The question of “can I still continue with my MES implementation today” seems to be coming up frequently from a lot of people. It’s not unusual to have concerns about progress to plan when the majority of experienced resources will be working remotely from the plant. That’s why we’ve decided to share our practices and experience in these trying times.
Critical Manufacturing’s implementation methodology has always had a strong remote work component. The majority of our implementation work is done off-site, so working remotely is, to a certain extent, “business as usual”. In the past, this was a concern to some of our customers who expected an almost constant on-site presence. While, having a sound mixture of on- and off-site activities was considered as a valuable component of the methodology, it prepared us to face the current crisis with very low impact for the implementation projects (when at all).
Our Remote Methodology
Through each stage of the project, there are times that a face-to-face meeting was typically necessary. Since those are mostly not possible now, we’ve adapted the processes, leveraging remote technologies to supplement our practice:
Definition phase / blueprint
- The normal way: When a project is kicked off, we typically have on-site sessions for line tours, requirements clarification, backlog creation and general information gathering.
- Remote alternatives: We use videoconferencing and virtual whiteboards to support the discussions. Discussions on the manufacturing process itself have to be extended to replace physical line tours. We also adjust our team’s working hours, when needed, to ensure some overlap with the customer’s working hours.
- Our experience: The experience so far has been quite positive in one the most challenging phases of a project and we have successfully performed a fully remote blueprinting workshop for a leading Medical Device manufacturer.
- The normal way: Although it is mostly an off-site activity, it usually involves physical meetings for jointly reviewing the most important deliverables and project status.
- Remote alternatives: We use videoconferencing and virtual whiteboards to support discussions and daily meetings, since our teams are now working from home. We use collaboration apps to extend our effectiveness for team meetings & Scrum ceremonies.
- Our experience: The most important challenge in this stage was to ensure our teams remain effective while working from home. The results of the previous weeks have been quite positive with projects experiencing an improved focus on meeting outcomes and processes. As such, and considering the data collected so far, the productivity of the team has even increased.
Go-Live preparation / UAT (User Acceptance Tests)
- The normal way: Typically includes on-site support for final tests, especially for equipment integration
- Remote alternatives: All tests are supported in real-time through videoconferencing. We’ve also adjusted our team’s working hours to offer additional overlap with our customer’s working hours.
- Our experience: Supporting UAT tests remotely had been done frequently in multiple projects. During this period, even the equipment integration tests are successfully being supported remotely for customers in the complex discrete, solar and high tech industries. Even more interesting, we supported a fully remote go-live last week!
- The normal way: Key training sessions were typically delivered face-to-face.
- Remote alternatives: Use videoconferencing and screen sharing for training.
- Our experience: Many training sessions have been remotely delivered, and about almost all topics, from end user features, to modelling, system configuration, development and customization. In many cases, the ability to share screens and share control easily is viewed as an advantage in this context.
We have currently double-digit active implementations projects in different phases. Some are just starting, some are in the development or final test phases, and one even had one remote go-live last week, as mentioned before.
For you as a manufacturer considering MES, this shows you that even with the current working conditions, your projects can progress to maintain timelines and deliverables, even if the teams are not physically in sight. This is where the maturity of your MES provider comes into play. Those providers that do not have the deep domain experience and methodology required to maintain project milestones will falter.
Companies like ours, whose ability to work remotely had already been demonstrated numerous times, are finding it easier to adapt to these new challenges. It’s true that the current situation will force us to work remotely in all phases in all projects, at the same time, but the experience of the past few weeks have shown that we are perfectly prepared to do so.