Arena Blog

Social Collaboration Pitfalls to Avoid During Product Development

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There are many nimble, cloud-based tools on the market today. I love using Microsoft Teams to collaborate with anyone in my company instantly and Trello to manage marketing deliverables and projects. A variety of similar collaboration tools, including Asana and Slack, have also emerged to help teams interact and share information using informal chat, file sharing, screen sharing, and general project management. Many organizations find these tools helpful to collaborate within sales, human resources, marketing, and other departments. Engineering teams have also adopted these tools and some have even started trying to manage new product development processes.

What are the pitfalls associated with using social collaboration tools to drive product development? What is the point of collaborating if you cannot capture the associated product and quality records in context to key conversations and activities?

Over the years, many young and small companies have started out using traditional point solutions like Word, Excel, Dropbox, and email to manage their product record and engineering change processes. The problem these older solutions introduce is that they are not connected to the entire product record comprised of parts, bills of materials (BOMs), revision history, quality records, drawings, files, specifications, and other documents. As companies grow, they are unable to scale effectively using these tools that create silos.

Trying to track and follow dozens or hundreds of changes made in these types of older solutions with distributed team conversations gets unwieldly. It becomes nearly impossible to identify where the latest information is, or to associate any given changes with the person who has been discussing the changes. The same is true with the new wave of collaboration tools because they are also disconnected from the engineering change and development process. The dynamic and evolving product records are not stored, nor revision-controlled, in context with conversations. All this fragmentation leaves companies vulnerable to miscommunication, confusion, and manufacturing errors as engineering, quality, purchasing, manufacturing, and supply chain partners try to introduce new products to market.

The Danger of Siloed Information

Gen Z and Millennials tend to be early adopters of newer social apps. They enjoy the flexibility of having collaborative exchanges in a variety of settings, from using laptops in workspaces to mobile while in transit. There is great value in being able to collaborate quickly anytime and anywhere during product development, but it is detrimental when that collaboration creates silos for product records. It’s critical to control and capture communication threads tied to the specific product or quality record to provide full visibility and clarity for everyone who will be involved in the review and final production of products.

Unfortunately, the “shiny new” collaboration tools still continue to create silos, because they are not being specifically designed for the rigors of new product development. Quick social communication or tracking of activities and tasks create more risk when they are not tied to specific revisions of product designs. The ability to correlate siloed communication is challenging when interactions are not handled within the system that controls the design and release of new products.

This is where product lifecycle management (PLM) systems come into play. PLM systems have evolved into flexible cloud-based solutions that can be accessed easily anywhere around the world. Today’s leading innovators rely on PLM to help design, develop, and produce high-quality innovative solutions fast—leveraging distributed teams and supply chains. These solutions were created to provide a single place to manage all product and quality processes, while providing full revision controls and team accountability (traceable approval processes). But many PLM solutions today have not evolved to incorporate the newer ways to connect teams with informal conversations. Instead, they continue to rely on disconnected tools like Slack—leaving them open to many drawbacks. Optimizing product development and introduction, while accelerating time to market, is easier to do when social collaboration capabilities are built within a controlled PLM solution.

A Better Way: Connected Social Collaboration

Modern Cloud PLM solutions were designed for formal control and collaboration of the product record. However, many have not developed informal or social collaboration capabilities. Arena Solutions saw the need before newer collaboration tools became popular and developed an informal social collaboration approach within PLM. Arena Scribe is part of the PLM foundation and provides a single place to manage formal product development and quality processes along with informal conversations—connected directly to the affected product or quality records.

Scribe enables impacted teams to engage in discussions through an easy-to-use chat interface ensuring conversations are associated with the affected record for all to see. Anyone with PLM access can subscribe to conversations and stay informed of conversations that may impact the final design or formal change processes. And as always, like everything in a controlled PLM system, internal and external teams can share in discussions with the necessary policy controls to ensure only approved people have access.

Social Collaboration Without the Silos

There is no turning back from the new social chat and collaboration tools. It’s great and necessary to be able to have informal conversations between multiple teams specifically for today’s global product development and supply chain processes. This will keep everyone on the same page to speed delivery of innovative products, while avoiding the traditional pitfalls of siloed collaboration.