Around the Trak: Why standard technology platforms are on the rise

There is a clear commitment in the automation space to push innovation and new technology forward.

In last month’s Around the Trak Blog, New Technology and Change Management, we highlighted several strategies and best practices to ease the challenges associated with implementing new technologies and help drive this change.   

The other side of that discussion is who is responsible for deciding on what technologies to implement into the automation processes and what impacts the technologies will have on the business.  

One thing that is becoming more prevalent in manufacturing organizations large and small, is the creation of an overarching technology owner.  The responsibility of this role is to identify technologies that can be standardized across groups in order to support the overarching business strategy. 

In order to do so, the technology owner:

  • Researches technology and evaluate business impacts
  • Completes initial trials
  • Begins the change management process internally 

Because there is one technology owner, manufacturers looking to automate are starting to realize the potential of integrating standard technology platforms across their organizations. 

The rise of  technology platforms

Technology standards in manufacturing are not new but they are becoming more widely accepted.   

Governing bodies like UL, CE, etc. are in place to define a set of requirements and formalize minimum performance and safety needs.  The implementation of standards both in technology and process across global organizations intuitively should unify the workforce.  However, that has rarely been the case historically, as mentioned in a post on CIO.com entitled “Balance the battle between process variations and standardization.”

“90 percent of the organizations I know have failed at standardization,” says industry expert Steve Stanton, Managing Director, FCB Partners. “Doing business in our global, tech-driven and consumer-oriented world is becoming more and more complex.”  - CIO.com 

Despite implementation challenges, increasingly we are seeing many organizations continue to create and push for technology standards in their teams. There is a growing realization that when done well, standards can drive efficiency and support strategic objectives. Companies are creating centralized teams of experts within their organization to set company-wide standards for use of technologies across processes and geographies. These central groups are driving momentum for technological efficiency and easing change management challenges for companies large and small.    

To see evidence of this, you need to look no further than the local job postings.  You will see several postings for directors of automation standards and leaders for global automation implementation with a primary objective for standardization.  

 A balancing act 

Integrating standard technology platforms across a series of teams within an organization is a balancing act. It is important that we acknowledge that before getting into why they are beneficial and how best to move forward.  

The implementation of standards goes through the typical change management process but also has to manage two additional challenges: 

  1. The perception that standardization can be limiting to teams in some areas of the organization.   
  2. Balancing what is needed today with future requirements. 

Both challenges can be overcome by combating organizational myopiaMyopia is generally used as a marketing term used to describe a company that focuses on their needs instead of defining the company and its products in terms of the customers’ needs and wants. It results in the failure to see and adjust to the rapid changes in their markets. 

In a more general sense, marketing myopia can be seen across many organizations and the way they operate. Too often, businesses lose sight of what their customers need, and as a result, organizational priorities suffer.   

In order to succeed, organizations must overcome myopia and collectively continue to look for the most efficient and effective way to serve their customer.  

With this in mind, we must treat the different groups inside our organizations that are impacted by technology standards as the customer. We must never lose sight of what those internal customers need as well. 

 Take a look at the landscape of newly successful companies of the present day and you’ll probably find a future pigeon or two in the bunch. But you’ll also be able to pick out the companies that are built to last in the very long run, not because of the technology they’ve built, but because of how they focus on solving pain points within their customers’ journeys”. – Inc.com 

The challenge in avoiding myopia is ensuring that everyone impacted by standards truly understands the business that you’re in and how a standard improves your ability to execute on that business.  That technology standards are removing the pain points in the journey.  This is a direct call back to the fundamental importance of “the why” when driving change. 

The best example I have observed recently is a team of designers within a global organization coming together across three different geographical sites to standardize on a common frame design for their automation.  

Historically, there have been challenges creating standards because a design approach or specific geographical requirements always lead the conversation to a dead end.   

In this case, however, the team saw the potential for supply chain savings and organizational efficiency by overcoming the historical hurdles.  A compromise was found and now all sites order the same component, from the same supplier, leading to a consolidation of spend and an alignment of design practice.  

The critical few 

The critical few is a driving thought process for whatever change you are trying to make.  

The idea was popularized by John Katzenbach in addressing organizational culture change in his book “The Critical Few”.  It is very important when discussing the standardization of technology that the focus in on areas that really drive impact within the business. Trying to standardize all aspects of a process will ultimately result in being one of the 90% of companies that fail at standardization.    

