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Improving product development productivity with DMS version control

shutterstock_664300531Raising your productivity levels can improve your delivery to customers and your profitability. Productivity is a crucial measure for most businesses and high-tech product manufacturers are no exception.

Productivity can be enhanced in many ways; a powerful document management system (DMS) is one of those ways.

With a robust and reliable DMS, version, revision, and approval control are centralised and consistent. It all means one thing: improved visibility of your files and processes.

A DMS is more than a just a document repository. Employed correctly, it can be the central framework that underpins the entire product development process.

Document anarchy

One of the biggest challenges in product development is document anarchy. How do you find the correct version of the document or file you need? How do you know for sure it is the correct one? Are these modifications up to date or have there been more since the last time you looked? What if engineers are simultaneously modifying the same document? Or different versions of the same document?

Wrong versions are often responsible for the wasted effort and dead-end work that can slow down progress and retard productivity throughout the product development cycle. With so much information, so many iterations, and so much cross departmental collaboration - often happening between dozens, if not hundreds of employees - there needs to be strong programme control. Losing track of file versions or revisions or advancing work on unapproved designs can result in lengthened times to market and lost revenue.

So how does DMS version control improve product development productivity?

Greater visibility

Every draft and approved version of a document is held in the system along with every review comment and approval history.

If the development team needs to retrace its steps, they can quickly identify each approved version of a given document. This makes it easier, for example, to uncover where that design element that is causing problems first appeared. This process is simplified and because all of the approved revision versions are locked in place in the DMS, visible and easily accessed. There is no opportunity for confusion about which version was used at a development stage six months or a year ago.

Version control is an indispensable tool in product development. It provides users with a clear history of every comment and change made throughout the development process.

Increased confidence

Version control boosts confidence and innovative behaviour among engineers, which could lead to exceptional results.

A good DMS gives the people using it the certainty that the information they are working on is right. No more double-checking to make sure it’s the latest or the correct version. This certainty will both speed up the whole process and lead to better job satisfaction among team members.

Also, with a DMS, teams can explore new ideas, design variations, or different product versions with the confidence that they have a fixed design stage up to that point from which to work. An effective DMS allows you to formally group together specific versions of documents (design/software/manuals) for a product but still allow those documents to evolve.

For example, a Programme Manager can create a “snapshot” of product documents for the release of that product. Those “base” documents can then be used to develop additional products or variations, but the first product will always refer back to that initial document set.

Collaboration

Collaboration between teams and departments is enhanced by a DMS, because the process can be transparent and controlled. Documents can be reviewed by a select set of people. They are able to share notes and provide comments. Reviewers can be alerted when they have overdue reviews or outstanding tasks.

Modified versions can be uploaded for review and comment by the team. Critically, these are distinct versions of the original. This way the version history is maintained and clear for all.

Additionally, some DMS offer approver routing rules, which allow you to set required approvers for sets of, rather than individual, documents. This saves time, increases productivity, and reduces user error.

Many document management systems also offer support for formal review meetings and external feedback, from partners or customers, for example.

The key about all this functionality is that it is completely configurable and controllable. The document creator or assigned admins can decide who should review each version and how much access they have. A good DMS should facilitate collaboration while preventing the document anarchy that can result without it.

The complexity of high tech products is growing all the time - there are now more than 100 million lines of code in a modern high-end car - and the complexity of the teams that design and develop those products is increasing in lock-step. As a consequence, document control is becoming more and more critical in the product development cycle.

Manufacturers and engineers need to be efficient and effective in their operations if they are to succeed in a competitive landscape. DMS version control enables workflow visibility and collaboration. When properly used it enhances and shortens development cycles. Document control becomes governed, consistent and reliable and, therefore, one less thing to worry about.

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