(Tips for) Virtual PLM Implementations

Prasham Kamdar, Managing Partner of Ptex Solutions, shares some of the ways in which Ptex Solutions has adapted to fit the current climate we find ourselves in.

The current Covid-19 crisis has created a shift in the way we work. With complete lockdown in many parts of the world, a huge proportion of us are now working from home. In America, Forbes has reported that 58% are working remotely. In a world where almost anything can be virtual – think about virtual reality’s hand in virtual concerts, theme park rides etc. – why should PLM implementations be any different?

Remote working has been on the rise for the last decade or so and, once the current global crisis is over, we could find ourselves living in a world where working from home becomes the de facto. It’s unlikely that working will ever go back to the way of the past. Many of us have been practising remote working for some time, which has given us the tools (both literally and metaphorically) to deal with the current situation almost seamlessly. I want to take this opportunity to share with you some tips for working virtually as PLM implementers.

Like any other business in today’s climate, we’ve taken all precautionary measures to reduce and contain the spread of coronavirus. In fact, since March 21, our physical office have remain closed due to nation wide lockdown. We have implemented new policies and procedures to allow all employees to work from home.

As PLM implementers, it may surprise you to read that this has had little effect on us in terms of operations; our situation is very much ‘business as usual.’ A portion of any PLM implementation has always happened virtually, but the Covid-19 pandemic has forced the usual on-site work to also now be done virtually. Today, we are able to start, continue and complete projects via virtual meetings. We are still able to work with customers understand their requirements, discuss data migration and interface strategy. We use virtual environments to test configurations, build interfaces, perform load testing, conduct Conference Room Pilots and provide training. In past six weeks while COVID-19 has been at its peak, our teams have kicked off two projects in UK and USA, performed a Conference Room Pilot in Italy and an apparel manufacturer is gearing up to go-live in Denmark and Lithuania at the end of April. All these customers are being supported across all locations virtually.

With this continuous rise in remote working, comes a surge in the use of digital tools. The world has had to quickly innovate to allow people to continue serving their customers from a distance and work as ONE team.

This is all made possible by the use of online tools – which are in abundance. With this shift to complete remote working, some tools are coming out on top (Webex, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, UberConference, Zoom and Slack) whilst others (like Skype for Business) are falling out of favour. The right tool(s) for your business is subject to personal preference but not all have the same offering.

Create a virtual routine

We have seen a dramatic shift in how we work internally. We find that virtual employee engagement is key to ensure employees continue to feel as if they are a part of a team rather than working in silos.

While we are still navigating this new environment, we find that sticking (where possible) to our original office routine has worked well. For example, we ensure:

  • Weekly meetings: An all-hands meeting is held every Monday morning via MS Teams or UberConference in lieu of our weekly in-person team meetings.
  • Fixed timings: We continue to follow normal office hours, with specific timings set for working on individual assignments and fixed timings for team-work. During these times, employees are expected to be available for discussions, interactions or Q&A. This practice is especially important to ensure efficiency by avoiding unplanned calls or messages.
  • Special employee engagement events: Online yoga sessions (previously conducted during lunchtime in office) are offered twice a week to help ensure mental and physical fitness and employee engagement. In addition, we have ad-hoc interactive team events such as bingo or team-building activities to ensure team spirit remains high.

Video is more important than you may realise

In times of uncertainty, it’s important to evoke feelings of normalcy. This can be as simple as switching on your video. Almost all digital conferencing systems have the ability for video calls between multiple people. Most of us have been using platforms like Webex, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams (Skype for Business in past) for many years, but almost always with our videos switched off. Switching your camera on is a great way to connect with others, and helps to replicate the normality of a physical session. And during an implementation, it’s crucial to be able to see a client (or implementer) to gauge their body language and facial expressions; it helps to bring people closer together, just like you would in a face-to-face meeting. During on-site implementation, you’d have the ability to play off someone’s reactions to double-check what you’re saying is translating well, is understood, and is warranted.

What’s more, it’s simply easier to explain something when you’re able to show your facial expressions and gestures.

Encouraging everyone present in a virtual meeting to switch on their camera also makes for a much more personal setting and is something that’s really taken off during the lockdowns, and will be much easier going forward when business resumes. Perhaps it’s a good idea to start the meeting with a brief ‘catch up’ before getting down to business. Make time for small talk. This can really get meeting off to a good start. Imagine the small talk that would be done in person during an on-site implementation, and replicate the experience.

‘Variety is the spice of life’

Opt for a platform that allows you to do a multitude of things including sharing screen, video, files, notes and polls. We would always recommend businesses use a proven and professional tool, like Webex or MS Teams. Not only do all of these things come in use during implementations, but they also keep meetings from becoming stagnant. Some platforms allow multiple participants to share their screens simultaneously and co-annotate (either directly onto the shared screen or using a separate whiteboard tool) for a more interactive meeting. Others allow the sharing of individual apps (like PowerPoint or Excel), and files through Google Drive, Dropbox.

Inclusion & interactivity are key

For meetings, we’ve found that platforms that enable interactive audience participation to be very valuable. Using such a platform helps ensure user engagement, which can be crucial when you’re a few weeks into a large-scale implementation. GoToMeeting, Cisco Webex and Zoom all have polling and Q&A options, and some also feature virtual hand-raising for questions. Webex allows you the ability to give participants control of your screen, which can help to facilitate learning during all phases of an implementation. It also gives you the ability to assign participants to virtual breakout rooms for more focused implementation projects and/or brainstorming.

Check your privacy

There will be a great deal of sensitive information shared during an implementation, so you may want to check the privacy settings of various platforms. Make sure the meeting link is secure, or that users need to be approved by the host to enter the virtual room. Some popular hosting sites, for example MS Teams, offer end-to-end encryption for all meetings, role-based user security, password protection, waiting rooms, and the ability to place attendees on hold.

On the flip side, there have been reports of issues with private messages on certain platforms, wherein a host (and often all participants) has been sent the entire transcript of a call, with the inclusion of any messages marked as ‘private’ between two users. So, for everybody’s protection and privacy, it’s important to check your settings before hosting (or joining) an implementation call, and ensure that your platform provider has a strong and trusted level of security. 

It’s time we take advantage of technology

The current global health emergency, caused by the Covid-19 outbreak, has resulted in significant restrictions around travel, face-to-face meetings and other business practices. This situation is an urgent wake-up call to rethink how our industry does business and it’s likely to accelerate the adoption of more digital and virtual creative processes in the future.

When the world overcomes and recovers from Covid-19, it will be changed forever, and video communication will have become an integral part of our daily lives and businesses. Gone are the days of implementations with hundreds of consulting days, and Prince 2, Waterflow implementation methodologies. I’m certainly not saying that you don’t need to use professionally trained PLM experts, but rather that we have shifted to a new paradigm based around multi-tenant platforms; it’s a new world with new platforms, that requires a new way of implementing.