The critical few are unique to each business, they cannot be defined in an article or short post.  They depend on the strategic objective, the specific customer requirements, and the resources available. Many business leaders understand this and it is why we are seeing the creation of an overall organization technology owner.  That role puts the owner in a good position to identify the critical few and focus on the most impactful places to standardize.  

A recent conveyance example I encountered was where a company didn’t have the machining resources available to create large dials and as a result, always needed to outsource this aspect of their business. Because they did not have ready access to the required resource, their integration would often be delayed due to the implementation of change.

The designers saw the opportunity to standardize on the SuperTrak GEN3™ platform understanding that they would most likely see an increased material cost upfront but realized that the downstream benefits of responsiveness, labor efficiency, and project control would justify the business case for standardization. The balancing act here was very apparent with benefits vastly outweigh any downside.  

 The overall benefits of standardization 

The example above drives home some of the key benefits we see from standardization: 

  • Design throughput increases due to known modules to begin with.
  • Speed to market increases due to expertise and control reside internally.
  • Cost reduction occurs due to an increased volume and consolidation of spend. 

When reviewing the value stream and process for equipment creation we can identify additional advantages. The “Deviation Spiral” below taken from Benjamin Brandall’s article, “Why Process Standardization Improves Quality, Productivity and Morale”, outlines how process standardization is associated with leaner, more functional performance, meaning your organization can cut waste and do more with available resources. 

The deviation sprial

The same benefits outlined by Brandall, hold true in equipment design and implementation.  The driver behind standardization is that the organization becomes more efficient as a whole because there is an expectation across groups what tools are available to them.  What tools are in the toolbox per se.  This reduces the amount of deviation throughout the entire value stream, which increases the efficiency of the organization as a collective and ultimately improves our ability to serve customers. 

The ideal state is a world in which the design, supply chain, integration, and support teams are all working with components they are familiar with.  While each stakeholder may have preferences based on their specific requirements, the value stream is more efficient when we are working with an aligned set of expectations.  There is less uncertainty to work through, less training to overcome, and a generally more straightforward process for change management.

The constraints of standardization that I hear most often are the form factor, interface, and function are defined which can create challenges in specific examples.  Looking at the deviation spiral as well as the two examples highlighted, you can see that there is often a case where the benefits will outweigh any concerns.  

Another common rebuttal to standardization is that it will stagnate or curb the creativity or innovation within the business.  Driving innovation is something that I am personally invested and passionate about.  I have had the opportunity to visit and speak with many people and organizations about how they drive technology development.  I have not personally encountered a situation where standards diminish innovation.  In practice, the largest driver to stagnated automation is a lack of time to step away from the day to day and work to innovate. 

We commonly hear the term “firefighting” used to describe our workdays.  Utilizing standards is a method to drive efficiency and reclaim some time in our day to focus thought on what comes next, rather than what is in front of us.  This ultimately drives more creative thought, not less. 

 Communication is key 

There are a number of benefits that we’ve highlighted in the use of standard technology platforms.  While there are tradeoffs, I believe they are generally summarized by more effective communication and expectation setting across large organizations.   Any downside of settling on a technology toolbox is typically offset by an aligned understanding across a broad team of experts the toolsets that are available to them. Alignment of expectations accelerates time to market, reduces maintenance and supply costs, and allows for more mobility throughout the organization.  With the business climate ever-changing, these benefits will serve companies more effectively than ever before.  

Technology standards within organizations are one of the more challenging implementations of technological innovation and change management.  They are also the most fruitful which is why we are seeing a rise in standardization in organizations large and small.   

Leaders should focus on standards that will drive the business strategy and improve the customer journey. The “critical few” platforms selection will help align the various stakeholders across the organization and set you up for saleable, repeatable, and most importantly, sustainable success. 

 Learn how your organization can experience the benefits of standardization by utilizing SuperTrak CONVEYANCE as the foundation for your automation.  

 Get in touch with the SuperTrak Team to discuss: supertrakteam@atsautomation.com

 

 

 

Around the Trak: New Technology and Change Management

Change of any kind is hard for a variety of reasons. Successfully implementing new technologies follows the same basic change management principles you may see elsewhere in your business.

