Once you work with digital technology long enough, the saying “fail fast or scale fast” inevitably comes up. In one of my previous jobs, it served as a guiding principle for new investments. The idea is that you start small and if a pilot either meets or exceeds expectations, you should scale it rapidly across operations (where it makes sense) to maximize returns (read ‘5 Step Phased Approach to Digital Transformation in Manufacturing’ which explains how to effectively enter into a pilot). Otherwise, you should quickly move on to the next idea or option and repeat. The only problem is, accurately measuring success or failure isn’t exactly easy and teams often overlook important considerations. In this post, I’ll explore some of the key things you need to keep in mind to make sure you’re fully understanding the business impacts of digital technology pilots and investments.
Your pilot of your latest technology investment at your manufacturing facility is working well and it seems like you’re seeing some improvements that are better than you anticipated. But should you celebrate early? How do you know when you’re ready to tell your boss or the plant manager the outcomes and your recommendations? The only way to really know is to assess your project using a comprehensive business case review. And that requires you to look at both the quantitative (financial) results as well as the qualitative results.
For the sake of an objective evaluation, the same business case that you used to justify the time and expense to pilot the new technology should now be used as the basis for evaluating and scoring the pilot project. And this evaluation is very important to get right. After all, if your pilot was truly successful, you and your stakeholders will quickly begin considering expanding the pilot to other locations and instances within the site or company. If you weren’t successful, then you’ll need to consider whether or not it’s worth trying corrective actions in pursuit of a more favorable outcome or if it makes more sense to start over. Here are three critical things to keep in mind as you move forward:
The challenge with effectively reporting on a pilot is putting together something that is to the point, yet comprehensive enough to accurately illustrate the costs and benefits of a solution. Of course, it’s important to use your company’s standard report format and style, which ideally should include the following:
These tips will help you ensure that the content of your report best serves the needs of your company.
Missing or avoiding key steps in the measurement of a pilot can result in a project blowing up in all kinds of different ways. For example, a pilot project team without a finance person or other objective representatives could get overly enthusiastic and myopic about a technology. Maybe they get excited about moving a key measure from point ‘A’ to ‘B’ and decide to move forward without adequately considering the bigger picture. When the other teams attempt to repeat or scale the solution, they may discover downsides related to integration or support any number of things. Early in my career, I got excited about adding a dedicated automation fiber optic network for the facility of my employer at the time. This would have given us speed and reliability not found on our business LAN. Since the project was my baby, I didn’t want other IT people tampering with it, so I relied on a small and friendly review team for the pilot. It was only after we went to integrate with the larger plant network that we realized it would not only be an enormous burden on the IT team, but we had also overlooked some significant costs associated with software and licenses. In other words, the technology worked great in a vacuum, but in the real world it created unforeseen burdens and costs.
In some ways, there’s a chicken and egg component to measuring the value of a technology investment. After all, in complex operations you need baseline data about operations to compare against the results of a pilot. And you need a way to capture data related to the pilot at the right intervals, be it every second, minute, day or week. A clipboard or spreadsheet won’t cut it. If you’re looking for a way to capture and analyze data from the shop floor to the top floor, Dploy Solutions can help. We provide the real-time performance insights and analytics capabilities you need to advance operational excellence no matter where you are in your digital journey.
Have you read the previous blogs is this series?