Context is King – virtual collaboration in product development

The past two months have given the topic of virtual collaboration an enormous boost. The Corona crisis has forced everyone to deal with this topic. And the conclusion is consistently positive!

In the first few weeks, the main task was to create the possibilities for virtual collaboration. Now it is a matter of continuing to use the potential of these possibilities after the return to “normality”. What’s even more: many companies are taking the experience they have gained as an opportunity to rethink their structural and process organization and to further digitalize business processes.

Special case product development

While common office solutions in combination with video conferencing are easy to use in areas such as administration, marketing or sales, they often reach their limits in product development. One reason for this is, among others, the high level of interdisciplinarity in this area. Many different specialist teams have to work together at the same time and on several projects. Added to this is the high complexity of the work objects, which are often developed as structures and have many different relationships with each other. In order to work together productively under these conditions, the possibilities of the usual IT tools are not sufficient.

New requirements for IT tools

Intelligent platform solutions for collaborative product lifecycle management (PLM), which enable context-related interdisciplinary work, provide a remedy here. Context-related means that all work objects are linked to each other and can be called up at any time in the work process and from any context. Analysts like Gartner speak of content collaboration tools. This means that you can navigate from one work item to all neighboring work items without having to search and ask questions. This guarantees efficient and valid collaboration, especially in distributed teams.

Intelligent platform solutions offer yet another advantage in collaboration: a common environment in which all project participants can inform themselves and view changes directly. Cross-team chat functions, so-called activity streams, support the consistent exchange of information on the current status of the project. Especially in virtual collaboration, this guarantees a continuous flow of information, which in most cases more than compensates for the lack of “office grapevine” or the meeting at the coffee machine. Gartner has a term ready for this, too, which is Workstream Collaboration.

Another key component of intelligent platform solutions is the use of integrated task boards, which allow development teams to organize their tasks independently. In the past, task lists with several hundred entries were often used. Today, task boards allow only important milestones or quality gates to be set, but leave the individual tasks within the milestones to the teams themselves. This allows an interdisciplinary, distributed team to carry out a joint weekly planning on screen in virtual sessions, e.g. via Zoom.

The main advantage of integrated task boards is the direct linking of to-do cards on the boards with the work objects. This avoids not only the time-consuming search for the appropriate work objects, but also error and version risks. These additional expenses and risks usually occur with purchased individual solutions.

Conclusion:

The Corona crisis has prepared the ground for the continuous expansion of virtual collaboration – also in product development – from now on. Product development places special demands on IT tools for efficient virtual collaboration. Especially working in context is a decisive productivity factor here. Selected intelligent platform solutions for collaborative PLM already meet these requirements today.

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