Social Product Development

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Thoughts from Inside PTC R&D: How to Drive Social Computing Adoption

This is the first in a series of video updates I'll be posting on how PTC R&D is approaching Social Product Development from an application development perspective. As we're toiling away in the R&D center (creating awesome new solutions that combine the power of social computing, communities, and social networks with product development), I'll share with you my thoughts on challenges, considerations, and key drivers we're discussing with our team and with customers in the field.

With this post you will find a short video of my thoughts on driving adoption. Take a look and listen and let me know what you think. Hopefully, you will be back for more of my updates on our development efforts to make social product development software a reality.

Do you have any tales from the trenches about adopting new technologies inside your corporate walls? What was that recipe for success (or failure)?”

Friday, April 9, 2010

How will PLM get Social?

Today we welcome Jim Brown as a guest blogger. Jim is the founder and President of Tech-Clarity, an independent research and consulting firm that specializes in analyzing the true business value of software technology and services. Jim has 20 years of experience in application software, management consulting and research focused on the manufacturing industries. He is a recognized expert in software solutions for manufacturers and has broad knowledge of applying Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), Supply Chain Management (SCM), ERP, quality, service management, and other enterprise applications to improve business performance.

I have posted here and on my Clarity on PLM blog (see Going Social with Product Development ) that I believe there is significant business value to be gained from the intersection of social computing in PLM. Why? Because product development is inherently a team activity. Getting a product right requires contributions and feedback from people from all corporate walks of life. The most brilliant technical product that doesn’t fit a market need is wasted technical beauty. The fantastic market breakthrough that can’t be manufactured effectively is at best a squandered market, and at worst an opening for a competitor to introduce the leading product in a market that you created. The blockbuster product that can’t be introduced into new geographies is a lost opportunity. OK, ok, you get the picture and I know I am preaching to the choir. There is gold in the hills of social computing in PLM, even if it’s just inside the enterprise. And if the opportunity for innovation internally is high, extending outside is potentially greater.

So if we agree, the question becomes “how do we get there as an industry?” Here are my thoughts:

Figuring it Out – I believe that manufacturers need to experiment and learn to see what works. This is an area for process innovation, not an area where standard best practices apply. This is uncharted territory, and requires exploration. Multiple pilot projects, sharing ideas with other companies, and a willingness to fail are important factors to success. It will take a while to get this right, but those that get there first will not only have the advantage of their success. They will also have the advantage of the knowledge and experience they develop through the process.

Building It Out – Most of the early efforts will require custom work. As of today, there are no standard, off-the-shelf applications that provide everything a company needs on a “plug and play” basis. There are lots of components available, but they need to be assembled and integrated to meet needs as they are defined. Without proven best practices, it is hard to expect a standard solution! Having said that, some PLM vendors are helping blaze the trail. They are investing in helping manufacturers “figure it out” based on their own understanding of product development and building social capabilities directly into their products. (Note that by the fact that PTC asked me to contribute to their blog on this topic, you can safely assume that they are taking social computing in PLM seriously.) These built-in enablers are a big boost to manufacturers in helping enable their programs as they learn and experiment to determine where the specific business value is for their particular company.

Institutionalizing It – As the manufacturing industry becomes more experienced, best practices will emerge. At that point, PLM vendors will have a business process “template” to build from in the same way they had when building applications for configuration management or concurrent design. At this point, the infrastructure vendors (such as Microsoft) will have many of the core capabilities available in their technology stack. Those common components can then be assembled, tailored, and integrated into existing PLM business processes to create socially-enabled PLM. The key in institutionalizing these capabilities is to combine the generic social capabilities with the knowledge of product development, and then integrate the general capabilities into solutions that handle the specific needs of engineers and product developers (such as protecting intellectual property, linking to product configurations, etc.)

So what does this mean to today’s manufacturer? First, get started. It’s challenging to start on a journey when you don’t know the final destination. That is something that is being discovered along the way, and you can change course as you go. Start with small investments and short programs that contribute to corporate learning. Second, partner with your PLM vendor. Share your emerging best practices with them so they can help drive their product strategy. Some are investing today, others will follow suit. Be a part of the build-out. Finally, take advantage of the institutionalized, standard solutions as they become available. Share in the investment that your PLM vendor has made and implement best practices. But don’t wait for them to emerge, help create them. One company’s best practice isn’t always as advantageous to another. Focus today’s efforts on unique value that helps your company achieve its business strategy. There is more that could be said, but I will leave it at that for now and I look forward to your feedback. I also invite you to read more of my thoughts on social computing in PLM on the ClarityonPLM blog by visiting the blog, using this link will bring up posts tagged to this topic:

Friday, April 2, 2010

Enterprise 2.0 – a novelty or necessity?

