Business is good and you're anticipating a big new project. The development team seems stretched, and you think it might be time to add headcount. But as a manager, you know that finding the funds and approval for a new employee is rarely easy. And nobody wants to hire someone today, only to have to lay him or her off 6 months from now when the current projects wrap up.
One alternative would be to look closely at how efficiently your current team operates. You might be surprised to find out that with just some changes to your processes and tools, you'll create the capacity you need for handling the new bigger workloads without hiring new CAD help.
Here are five places to look for that extra capacity:
1. The Engineering Change Order (ECO) Process. ECO's consume one-third to one-half of engineering capacity. There are two ways you might be able to reduce the efforts that go into ECOs.
First, look at how defects and enhancements are managed. Most companies use online forms and routing systems to identify, assign, track, and sign off on changes. Increasingly they're using the PLM system to manage the process too. Make sure your process is clear and the right team member is changing the right thing at the right time.
Another key to reducing change orders is to reduce errors before they’re created. Rework is time consuming and expensive. Explore CAD tools that ensure the models your team sends out for prototyping and manufacturing are as robust as possible. Sheet metal and simulation/analysis tools are good examples of technologies that lead to more stable models downstream. Depending on your vendor, some of these capabilities might already be included in your CAD software. In other cases, you may benefit from purchasing extra technology.
2. Requests for Proposal Bids. If your company bids a lot of jobs, especially in response to RFPs, your engineers may be spending considerable time doing "spec" work. That is, they may be using engineering time to create models to include in bids, many of which may never turn into jobs or finished projects.
Here's where PDM, an extra seat of CAD software, and a little training can help. Assuming a non-engineer is responsible for developing bids at your company, that team member could be using a company PDM system to access existing designs. Most major CAD systems now also include Direct Modeling functionality, a method of changing models that doesn’t require updating history trees or parameters. So with a seat of his or her own software, the bid manager can make changes without being a seasoned CAD pro.
3. Design Reviews. The design review is an important milestone during the product development cycle. But it can also sap a lot of time from good engineers. In fact, some CAD vendors say that engineers attend an unbelievable 17 to 57 reviews each month.
Look closer at what it takes for a developer to prepare for a meeting. Are team members using up time to take screen captures and prepare PowerPoints? How often? While you may not want to reduce the number of reviews, you can explore technologies that make preparing for them faster.
Generally, these are tools that make working with large assemblies fast, as well as viewers that the review team can use to load, inspect, measure, mark up, and share model data. All the major CAD systems offer some of these tools. If you prefer to stay CAD agnostic, download GrabCAD's simple and free 3D viewer.
4. At the Very Start. In a recent article, I wrote about the value of designing for reuse. Most new products are built on the shoulders of existing designs. Some estimate that “only about 20% of an OEM’s investment is on new design, while about 80% is on the reuse of existing products, with or without modification.” Make sure your team is optimizing its opportunities for reuse from the very beginning of a project, if not before. In some cases, a good re-use strategy can take weeks of a design cycle.
5. In Front of the Desktop or Workstation. You may be updating your software regularly, but are your developers using the newest features and capabilities you just paid for? Often, when I talk to engineers, they say they have new and more efficient technologies, but they haven't had time to integrate them into their everyday work.
It might pay to give team members some time to explore new product training. For seasoned users, everything they need to know is probably free online already. It's the time that's missing. (Hm, maybe this belongs in part 2 of this series, “Hire New Help? Yes.”)
I hope this has given you some things to think about as you challenge your team to do more with the same number of people. Next time, I’ll tell you why you probably ought to hire someone new anyway.
More teams are using Cloud, Analytics, Mobile, and Social tools to speed up product development. Independent analyst firm, Consilia Vektor, explains how this changes Product Data Management (PDM) as you know it and how this can help your team work smarter.