We need to overcome inertia in people and companies, which can occur for a number of reasons. Without getting into all of the drivers of inertia (perhaps another time), I’ll walk through some change management best practices for leaders and change drivers that aspire to use technology as a differentiator for their business.

Strategic team building

 A guiding principle to change management that I’ve observed builds on a concept highlighted last month in my strategic partnership blog.  Everyone that is needed to successfully introduce new manufacturing technology likely isn’t on your team, or maybe even a part of your organization.

“The team of experts needed is unlikely to reside within one place”

Working for a world-leading automation company, I regularly interface with organizations implementing new technologies. One of the biggest pitfalls I see many of them make is that they often mistake the team that has identified and developed the technology as the right team for implementation.

Understanding that change is hard because everyone doesn’t see the world, in the same way, is fundamental to being an effective change driver.

The companies that we see drive seamless technology implementations, understand that the ball will be passed from one team to the next.  That everyone plays their role both inside and outside the company.

Successful change drivers develop strategies and communication plans from the outset of the project to transcend barriers in the broader team and leverage their partnerships to bring expertise when it is needed. Breaking down barriers and driving alignment on the definition of success is critical in driving change.

‘Why’ is critical

One of the best examples of change management I have observed, was the use of a completely new technology, with the goal of accelerating the implementation of a brand-new production facility. The leader driving the change made certain that communication across all stakeholders, those responsible for executing the project and those impacted by the project down the line, was a key priority.

Outside of the standard project kickoff (PKO) and division of tasks among the project team, in this example, communication kickoffs were set up with all the major groups impacted in the days following the PKO.  Key partners were brought in for the kickoff meeting and then stayed to present to other groups.  Communicating the vision of the new facility, the reason the technologies were selected, and how they would be helpful in the facility startup was key to their success.

Reflecting on why this path was so effective, it highlights that while the change driver may not be in sales, you are selling an idea when driving change.

To drive change you must sell an idea

The more effective you can be at explaining why you are making the change, the more likely you are to succeed.

Simon Sinek very famously explains how starting with the ‘why’ helps to inspire change. His TED talk “Great Leaders Inspire Action,” does a good job of illustrating that as leaders you need those responsible for change to understand the purpose of what they are doing.

While most of his talk is regarding people buying products, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”, the principles for driving change are the same.

You are about to drive a cross-functional team of people with a variety of viewpoints, goals and backgrounds. To get the team aligned, they need to understand why you are proposing to change the status quo.

“We’re doing this to save money” is unlikely to inspire the commitment required to transform, but explaining how the new technology will enable them to better perform their job to reach their targets which will in-turn help the business reach their financial goals, would be a better approach.

Focus your efforts on providing broader context into how the change will help your overall business, then speak individually with the key team members about how the change will help them as well.

Create early momentum

I truly believe that building early momentum is one of the greatest factors in driving success in a big project.  That belief was created early in my career with one of my favorite examples of change that I have observed.

While consulting with an early-stage company that was about 18 months into their journey, the CEO wanted to pivot the company to focus their hardware in a new market. In order to do so they would require integration with a new partner.

The CEO was convinced that this was the only way their business would succeed long term, as currently they were running out of time to show financial success.

What, in my belief, made them successful, was that the CEO understood that the team would be skeptical at the change, had a good understanding of the amount of work a new partner would require, and was sensitive to the fact that the team knew they had minimal time left to prove success.  The CEO knew that the largest challenge would be convincing the team that this task was in fact possible.

To combat the perception that this task was insurmountable, the CEO meticulously mapped out and communicated an execution plan that targeted a major win every two weeks.  Her fundamental belief was that metrics drive behavior, and it was her job to choose the right measures in driving change.

The team was split into two main areas (technical and go to market) to focus on two interlinked tasks at a time. Success was not achieved if either group didn’t hit on their part of the plan in their two-week sprints.

The ultimate goal of the plan was to break the very large challenge into achievable, digestible milestones.  Once a certain threshold was met by either team, their KPI would shift to something that was a little closer to the overall goal of revenue derived from the new market.

It was amazing to see the momentum shift in her team from skeptical optimism to full steam ahead after the first two milestones were completed.

