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Good Software Is Not Just About the Software

The idea behind the Manufacturing Software Sucks webinar originally originated from a blog post about how complex and confusing manufacturing software is. The amazing marketing team at Fiix Software saw the post and wanted to build on the idea. Of course, I loved the concept because, if you hadn’t guessed by now, I feel very strongly about the topic.

That idea spurred an entire campaign because as many of you know, manufacturing software is traditionally hard to use which causes a lot of other issues, but my focus on usability stems from the fact that I’m a software developer and run a software company. No surprises there.

Most manufacturing software is ugly, and it repeatedly tells you the same shit over and over. Pardon my language, but I get very frustrated about the lack of usability. And, the other frustrating part is the fact that it doesn’t learn from the past. You can’t easily do reporting because it can’t tell you the future (because of the lack of learning), and there are all of these functional problems with the software.

But, in reality, these functional issues are the complaints of a software developer and don’t tend to be the biggest problems, as Rob with Rob’s Reliability Project pointed out during the webinar.

This really got me thinking about the larger problems with traditionally difficult to use and hard to understand software. Yes, it’s not user-friendly and incredibly annoying on a day to day basis. But for software to be effective, it really comes down to efficient processes and good culture.

First Objective: Create a Culture of Communication and Efficiency 

I do think that with the right processes, the right people, and the right culture at your organization, you can make crappy software work. You could even make manual processes like paper, Excel, or whiteboards work. 

As a software developer who wants the software to be incredibly user-friendly, I understand that usability is not the only factor. 

And on the contrary, if you have the greatest, easiest, best software you’ve ever seen that’s predicting all sorts of great stuff, but you have terrible processes and not everyone is on board, you’re not going to get any value out of it.

So, I’m not backtracking on my thinking that traditional software is overly complex and difficult, but more or less conveying that to really make software work, good or bad, or even manual, you need to have an effective culture. That is the number one factor in determining success.

What I’ve found throughout my career, and the webinar only exemplified it, is that it’s better to look at your processes outside of the software because otherwise, the software can become a very easy scapegoat. This is especially true in the ERP processes world. Software is usually not the cause of a major problem. For that to become apparent, you need to look in the mirror and evaluate the processes set up in the company as a whole, beyond the software.

At my last company, we use to offer business problem reviews. We would go into companies and write everything out in diagrams, detailing how everything flowed in the company. When we did this, it would bring to the surface all sorts of inefficiencies, mistakes, and instances of people not being on the same page. These reviews brought to light the problems lying under the surface, and that software had been blamed for.

It tended to be very eye-opening for the customer. Just by doing a process review, you can create buy-in from your employees, eliminate waste, and make the use of your software a lot easier. Everyone involved is going to get more benefit from it.

And this is why culture is so important and why software cannot be seen as the saving grace if efficient processes aren’t in place, FIRST.

Second Objective: Determine the End Goal

Changing your processes to create a better culture is really hard. Really, really, hard. But, that doesn’t mean it can’t, and shouldn’t, be done. In fact, it’s a challenge we recommend taking on.

What you always run into, for example, is a person who is set in their ways, unwilling to make the changes needed because they don’t see the benefit until it’s right there in front of them.

Say the person running the purchasing department has his way of doing things, and that’s the only way he wants to do it. He does not care if you’re implementing new software, it better look and work like the old software from 30 years ago even though all of the new processes, engaging culture, and efficient software will make this person’s life a lot easier.

This isn’t uncommon. There are entire groups of people not willing to change because they’re used to the way things have always been done, that’s how they know how to do it, and like most people, they’re afraid of change. All of this is okay and normal, but it can cause a lot of problems, especially when implementing new software. It may cause the software to be bent to the person’s processes, rather than bending the processes to the software.

While a major hurdle for leadership, this challenge ties back to the need for effective leadership and change management. Your employees need to understand why something is happening, why you’re implementing the software, why it’s important to make these changes, and how it’s going to make an impact in the future, rather than just telling them things to need to be done. The WHY is imperative to get people on board.

In the case of changing processes and implementing software to make the plant more effective, it’s important to explain why this is going to make the future better, for everyone. Great leadership conveys this well and encourages employees to be comfortable.

On the flip side, most employees, in this particular example, are probably afraid of the new changes and smart software. Whether it’s on the factory floor or in the back office, they’re afraid for their jobs. But in reality, most companies implement software and automation not to replace people, but to take over the daily mundane tasks, giving people the ability to be more efficient and perform the higher-level tasks they’ll excel at. It’s more an opportunity for employees to shine.

Telling yourself, and the company, what needs to change and the requirements for those changes will also help pick a new software.

Another big idea that many forget about is the idea of ownership. People have to “own” certain things in the company. No, we aren’t talking about stock options, but the idea that an operator “owns” his or her line, the plant supervisor “owns” how the plant is running on a day to day basis. Everyone “owns” their areas of focus and responsibility.

The ownership part of the equation flows through all of these effective processes. Understanding who owns things leads to better communication and responsibility up and down the organization. It all fits together. Think of it as a revolving door.

So if you go through that whole process review and you see inefficiencies, silos of information, departments not communicating with one another, lack of flow from place to place, you could use all of the requirements to drive what you really want in culture, processes, and a software. Ask yourself, “What’s the end goal here?”.

It’s the idea is that you’d be picking new software based on new processes, rather than making the old software work for the old processes.

This all leads to the idea of creating calm in the factory. With an efficient plant and software that helps you find that calm, you’ll be reducing complexity, increasing communication, and increasing visibility. All of those help to create calm.

Really, this is all the foundation of The Toyota Way and the theory of constraints, which if you’ve been following our blog posts, we’re big proponents of. It all relates back to a culture of continuous learning, problem-solving, empowering employees with a lot of communication and a lot of visibility.

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Bryan Sapot
Bryan Sapot is a lifelong entrepreneur, speaker, CEO, and founder of Mingo. With more than 24 years of experience in manufacturing technology, Bryan is known for his deep manufacturing industry insights. Throughout his career, he’s built products and started companies that leveraged technology to solve problems to make the lives of manufacturers easier. Follow Bryan on LinkedIn here.