Any engineering team working in a regulated industry understands the complex nature of product development and management. In areas like automotive, aerospace, defense, and medical device manufacturing, it’s a high-stakes effort navigating tight operational margins with little room for product integrity errors. In fact, it requires them to operate at different cadences and with new methodologies and practices to continuously deliver these products to the market quickly and safely – no easy feat!
Many of these organizations, however, have a difficult time keeping pace with the rapidly changing product development environment, especially when their teams work in silos using legacy requirements management systems. As businesses continue to shift focus to faster time-to-market and customer-driven product development, deeper structured collaboration amongst teams is not only desired but necessary.
What is Structured Collaboration
Structured collaboration is centered around the idea that people can work and interact with one another, moving toward specific and measurable goals. This approach works in two parts, utilizing technology and process frameworks to settle on new and innovative ideas that drive business outcomes.
By combining presence and unified collaboration with elements of content management (content about your product or system), development process management, and task management — all integrated into a workflow process that coordinates multiple activities from several teams — workers can produce the results that drive the business forward.
Lacking structure at the forefront for product development can lead to wasted time, untraceable changes, lost context for decisions that were made, and missed opportunities for innovation.
Innovation is Dependent on Structured Collaboration
Bringing together innovators across cultures, institutions, and geographic regions to create a new way of accomplishing goals can revolutionize a sector. We’ve experienced this first-hand watching the automotive and healthcare sectors come together to produce life-saving products amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It also presents unique challenges with each group having their own standards and entrenched way of tackling the task at hand. So, how do these teams tackle complicated divides seamlessly?
Unify Their Goals: When cross-organizational teams have clear and unified goals for developing a product, innovation, or service, they can better overcome challenges inherent to collaborating in a complex environment.
Clarify Their Roles: Clearly communicating expectations for how and when each team member will be asked to participate helps alleviate the uncertainty that comes with collaborating in a new way. By documenting goals and tracking collaboration each step of the way, it will keep programs moving forward smoothly.
Encourage Expression of Unique Points of View: Unlocking the creativity needed for innovation requires harnessing insights and unique perspectives across different stakeholders. By bringing in contrasting points of view and encouraging team members to speak up, it will result in robust and better-considered ideas for implementation. Having representation from across the team will also help better assess the impacts of decisions made and identify issues before they become problems.
Use the Right Tools: We’re fortunate these days to have a plethora of choice in collaboration tools from Slack and Microsoft Teams to Zoom and Google Hangouts. As teams seek input and feedback critical to capturing insights in real-time, these tools begin to serve a vital purpose. These only scratch the surface in eliciting the type of collaboration necessary for modern systems engineering, though.
Enable Cross-Team Alignment with Living Requirements
While meetings, emails and instant messaging channels serve a purpose, they are simply not sufficient enough for making and tracking key decisions that impact an entire team. Especially when decisions need to be made at the drop of a hat. Modern systems engineering must include means for live data to be shared and accessed by teams anywhere in the world — at any given time.
As members of the product team seek to communicate requirements and project status across departments, roles, and geographic boundaries, the golden age of sharing documents and spreadsheets will no longer serve its purpose. Without a digital thread that connects people and processes — from definition to delivery — development teams face increased risk, challenges meeting compliance, and delays that can impact time-to-market and product and systems safety.
Living requirements provide a single-source of truth, cross-team collaboration and end-to-end visibility which forms the digital thread through siloed complex product, systems, and software development.
Eliminate Collaboration Silos to Enable More Strategic Partnerships
Today’s market demand requires companies to consider strategic partnerships as they seek solutions with more specialized materials. With this comes greater sharing of data across distributed teams, partner organizations and business units. Living in the era of rapidly accelerating change, teams that still operate in silos with legacy systems will not be equipped to meet demands set by the market.
For engineers so accustomed to working in internal, siloed groups, these new partnerships present previously unforeseen challenges. Structured and strategic team collaboration is the key to improving the product development process for all team members – and this includes everyone across the supply chain.
People working together is at the very core of all product development. For companies to turn the research of today into the products of tomorrow, it is critical that their teams stay connected, synchronized and unified. By aligning business objectives with a system in place that allows for structured reviews and collaboration, teams can elicit feedback, review product features with stakeholders in real-time and track critical decisions across teams and locations. Simply put, it gives complex manufacturers the edge they may otherwise be lacking.