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June 16, 2015


Last week I was at one of SSI’s key clients leading a Business Process Assessment (BPA). I have to admit that I really enjoy these BPA processes because it involves virtually every department in the shipyard (Design, Engineering, Planning, Production Control, Detail Planning, Document Control, Configuration Management, Production/Manufacturing, QC, etc.) including 1st Tier partners. This was the first BPA I have conducted with Autodesk which went very well and I look forward to future opportunities. Every BPA uncovers unique areas of improvements but because of NDAs I obviously cannot talk about any specific one that we found. However, I thought I would take this opportunity to list some of the challenges I see in almost every BPA engagement.

What is a BPA?

Before talking about those challenges, I should define what a BPA is and what it is not. My usual one-liner describing what a BPA is and assessment:

To align technology and company processes with your business goals and objectives.

A more detailed (but still short 🙂 ) explanation is a BPA will look at each department’s:

  1. Responsibilities and the activates, decisions and tasks they make throughout the entire lifecycle
  2. The information they require to make their decisions. This includes:
    1. the frequency they receive the information
    2. who they receive this information from
    3. the quality of the information especially if it requires additional processing
    4. the format this information is passed
    5. At what time the information is received
  3. The tools they use or do not use
  4. And finally the information they produce for other stakeholders

There are a lot more details but we do not need to get into that now.

A BPA process goal is to improve how your organization does what it does. This usually comes in 3 major phases which are then broken up into multiple milestones. The phases are:

  1. Short Term (1-4 months): Low hanging fruit which will see noticeable improvement when specific issues are dealt with. These are relatively low investment (time, effort, $) solutions which will not cause any disruption to your current deadlines.
  2. Medium Term (4 – 12 months): Longer term solutions which usually require new or modified processes with usually some minor investment (time, effort, $).
  3. Long Term (1 year – ?): The previous steps are usually stepping stones to this long term strategy. Every shipyard has a different vision of their yard and will require a long term goal which we are working towards.

The reason I am told clients ask SSI to conduct a BPA is because we have a really good understanding of all of the nuances of what it takes to build ships coupled with our extensive experience and knowledge of how shipyards globally have streamlined their processes. I for one have worn a hardhat and steel toes (sometimes) at over 30+ different shipyards across the world.

Three Common Challenges?

As mentioned at the beginning, there are some common themes I see in almost all BPAs. They may seem obvious but the fact remains, almost everyone has  these three high level challenges: configuration/change management; synchronizing platforms & systems; cross department process ownership. I will talk more about each of these topics below.

Challenge One: Configuration/Change Management

Creating a linear process is easy but in any business including shipbuilding this is not the case. Changes are absolutely going to happen and to ensure your processes and information flow supports change is key. Embracing the reality of change is the only way you can maximize your business.

Change happens at all phases from initial design to production. Each change is slightly different with the goal being to enable required changes and have the information easily available needed to conduct a proper impact analysis. For example, a change to the design where the parts are already cut on the waterfront has a greater impact than if the parts have not been cut or purchased. In some cases the late change is still required but knowing the impact to cost, effort and $ is very important.

During the BPA I focus on how the change originated. I look for if the change was caused because there was a lack of information in a previous decision which could have avoided this change or if this change is unavoidable. I also ensure that all information is available and up-to-date to make a proper impact analysis. Last but definitely not least I see how the change will notify other departments and stakeholders that will be required to make additional changes. Then I continue with these departments and stakeholders.

Challenge Two: Synchronizing Platforms & Systems

Every shipyard uses multiple platforms and systems for various different tasks (Functional/System Design, CAD, CAE, ERP/MRP, EDM/PDM/PLM, etc.). This can be compounded when the shipyard works with outsourcing companies which have their own set of tools.

I do believe in a best of breed approach over an idealistic unified solution. However, in a best of breed strategy there are still some challenges which need to be solved appropriately. Keeping the platforms and systems in sync is extremely important and can affect many downstream processes and decisions if not done correctly.

Almost every shipyard had an issue with these systems being out of sync which caused many downstream issues including configuration management mentioned above. Getting these systems in sync and ensuring that all your BOMs and supporting information (VFI, Tags, documents, etc.) are accurate is where a lot of our post BPA effort is spent.

It is important to note that even though I said “sync” above I do not mean that information needs to be copied from one system to another. In many cases it is better to “link” the information but I will leave this for another day.

Challenge Three: Cross Department Process Ownership

This is an item I feel very strongly about and probably where I will have the most disagreement. Shipbuilding or any manufacturing industry has a crazy amount of moving parts and people. I did a quick map of activities for this BPA and it was mentioned by several people during the BPA that the map was extremely complex. The funny thing is that since I created the map just as a discussion aid, I simplified it greatly. I might have captured about 10% of the high level processes.

Because there are many activities that cross departments I do feel that there needs to be an owner who is responsible for any cross department activity. Often shipyards or even any businesses rely on the manager of each department to collaborate to achieve the overall process. Even though it sounds good it does not work in practice. Each manger has their own team and activities to manage and will not concentrate enough time to this very important organizational activity.

For this reason I do think a requirement is that a specific owner (can be a team) owns these workflows. They will liaison with the managers or SME but they will be the one responsible for implementing the process and ensure all departments have the information they need when they need it.

Think of some examples such as your sister ship strategy or implementing a client’s change request. This type of strategy cannot be done by each department in a silo and we would be naive to think that the managers will allocate enough time to collaborate and coordinate with virtually every other department to determine the best strategy.

Closing Remarks

Business Process Assessments (BPA) are a great way to invest in your future. They can vary in scope from 1 day to months depending on what your goals are.

The outcome of any BPA should have a phased approach to streamline your workflows with the first phase really focusing on low hanging fruit. This requires little to no addition investment but can have significant returns. The Medium term phases will create the small, attainable and measurable milestones which will put you on your path to your long term vision.

Almost every BPA I have been part of will uncover challenges with Change/Configuration Management, Platforms & Systems being out of sync and will not have the proper ownership on major organizational workflows. Even though the challenges are the same, the way to resolve them in a phased approach is almost always unique. Other challenges which are common which I did not include in this post revolves around: Agile Engineering Strategy, Document Discovery/Search-ability/Delivery, Undocumented or ad hoc processes and Lack of automation.

I really enjoyed my last BPA and want to thank Autodesk for being part of it.

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