Global Teamwork Goes Under the Microscope

Founded in 1971 as FEI Company, Thermo Fisher Scientific’s Materials & Structural Analysis division’s innovations in electron and ion microscopy have made it the go-to scientific and technical instrument source for companies in six areas of research and development:

  • Materials Science
  • Life Sciences
  • Semiconductors
  • Oil and Gas
  • Minerals and Mining
  • Industrial Manufacturing

The company’s customers rely on its combined hardware and software expertise to create sophisticated, easy-to-use equipment. FEI counts on being able to innovate for its customers as the solutions they require shrink in size and grow in complexity.

To continue to meet evolving marketplace needs and maintain its competitive advantage, FEI sought to address some of its own existing collaboration challenges before they became product development problems.

Challenge

  1. Rapidly outdated requirements
  2. Continuously changing market conditions
  3. Insufficient access to requirements

Keeping the company’s global, multi-team collective efforts focused and moving forward was the goal. But as people often found themselves having to stop and search for missing or current data, FEI realized a few recurring roadblocks kept getting in the way.

One of the most critical problems was that requirements, once created, would quickly become outdated after approval.

Another issue was that fast-changing market conditions meant engineers and stakeholders required constant updates to document incoming requirements and responses from each team.

The above needs revealed another problem to solve: Not everyone that needed access to requirements and specifications had it.

For example, whenever people—often not members of the project team, but involved in the project—didn’t have the right set of SharePoint privileges, it was a barrier to getting them into the workflow, much less using the project guide.

Ultimately, the Quality Control team bore the brunt of these collective challenges, as the tests and verifications it was asked to perform depended on what stakeholders asked for and what project teams agreed to deliver.

“There are numerous problems Jama helps us with that weren’t obvious before; we learn more as we work in it. Much of the benefit is in its efficient collaboration functionality; it’s one of the most helpful tools we have.”
Thomas Green, R&D Systems Engineering Manager

Solution

  1. Streamlined collaboration keeps teams aligned on requirements definitions
  2. Visibility, accessibility and clarity around deliverables and expectations
  3. A clear system for inputting change requests and negotiating scope of work

FEI stands out from its peers and other organizations of its size in that once it has identified a need, company leadership is decisive in word and action. Some examples:

In November, 2014, Product Manager Greg Clark initiated a Jama pilot for the new Application Development Group.
Within 30 days the value was evident, and procurement of services and platform implementation were set.

Eight months later, the team began adding licenses to the existing group. New group expansions continue.

Having seen the benefits of a previous effort to migrate from Word and Excel into an object-oriented database solution, FEI management was the catalyst for evaluating and launching a formal improvement project for global rollout, the goal being that if one team sees value, many other teams will too.

Working with representatives from three geographical sites, the improvement project initiative was sponsored by VP of research and development Gavin Hartigan and director of research and development Damon Heer of the Materials and Structural Analysis Division (MSD).

Led by Research and Development Systems Engineering Manager Thomas Green, the IT team to identified and compared available solutions; five candidates were recommended.

With that in hand, the group listed top use cases and evaluated each solution against them with a list of RM solution necessities. The best fits for the use cases and necessities were evaluated separately by each site leader. The group then weighted the averages, pitted them against cost and selected Jama as the top choice and best fit, particularly for its robust collaboration capabilities.

Once selected, the group launched another pilot project where each site used Jama for six-nine months on its own project. Afterward, the group evaluated the feedback from site teams before proceeding with the global roll out.
Results

  1. Alignment around technical specs reduced by two-three months
  2. Accessibility and clarity on team deliverables and stakeholder expectations
  3. No more lost or buried data: Team activity occurs in a database with a history than can be easily tracked

The complex electro-mechanical products FEI teams build require lots of input from cross-functional subject matter experts located around the world.

The Jama platform keeps the company’s global teams aligned as they collaborate on requirement definitions; it brings visibility, accessibility and clarity to what teams need to deliver and to stakeholder expectations. As market demands change during development, Jama provides a clear system for inputting change requests and negotiating additions to and removals from the scope of work.

A notable success story: One particularly complex project team—globally dispersed with senior engineers with cross-functional roles and responsibilities—leverages the accessibility and collaboration aspects of Jama. This team has reduced the time it takes to align on technical specs with other global teams by two-three months.

In addition, teams have migrated many of their procedural documents and checklists into Jama so that all the data that needed for stakeholder approvals is in one place.

Before Jama, all requirements docs were MS Office-based, and negotiations, reviews and revisions to requirements were all negotiated and committed through track changes, red lines, inserted comments, emails and meetings.

With Jama, this activity now occurs in a database with a history than can be easily tracked. Teams no longer risk losing or burying critical data.

“Jama is a single and consistent tool across multiple projects and geographical sites for managing requirements.”
Metrios Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM) team