At the speed of the internet, the debate seems to be moving away from whether Web 2.0 has a place in the enterprise, and squarely towards where it fits. My hunch is that this shift in the perception of social from a gimmick to a given is driven, at least in part, by the stunning adoption curve of Microsoft SharePoint – as evidenced by a recent SharePoint conference that drew more than double the attendance Microsoft expected, and more than a few rockstar engineers (bonus points if you can find me in the photos). Microsoft just seems to have that knack for moving things into the “widely accepted” category.

When “being innovative” is the problem…

But whether or not the perception is moved, there’s still a real risk of social enterprise applications going the way of the
Laserdisc if we as vendors get too caught up in the cool and not enough caught up in the useful. A recent commenter on one of our blog posts wrote, “Most clients I've worked with think they need innovation and need to implement web 2.0 technology to solve that problem…” But how much are companies focusing on the need to “be innovative” and not enough on the need to innovate? In other words, are we really identifying the problem as “not having a social application” instead of real business drivers like, “we need to bring new versions of the product to market more quickly.” Because if we’re just focused on the application, we run a real risk of a cool, flashy product that users will never adopt. We’ve seen that contrast in our internal applications of Web 2.0 here at PTC – for example, we once tried to roll out a Facebook-like networking application for the marketing department. While it provided a hipper (and prettier) way to collaborate with our peers, it turned out to not really be any better than sending emails or picking up the phone, and fell into disuse. At the same time, the Yammer use at PTC is growing by leaps and bounds – because it gives us visibility into what other groups in the organization are doing – information that helps us do our jobs better – in a way that wasn’t possible before. If we just focus on these individual applications, and their capabilities and features, instead of the business needs they solved, it’s harder to see why one succeeded and the other disappeared.

CAD connoisseurs vs. Marlon Brando – which is better for your company

Earlier this week,
a post by Leslie Gordon on Machine Design’s “From Shop Floor to Software” blog made me think some more about this quandary of features vs. function. She recounts a LinkedIn discussion started by a Senior Design Engineer at Whirlpool, on the topic of how young engineers seem to focus on mastery of CAD tools instead of mastery of engineering. She highlights one of the responses:

There were lots of interesting replies, including this one from Kevin Honaker, Consultant at Adecco Engineering & Technical. His comment: “I have been a mechanical designer for about nine years. I too notice that many engineers get sucked into a lazy, hypnotic state with 3D CAD software much like driving a vehicle on a long trip. I’ve seen people get promoted for modeling ornately complicated revolved parts that could not possibly be produced. Meanwhile, I worked 40-70 hour weeks in a different division of the same company on concurrent projects with complex assemblies that we produced on schedule. I have also seen engineers who don’t do their own modeling who can demonstrate on-demand the flight trajectory to Mars, or aerodynamic drag of nearly any vehicle.

Applied to Social Product Development, it raises an interesting question of means vs. ends. It reminds me of an anecdote I heard once about the late Marlon Brando. The way I heard it, when Brando first started performing in plays, his acting style was so natural that the audience would often assume that a hapless stagehand had wandered onto the set by accident – until he started to speak. While the other actors were focused on looking like good actors, Brando was focused on looking like a real person, and as a result achieved the end goal of getting the audience to believe in his character.

What’s the REAL meaning of social?

How can we apply this to the world of engineering? How do we make sure that when we think about how to apply social features to product development we’re focusing on the end result, the product, and not just the acting? I was IMing with a colleague of mine this morning about the fact I would be writing my very first blog post on the Social Product Development blog. He said to me, “You should write about me, I’m social.” I put this in here not just to embarrass him (that’s an added bonus), but also because he makes a very good, if unintended, point. Social isn’t really about technology, it’s about the users. It’s not so much about providing new ways to work together than it is about enhancing the ways that we already work together – providing a natural extension of our traditional methods of collaboration. Users who see innovation as not the process, but the result – the product – are the ones who are going to provide real value to their organizations…even if Honaker is right and they’re not getting promoted. And those product-focused users don’t really care about the features of the software they’re using – they care about finding easier, faster, and better solutions for creating a product – ways to improve the product development processes they’re already participating in.

What’s the take away? If social is brought into product development in such a way that it adds value to product development processes, organizations will see adoption and ROI. But if you’re focusing on neat features and cool functions because twittering CAD designs are the buzz word of the day, you’re probably spending money on tools that will sit on the shelf. It seems like a pretty basic concept, but I think it’s surprising how many companies miss this distinction. Back to Leslie’s point: if your application’s social features become so familiar and second-nature that we use them without noticing them, maybe our young engineers will get back to focusing on developing great products.

Although I must admit, I am a little curious about that trajectory to Mars.

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