the MES is delivering the very goals which it was supposed to in the plan.

So, setting up deliverables, deploying an application pilot, re-iterate and follow with the larger deployment, while stabilizing and monitoring the process/processes, should all be considered while setting initial timelines, keeping a well-defined margin for contingencies.

Once the timeline is set, regular milestone reviews which involve all relevant parties, including the consultants, vendor and the MES project team, should occur to an established schedule, with updates should be provided to top management accordingly, to ensure that the implementation remains on track.

6. The Right MES

We have saved the best for the last! Selecting the right MES is probably the most important aspect of getting the implementation right.

In order to determine whether a specific MES is suitable for your operation/s, the MES application itself needs to be thoroughly analyzed and compared against goals set.

There are important check marks to consider:

  • Its focus on your industry (product set, customer references and industry use cases) experience
  • The alignment with your specific functional deliverables
  •  Its ability to adapt to change
  • The ‘openness’ of its architecture to incorporate modern technologies
  • The application’s inherent maturity
  • Its ability to deploy a modular feature set, allowing for customization while maintaining the integrity of the application

and other features which may be important to you (cloud hosted, best in class references, etc.).

The MES vendor should be prepared to present the ability of their MES application to meet your key deliverables once they’ve passed your initial screening.

If you go to step two with them, testing the application by deploying a pilot is strongly recommended. Once a vendor (or vendors) is/are shortlisted, seeing the software’s performance in your simulated environment helps you to determine its applicability to your industry and needs.

Making the Selection Process a Success: Final Considerations

There is no point having a great MES application deployed if the MES vendor, the consultant and core team can’t get the process owners on board. The approach the vendor takes towards deployment and subsequent stages of the project should be considered.

The vendor team handling the project, their interactions with your stakeholders and their ability to be a catalyst in making the process owners ‘own’ the project are all soft aspects of the selection process.

So, choose the right MES Vendor and application, and you have a winning strategy, fully in place to deliver the best possible MES for your value chain.

If all Six Steps for Success are followed, your MES project has a great chance of succeeding. Your considerations of the right reasons, the right partners and the right team (and buy-in of senior leadership) are the foundations for a MES project that will meet your current and future needs, and deliver on your project goals.