Managing information flows: mission possible
What does it take to manage information and documents in a manufacturing company? In my opinion, it takes ensuring high-quality documentation of the processes, efficient progress of processes, dealing with customers in an expeditious manner and being able to supply products that meet the safety standards. Triple D Bending, the company that I work for, manufactures custom-made metal elbows for oil and gas pipelines as well as for the chemical industry.
A few hundred people may be involved in a single engineering project and the manufacturing process. Finally, our product is simply dug into the ground for at least 20 year period. The question may arise: “What it is so unique that we sell here?”. I reckon that both Triple D Bending and any other manufacturing company sell not only a product, but also all related processes. The best term to describe this combination would be “quality, reliability and safety”. In other words, we sell a guarantee that we have made a truly high-quality product that meets the standards and which we can guarantee for as long as 20 years.
How can this all be ensured? Certainly, it is possible to gather all preparatory documents manually in every single stage of the manufacturing process, ask experts if the documentation has been drafted in line with the most recent requirements, and verify meticulously whether products are dispatched with the latest documentation. But is it efficient? My answer is no. Why should one do what an advanced IT tool is capable of doing? In this particular case, it is a document and process management system (DMS).
How can the first steps be made easier?
Certainly, at the very beginning (most likely just like you) I was not aware what tool we required. It is like being ill when you feel something is wrong but it is not clear what medicine you should take. Thus I started searching how other manufacturing companies automated and optimised their processes, what trends were prevalent and what requirements were in place for document and process management systems. I was also studying academic materials about process management. When we started combining our experience with methodological requirements, we achieved efficient and proactive process management in the manufacturing pipe bending company Triple D Bending in just over 3 years. Meetings have become a few times more productive, less time is spend searching documents, at the same time the document and process management system ensures that all necessary documents reach the customer. Finally, we can foresee the issues and respond to the changes on the market or in the technologies quickly, thus ensuring the highest quality of our products.
How did we manage to achieve this? I will try share this in the article.
Will you have sufficient motivation?
I am convinced that motivation is the basis and drive for all change. This would not be a success story if we had been short of motivation amidst the process. Where can one find it? Certainly, one of the best motivators is the work that has been completed successfully and appreciated. Hence, prior to commencing the automation and optimisation of processes, make sure you have the support from the top management and gather a group of people who will benefit from this and who are interested in it. After all, working in a team is easier than working alone. Moreover, I found colleagues who were engaged in similar activities in other manufacturing companies and had many dealings with them. I also decided to share my experience in articles and releases.
What stage of process management are you at?
If you realise what stage of process management maturity you are at, it will be much easier to plan for your next steps required to be taken. There are 5 of them altogether:
- Ad-Hoc or Chaotic process management;
- Defining processes;
- Controlled processes;
- Designed process system;
- Proactive management.
I can illustrate the actual difference between stages 1 and 5 using an example from my own experience. Around 3 years ago, minutes of the meetings and any additional materials owned by Triple D Bending were stored in Excel and Word forms. You could find a multitude of different files on the servers. There were no unified templates and at the same time no possibility to track the business of the company and make conclusions. Now, when we have the Meeting Management Solution, we use uniform forms of assignments and minutes which specific tasks and processes can be linked to. At every subsequent meeting, one no longer has to worry about lost documents or non-existing trail of jobs. All can be seen on the system.
What comes first: a tool or analysis?
I have to admit that my first process automation tool was an Excel table. Prior to implementing any change, I wanted to understand how processes worked. Thus this relatively simple, but flexible tool was perfectly fit for the purpose. I took my time, created a mind map and started putting together a logical system of processes. Even today I have not concluded this process yet because defining processes is not a one-off act. They have to be monitored, improved and optimised on an on-going basis.
I had to face a faltering process when describing and transferring processes from reality into an IT tool on numerous occasions. When everything was not going according to the plan, I would stop and take time to examine the issue, have talks with managers of processes and review the stages. I also had to invoke creative thinking, especially in those situation were logic and mathematical calculations would not come handy.
One of the puzzles was how to link standards, regulations and requirements with the existing processes. After all, they are true obstacles to creativity, speed of adaptation and flexibility! However, no safe, high-quality and competitive work can be ensured in a manufacturing company without them. After all, if at least one pipe, where oil flows, cracks, huge penalties would have to paid, whereas the company would face the risk of closing down. What should be done with thousands of documents? If we printed everything, we would not be able to manage them and would breach the eco-standards.
Thinking about all of the above requirements, regulations and standards, I realised that I needed the best tool which allowed managing not only documents, but processes as well.
What did I choose?
Therefore, led by different requirements, I started thinking what tool will be required at our company. At that moment in time, the process management in the company was stepping into the stages of controlled and designed processes, thus the need for having a grip of the processes and the course of works emerged. Hence I saw that the ERP system that has been used up until then (let alone the afore-mentioned Excel tables) were not capable of meeting all of the needs. I needed two tools: document management and process management systems. Fortunately, I found DocLogix where I could do both combine and automate all processes as well as smartly adapt the system to individual needs of the company.
Certainly, whatever excellent the system may be, much work needs to be carried out with it. Only this will let achieve the best results. That said, I understood that I had to acquire a new skill, i.e. learn how to configure the DocLogix system.
Therefore, what did we manage to achieve with the system? I will give one example which is highly relevant to manufacturing companies. Multiple devices carry out a multitude of different technical operations daily at Triple D Bending. How is this equipment maintained? We have developed an Equipment Maintenance Management Solution on the DocLogix system. Documents are assigned to every machine or even a part thereof, which are easily controlled on an automatic basis, on the DMS. The system notifies proactively of the imminent expiry of maintenance and creates related tasks. As a result, the company is protected against unexpected technical issues that would lead to tasks not being implemented, low-quality produce and dissatisfied customers.
This is one example how we achieved better control and higher efficiency through IT tools. Generally speaking, when a logical and efficient process system was developed on the document and process management system, I noticed that the efforts and time and financial costs required for carrying out the same actions started decreasing.
What is next?
At last, stepping into our 4th year of process automation and optimisation, we have an efficient process system. Today I can tell that processes are managed proactively at Triple D Bending. We can forecast towards what direction the business of manufacturing companies will take, change the processes promptly and respond to the changes in the legislative framework or standards.
And I can see that the efforts have started to pay off: the time and financial costs are reducing, staff work more efficiently and spend more time improving the products as opposed to dealing with technical matters.
Can I stop here? Certainly not. I am thinking of improving the DMS, developing new solutions, optimising processes and changing the course of works now. I can already think about additional investment into the DMS because making the processes more efficient is an on-going process itself.