We’ve all been there…working on that project, which never seems to go right. The project has passed hands multiple times. There is miscommunication between the customer, salesman, and the engineers. Every new idea you attempt doesn’t seem to work as expected, and when you finally find a solution that works, it decides to stop working when the customer is watching. The project drags on, is grossly overdue, and by the time it is near completion, it hardly looks like the proposed system.
While no one enjoys being in these positions, at one time or another every company will experience one. And the question is how do you save face?
Being a newcomer to the industry, I know I still have much to learn. However, I have been fortunate enough to experience a difficult, high tension project. I do genuinely mean fortunate. I have gained a lot from being put into a position where much was expected of me.
My experience with the troubled project largely relates to the situation I described in the first paragraph. The project application was difficult and involved integrating a an industrial robot, PLC, multiple vision systems (each with multiple cameras and purposes), two different products to run, and minimal consistency from pallet to pallet.
The project did not rest squarely on our shoulders. We used another integrator to implement a difficult and ever-changing subsystem, and the goals and means of completing that subsystem changed multiple times throughout the project, both due to the customer and our own management.
When I came onto the project, we were getting to the point we thought the project was near completion. It was nearly a year overdue, and the company was simply ready to see the thing done– understandably so. It was an extremely difficult application, incorporating custom end of arm tooling for the robot, multiple vision systems, a print and labeling system, a tight time constraint, and material with little consistency from bag to bag. We had a sub-contractor who was slow to help as the project evolved, and on top of everything, personnel changed multiple times throughout the life of the project including 3 project managers, 3 controls engineers, and 2 robotics engineers.
Instinct for most of us in this situation would be to point the finger, say the customer changed their scope too much and the other integrator wasn’t competent to perform their required functions. We all want to set ourselves up as having done our job, and those around us just weren’t working. While this might help save our pride and make us feel better; in the end, this course of action will just lead to more issues.
My team and I did not try to make things appear better or worse than they were. We were open and frank about the current status of the project in the weekly meetings, stepped up and took responsibility for issues, and had open discussions about all current difficulties. Working as a team with the customer, we determined the best way forward.
As is to be expected with a trouble project, what appeared to be the best way forward isn’t always the case. We hit multiple dead ends, but we weren’t afraid to show the customer exactly what was happening. We listened to their input and kept on trying. While no one can overlook the difficulties and delay in the project, through perseverance, some ingenuity, open conversation, and teamwork, the project turned out to be successful.
Reflecting on this experience, the biggest lessons learned for me is simply put best in the old adage, “honesty is the best policy.” While it is by no means easy to shoulder the responsibility, even when it is not yours to take; in the end, it is infinitely more valuable to look for the solution instead of looking for someone to blame. The combination of these two qualities is what not only allowed Bastian to complete a difficult project, but to regain the trust and confidence of the customer.