The fundamental understanding of needing to drive early success as well as what was needed to drive a major shift in approach is something that will never be lost on me. With my SuperTrak team, I often use the term “start the snowball rolling down the hill” in my day to day activities when driving transformational change.  This example above is the one that started me using this term because the two-week milestones built momentum like a snowball rolling down a hill.

6 Tips for Building Momentum During Change Posted by Sallie Sherman in Sallie’s Corner

It is much easier for a large group to rally around a large initiative if there is early success toward the much more challenging objective.  Setting objectives that are relevant to the short-term success of the project are equally, if not more important, than the ultimate objective.

Teams of people can do amazing things if the task at hand doesn’t appear insurmountable.  Those that drive change well understand this. Find ways to create early wins that accelerate progress to the end goal and demonstrate consistently that the team is winning.

 You’re all in

As a driver of any change, including the implementation of new technologies, you need to ensure that you’re all in.

You’re going to experience challenges along the way, because change is hard… period. Whether it is with good reason or not, someone will highlight a reason why what you are trying to do won’t work.  It is too hard, not worth the time, too risky, etc.  When the challenge arises you need to never waiver, or you give credibility to the primary alternative… which is to do nothing.

Every time the SuperTrak team has observed effective change, it is always spearheaded by a passionate leader who has a deep belief in the technology and its positive impact on the company.

Full commitment extends to two additional areas:

  • First – effective change requires that the other leaders in your organization are committed too.

This includes those senior to you, but more importantly your peers that will help the illustrate commitment throughout a cross-functional team.  Doubt in the initiative arising from a leader will fuel more inertia and severely diminish its chance of success.  Having a strong “why” for taking on the initiative will help gain commitment. 

“Only 30 percent of change programs succeed.”– John Kotter, Leading Change

  • Second – commitment and excitement is easy at the beginning. The testing commitment comes when times get hard.

Forbes actually lists change “battle fatigue” as the number one reason change fails. The article details organizational change examples, however, it’s relevant to driving change within organizations. Commitment from the change driver can never waiver until the objective is met.

Implementing any new technology in your company should be looked upon through the lens of change management. Not only for top-level buy in, for but implementation and adoption success as well.

If I ‘m being honest, if you don’t believe in the change you’re trying to make you’re likely not the best person to drive implementation.

“If you don’t believe in the change you are trying to make, you’re likely not the best person to drive implementation.”

The opportunity is likely there to be a supporting member of the team and not the lead, or potentially choose a different path to achieve the goal  If you are not all in, I recommend that you take a different path.

Change isn’t finished at the goal line

After the team reaches the initial goal, you deserve to celebrate and get a pat on the back. This is clearly a big milestone which like John says, should be celebrated. However, the work is not done and it’s your job to make sure momentum doesn’t fade.

Many companies become overly satisfied after a new technology is first implemented and run the risk of not realizing their ultimate goal.  Until the new technology has been institutionalized, there is still change to drive. Once a new line is running, for example, there are processes and workflows that need to be adopted by a new set of stakeholders.

Build this into your plan as the change driver.  In order for transformational change to take hold, you need to evaluate what happens when the team members not involved in the initial implementation begin their work.

One of my favorite implementation examples is one where the core integration team also had a KPI regarding the number of internal hours were needed for one year following the change.

Having the team understand up front that this was one of the measures of success, was the driver to implement good training practices and communication up front, and more importantly maintained a sense of ownership after the system was up running.

In a majority of the cases where there is difficulty integrating change, there is a perception of ‘throwing something over the fence’ for the next team to deal with.  If this takes hold in your group, the difficulties that inevitably arise become more difficult to overcome.

New people, with different viewpoints and experiences, are an opportunity to continuously improve on the work you’ve just accomplished.  Plan for this, continue to celebrate wins and sustain momentum.

Even the best laid plans face challenges and you cannot account for every hurdle you may face but planning for change is essential to success.  While the pillars of change I have outlined above may not be all encompassing, they are a good place to start and I have seen them work several times amongst change leaders looking to implement new technologies in their organizations.

If you’re looking to implement new automation technologies in your business, the SuperTrak team can walk you through steps to achieve initial buy-in all the way through to achieving optimal functionality from your conveyance platform.

Our large team of engineers and support staff are there to take you from design to build to perform.

Get the ball rolling by reaching out to SuperTrakTeam@atsautomation.com