Think again! Mastering digital workshops in the new normal
Are you one of those people who believe that digital workshops aren’t as efficient and effective as in-person ones, and that it’s impossible to develop team spirit online? Let us persuade you otherwise! The MIT team from the Electronics category demonstrated how it can be done in its Supplier Workshop, held in conjunction with partner WIKA.
The Supplier Innovation and Design to Cost Workshop with a difference
Bringing together 30 colleagues from Siemens AG and partner WIKA in a virtual workshop to identify innovative and cost-effective product enhancements – that doesn’t sound like an easy task. But Christian Schlinck (Senior Director Corporate Commodity Engineer) from the Purchasing Council (PuC) MIT joined forces to tackle precisely this challenge, with a view to expanding their horizons. So how exactly do you go about holding a digital workshop within three to five days, given that an event of this kind would normally take place in person at a production facility and would last between one and two weeks? With thorough preparation, transparency and above all enough time to get to know each other! “Establishing a team spirit early on is half the battle,” explains Christian Schlinck. Alongside the usual supplier business meetings, the agenda should also provide scope to chat about personal interests and hobbies. This allows people to connect on a social and emotional level and encourages all team members to get fully involved, no matter what their age groups, character traits and functions are. Exploring shared interests on a virtual level, like converting a camper van during the coronavirus pandemic in preparation for traveling around the world, is conductive to rapid team bonding, even if it can only take place virtually at the moment. Another highlight of the program: an up-close look at the product and the factory thanks to the Microsoft HoloLens, which enabled the participants to examine each production step and come up with joint ideas for innovative and cost-effective product enhancements.
The team generated an impressive 118 final ideas as a result of this process. Color-coded visualizations made for a clearer overview. Each color stood for a particular category or function area on the product, for example blue for the frame. The color linked together the product, the production location and the Conceptboard. The frame production location within the production facility, for example, was also marked blue, and all innovative ideas relating to the frame were in turn collected in the blue area of the Conceptboard.
“This enabled us to consider the corresponding individual parts in focused teams within each cluster, including all relevant information such as price, technical drawing, delivery conditions, and so on. The teams swapped around after each session, and all the ideas were consolidated at the end. In this way, we were able to build a better understanding of the product without losing the thread,” explains Christian Schlinck.
A clear advantage of the workshop was the wealth of insights and ideas contributed by colleagues from diverse cross-functions. As well as enabling the project application manager to give direct feedback on what was good and what was not so good, the workshop gave team members from Purchasing, Technology, Product Management and Quality the opportunity to contribute their own insights. The result: a total of 118 ideas for significant product cost reduction and product innovations.
The workshop with WIKA was brilliantly organized and ran like clockwork. The cleverly balanced mix of Microsoft Teams, Conceptboard and Microsoft Lens made it feel almost like a face-to-face meeting. The collaboration between the participants was motivating and, in my opinion, very successful. For me, it was definitely a best practice example!Robert Grünler, workshop participant
Are digital workshops a step backward or forward?
What’s your view on this, Mr. Schlinck? Do digital workshops represent progress?
Christian Schlinck: “I think it’s certainly possible to achieve a more efficient way of working with less distraction than in a conventional face-to-face workshop. The virtual method allows us to collaborate worldwide and expand our network. But it’s important for us to keep sight of the social and emotional aspects as well as focusing on the topic at hand. The trend moves toward small teams, a work environment where you can throw ideas around. We have to ask ourselves the questions: What makes the customer tick? How can we sharpen our competitive edge by optimizing product costs? And how can we incorporate these aspects into the product? Speed is a particularly decisive factor here. In the past, it wasn’t easy to implement ideas quickly after a workshop. It often took more than a year to lay the groundwork for putting the ideas into practice. The virtual format, on the other hand, has enabled us to use targeted information channels to define the project from the outset and reserve budget and capacity. There’s never been a workshop in our commodity that resulted in the immediate implementation of ideas. Looking back, the virtual workshop has added a new, extremely valuable string to our bow.
Do you think you’ll always be able to hold the Supplier Innovation Workshop virtually from now on?
Christian Schlinck: “Although I’m sure it’s not always the right solution for all product topics and suppliers, the virtual Supplier Innovation and DTC Workshop was an exciting pilot project that was more than worthwhile just for the social team spirit it fostered. The Siemens AG and WIKA teams collaborated as equals in processing the topics, and the interaction between the cross-functions ran very smoothly. It’s only by everyone sitting together at a virtual table that we can combine our efforts to identify innovative ideas and solutions – above all at great speed. That’s why we’re determined to adapt this digital concept for other suppliers and make good use of this new form of communication in other exciting business areas.”
What tips and tricks can you offer others for a perfectly organized virtual workshop?
- “Allow sufficient time to prepare
- Define a common theme and goal for the workshop right from the outset
- Open communication, transparency and collaboration
- Small teams for focused interaction
- Heterogeneity: encourage cross-functional teams
- Make time to get to know each other personally
- Short time blocks with breaks
- Use technical resources such as Microsoft HoloLens
- Use clear color schemes for better visualization”
The PuC and TeC team at MIT has demonstrated that it is possible to hold a workshop bursting with innovation and team spirit, even during a pandemic. We at least can hardly wait to hear what other exciting virtual events are in the pipeline! How about you?
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