The secret to a successful simulation project is good communication.
The best results always come when you have involved different people from across the business, making sure that their ideas and buy-in are all part of the process. Whether it’s gathering colleagues’ insights to help build more accurate models, finding out how different department processes can gel together more effectively, or demonstrating the new cost or efficiency savings that you’ve discovered through your simulation, these projects are a great way to engage people in the organisation. Working together, it’s much easier to find new ways to improve everyday operations and increase profitability. And it all comes down to good communication.
Here we are going to take a look at some of the different groups of people that you should be interacting with before, during and after your simulation project, and how their input can contribute to greater success.
Of course, the consequences of failing to communicate effectively can be serious. According to a study by the Economist Intelligence Unit, 44% of respondents said that miscommunication has caused a delay or failure to complete projects, while 25% said it led to missed performance goals. So, let’s take a look at how this can be avoided.
When building a model, the first port of call will be the person that is championing the project, which we can call the ‘client’. It might be an external client as part of a consultancy project, or it might be an internal client such as a manager, a process owner, or perhaps somebody from C-suite that is looking for a solution and needs your expertise and guidance. You’re working for them, but if you are successful, really you will be working with them.
It’s important to start that relationship off with shared understanding of the project and joint engagement in working towards its success. You’re going to need to know what the client’s objectives are and what they expect from a simulation project. Having this conversation at the very beginning of the project will help to align exactly what can be achieved. Remember, building a simulation is not the goal. The goal is to support the client’s decision making.
The relationship with the client is the most important relationship of all, and good communication is what is going to make it work. Find out how frequently they want to be updated, and which modes of communication work best for them.
They should also be able to tell you who they see as the main stakeholders for the project, and who you should be speaking to to ascertain the detailed process knowledge that you will need to proceed.
Front line experts
Simulation relies on accuracy and this means that working with people who are the real experts on each aspect of the process. Communicating with department managers means that you can draw on their technical and specialist expertise to draw up a full picture of what the simulation needs to capture.
Department managers will be the ones who understand the daily drumbeat and intricacies of their departments, how they operate, what their objectives are, and where the potential problems lie. They will be vital in helping to set the right question to ask of the simulation, and they will know which other people should be involved.
Of course, managers will know how things are supposed to happen, but it’s the people involved at an executional level that will have the first hand experience of why a process might not always go to plan, so they should be engaged as well. After all, not all of the key information can be found in data and reports. A lot of it will be found in people’s own experiences.
Perhaps a certain piece of equipment is older than others and requires more attention; perhaps there are surges in demand at certain times of the day; perhaps there are varied skills among the staff that mean certain employees can or can’t do particular tasks. Only by gathering input from people involved in the process will it be possible to pick up on these types of nuances that management aren’t necessarily aware of, and they may just provide the vital piece of the puzzle.
Changes to one department will almost certainly mean that there’s a knock-on effect in another department. There’s no problem with this – it’s to be expected – but any changes should not come as a shock to other department managers either, especially as there may well be benefits that can reach them too. In fact, it’s one of the biggest advantages of simulation that you can see and then communicate process crossovers between departments. This makes it easier to find new efficiency savings.
For example, in a manufacturing environment that means taking soundings from supply purchasers, logistics teams, finance and merchandising, as well those involved in the nuts and bolts of the manufacturing line.
What’s more, these other departments may well have their own challenges to deal with that could be solved with the help of simulation. Sharing best practice through good cross-departmental communication will be beneficial for the wider organization.
The initial simulation project may only affect a small part of a business, but there’s always the possibility that a successful undertaking could be used as a model for future projects. These projects will have different questions that need answering, so it’s important not to let new issues and wider scope creep into what you are trying to achieve. That’s where good communication skills will be needed to help keep everyone focused on one question at a time.
One thing that is completely fundamental to the success of a project, and applies across all groups, is to be in agreement of what the question is that the simulation is looking to answer. By setting a clear question and sticking to it, all conversations about what’s in and out of scope will be easy. If there are other questions, look to build other models. And when you have lots of small models, there will likely be ways of combining them to demonstrate wider inter-dependencies. In this way simulation use will spread naturally, but go from small questions to large, not the other way around.
Simulation is there to improve efficiencies and productivity, so there will always be gains that contribute to the bottom line. This is the kind of information that will be music to the senior management’s ears! Making sure that you communicate the success of your simulation to the C-suite is hugely important, and this will involve identifying and sharing the top line benefits and key results. It is likely that this job will fall to your client, so it’s up to you to give them the insights and tools they need to easily present the success of the project. And making the client look good is the best way to create an even stronger working relationship of trust.
Equally, it’s just as important to get C-suite buy-in to the project from the very beginning. This will mean that it’s then much easier to sell the principles of the simulation project to a wider range of managers. The C-suite will also be helpful in ensuring that the project remains focused on discovering the changes that will make the biggest difference to the business, aligning better to the overall goals.
Make sure that the client has this type of communication on their radar from the start, and work together to ensure the project is presented in the most helpful and informative way to senior leadership.
Once a model is built, it will quickly become an invaluable decision making tool. You’ll want to ensure that it is adopted at an operational level, and to do that means designing a good interface that is intuitive for end users. Removing any barriers that might prevent people using the simulation is really important, and that’s why simple is always best.
If you have communicated with all of the groups above along the way, then you can be confident that the model has been built to effectively simulate the processes that they are looking to improve. By drawing on all that expertise and by communicating effectively at each stage of the project, your simulations are going to arrive at the greatest value solutions, and much faster.