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Sunday, July 7, 2024

Orchestrating Digital Solutions With Multiple Perspectives

Contemplating the complexities of a manufacturing system has long been an area that I find deeply interesting. I find that its processes, equipment and technology relies on the contributions of diverse stakeholders, each with their own expertise. They work in concert with diverse technologies, physical and digital, to ensure smooth efficient operation that is continuously improving and adapting to changing business needs.

In the pre-digital world, manufacturing system design often operated in silos, as if orchestrating each instrument to play its part in isolation. The design process of monolithic solutions needed this approach. Engineers, the conductors of this orchestra, had to meticulously plan the production flow one instrument at a time in order to manage the complexity. The watchful eye of the project manager controlling scope, prioritizes and cost optimization meant allocation for different musical sections. Then when putting it all together the silos became painfully evident thus leaving it to the frontline operators, the tireless instrumentalists, to make it all work together and bring the production plan to life.

In the digital paradigm the complexity of a manufacturing system has to be understood using a multi-perspective design approach that dismantles these isolated sections and creates an orchestra where all instruments collaborate. Engineers contribute their technical knowledge, similar to the composer's understanding of musicality and frontline operators, with their firsthand experience, identify potential shortcomings and suggest improvements in workflow and ergonomics, akin to the instrumentalists providing feedback on the score's playability.

This collaborative approach fosters a holistic understanding of the system. It ensures that the designed solution translates seamlessly into the realities of the production floor.  Furthermore, the involvement of frontline operators, like the instrumentalists practicing together, fosters a sense of ownership, crucial for system adoption and success.

Agile iteration is the secret weapon that allows for continuous refinement throughout the building process. Just as an orchestra rehearses a piece, prototypes are built, tested on the shop floor, and feedback is rapidly incorporated. This ensures the design remains adaptable to unforeseen challenges and user needs. An agile approach allows for quick prototyping of the layout, followed by simulations and feedback from operators on ergonomics and workflow. This continuous loop of design, test, and refine leads to a more robust and user-friendly system. Therefore digital technology needs to support an iterative bottom-up adoption (design, deployment, implementation, integration, etc). In a way its the merging of Agile, from the software domain, and Continuous Improvement which are arguably the same fundamental concept. Both are "bottom up" methods to manage an ever changing environment, designing one step at a time, solving one problem at a time. 

Most pre-digital technology solutions used a top-down (waterfall) design everything first - then implement approach. This does not work in the digital paradigm and therefore digital technology has to not only allow but be a catalyst to these cycle of improvement and change. The magic ingredient here is the no-code frontline operations platform. These platforms empower non-technical personnel, like the frontline operators, to participate actively in the design process. Just as an easy-to-read score allows each musician to contribute their expertise, the platform allows operators to input data, propose changes to workflows, and visualize the impact of those changes. This democratizes the design process, ensuring valuable frontline insights are readily captured and integrated.

To support the bottom up approach - one that takes a problem by problem step wise path to building shop floor solution its important to have a consistent and repeatable design process. The core of the design should have set of  perspectives that effectively support the iterative process and allow for a holistic design. This is not as easy as you may think and needs a methodical study of design principles. This is another interest area of mine and I wanted to share some background before we come to the method that I find most effective. 

Let's start with a holistic design method such as the CATWOE framework that lays the foundation for a collaborative approach. Stemming from the Soft Systems Methodology (SSM), CATWOE stands for Customers, Actors, Transformation, Worldview, Owner, and Environment. By examining the system through these six lenses, we ensure all stakeholders are considered and their perspectives are integrated into the design process. This fosters a sense of shared ownership and leads to solutions that are not only technically sound but also operationally feasible and user-friendly. 

The CATWOE Framework

Another multi-perspective design approach that is interesting in this context is TOGAF (The Open Group Architecture Framework) standard. TOGAF promotes an enterprise architecture framework that considers the needs of various stakeholders across the organization.  Similar to the CATWOE framework, TOGAF emphasizes understanding the Business Architecture (customer needs, business goals), the Information Architecture (data flows), and the Technology Architecture (systems and infrastructure). By incorporating these diverse perspectives, TOGAF ensures a holistic view of the entire enterprise, just as the multi-perspective design approach ensures a holistic view of the manufacturing system. 

The TOGAF Standard

This synergy between the two approaches creates a robust foundation for designing efficient, adaptable, and user-centric manufacturing systems. SSM and CATWOE were the basis of methods I devised during my research in Holonic Manufacturing Systems, the archetype of modern IIoT solutions. The design approach I am defining here is inspired through CATWOE and a multi-perspective method that was developed by some of my mentors (Jens Bruun and Lief Poulsen) and based on TOGAF. Its a simple holistic design approach that allows a very effective way to move forward with the dynamic duo of agile iteration and no-code platforms.

The process has three sequential steps, each taking a unique perspective of the overall operations and that build on each other. Iterating through this sequence for each solution gradually uncovers the holistic design of the digital system. 

The three perspective for digital solution design:

  1. Identify and clarify Business Objectives to find and prioritize the use cases in scope. Solutions should be designed to support frontline activities and business processes that a company has put in place in order to accomplish some specific strategic goals, i.e. the Business Objectives.
  2. Define and understand the Physical Operations where the use cases of the digital solution will be implemented. Understand how the physical space, processes and value stream are laid out to meet the defined objectives. What is the physical flow of materials and operators, where are operators performing activities, what equipment is being used, and how the overall process integrates, material flow, equipment sharing, and frontline operators.
  3. Understand the Activities and Business Processes that have been implemented to drive the operational value stream in the physical operations space. What activities do the operators perform in order to execute the manufacturing process, what systems and data are used and needed, where does an operation start and end, how is material moved and what are the production control mechanisms, what are the logistics of the operations and how do frontline operators interact with materials and equipment.  

The synergy between these three elements creates a dynamic and responsive design process. The multi-perspective approach fosters inclusivity, agile iteration ensures continuous improvement, and the no-code platform empowers frontline participation. This collaborative environment leads to the creation of digital solutions that are not just efficient but also user-friendly, sustainable, and adaptable to future challenges.

In conclusion, a successful manufacturing system requires a conductor – a multi-perspective design approach with agile iteration and a no-code frontline operations platform. This approach fosters a collaborative environment where diverse voices are heard, leading to a more robust, efficient, and user-centric manufacturing system. As manufacturing landscapes continue to evolve, this dynamic and responsive approach will be instrumental in ensuring long-term success, just as a well-rehearsed orchestra delivers a powerful and moving performance.

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