Socializing success with automation standards, models, systems

Engineering and IT Insight: No matter how you like to share information, short text, explanatory text, audio, or video, there is a way to socialize the success you have had with new standards, models, or systems. Set up policies that encourage your people to share their knowledge.

09/27/2013


If you have ever been tasked with trying to move your company to new standards, new methods, or new systems, you probably realize that moving your company can be like steering a supertanker. Organizations and supertankers make long, slow changes in direction and can’t make the change if there are forces in other directions. If you are trying to change your company by using new systems, such as a new MES/MOM (manufacturing execution system or manufacturing operations management system), new batch control system, new data historian, or new analysis package, you may encounter resistance to change. The best way to counter the resistance is to demonstrate the benefits and to socialize your successes in using the new system.

Many managers and engineers have a “show me” attitude, where they must see the benefit from the new system before they will put in the hard work to implement it into their projects. There are usually demonstrable success stories from installing a new system or standard; often the successes were used to justify rollout to the entire organization. However, the people who need to know about the successes are often the last to hear about the benefits because too few companies internally market success stories.

As engineers we often think that if we build a better mousetrap, the world will come to us. But that is not what really happens. Good ideas and new systems must be internally marketed to be successful. Internal marketing can be done by large groups for major projects when they roll out new systems at each site, or by company dictates requiring use of the new system, but there is a better way using social media. Social media has changed the way that good ideas and new systems are now promoted and distributed. Ideas can “go viral,” when your content resonates so enormously that readers share the information with others, and others then share it, and it ends up being the latest “big thing.” The sharing occurs when your ideas are blogged, tweeted, emailed, discussed at meetings, and become part of new project plans. The best way to make your good ideas on new systems “go viral” is by socializing your successes. In the past, this took a large staff of marketing people, but new technologies have put this capability at everyone’s fingertips. If you have successful projects, then internal wikis, blogs, and podcasts can be used to socialize successes. Each method has a specific role in letting people know the benefits of your new system and how to apply it to other projects.

Blog summaries

Blogs are a great way to share current information. A blog allows multiple writers to write about current projects and to document newly discovered information, in a writer-friendly format. Blog entries are usually short, one or two paragraphs, and often have links to places where more information is available. When sharing information, it is important to keep the blogs current. This means two to three postings per week for active projects, with postings that define lessons learned and problems seen, and one posting a month for sustaining projects. Blogs are a good way for people who like to write short paragraphs to express themselves. It is a way to share the valuable information that they have gained about their successes and their lessons learned. The free blogging software WordPress (www.wordpress.org) is a simple way to get started with an internal blog. Work with your IT department to create an internal blog and be sure to follow your company’s rules for copyrights and privacy notices.

Wiki details

Wikis are also a way to share best practices, lessons learned, and measures of successes for the new methods, standards, or systems. Wikis are more permanent than blogs and provide a way to quickly search through a large collection of semi-structured information. Wiki pages are usually one printed page long, about 400 words, but can often run to multiple pages for complex topics. Wikis are good for people who like to write explanatory text and who like lots of pictures and figures. A collection of wiki pages for your successful projects provides an un-intrusive way for others in your company to learn about successful projects. A wiki is also a place for blog authors to record more permanent information, using a link in their blog to point to the relevant wiki page. Free wiki software systems are available, for example, MediaWiki, DokuWiki, and PmWiki. These are all simple tools to get started with an internal wiki. As with blogs, work with your IT department to create an internal wiki and, again, be sure to follow your company’s rules for copyrights and privacy notices.

Audio, video alternatives

Those who don’t like to write can use podcasts to socialize their successes. Podcasts can be audio only or can include video. Podcasts are a good way to share current and more permanent information. Podcasts that explain concepts and describe successes are usually short, only a few minutes long. Longer podcasts can also be used for short training sessions, usually less than one hour in length. You can use Microsoft Windows Sound Records software and a good microphone to record a podcast, or use free software such as Audacity (audacity.sourceforge.net). Podcasts are usually added to blogs and wikis.

No matter how you like to share information, short text, explanatory text, audio, or video, there is a way to socialize the success you have had with new standards, models, or systems. It is important to set up policies that encourage your people to share their knowledge. Many companies make it a requirement for advancement that employees regularly contribute to wikis, blogs, or other information sharing systems. For example, senior engineers may have yearly goals to post new knowledge learned at least once per quarter. Socializing your successes will help you move your organization in a new direction by using the power of social media to make your good ideas “go viral.”

- Dennis Brandl is president of BR&L Consulting in Cary, N.C. His firm focuses on manufacturing IT. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering and Plant Engineering, mhoske@cfemedia.com

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