Streamlining Workstreams to Enhance Organizational Efficiency

May 30, 2024


Workstreams help divide large-scale projects into more manageable components, simplifying planning, monitoring, and execution processes. 

These streams act like swimlanes in a pool, guiding each swimmer—or, in a business context, each part of an organization—toward their end goals without overlap, ensuring that each segment progresses without infringing on another’s space.

This article explores the role of workstreams in organizational success and how they foster improved project management and operational efficiency.

Central to this discussion is the integration of product lifecycle management (PLM) software, which acts as a definitive swimlane, orchestrating the flow of projects from inception to completion. 

With a clear understanding of PLM’s capabilities, we will use practical examples to explore its direct impact on enhancing organizational workstreams.

Understanding Product Lifecycle Management

Product lifecycle management (PLM) is a strategic approach to managing a product’s lifecycle from inception through engineering design and manufacture to service and disposal.

PLM software integrates data, processes, business systems, and people in an extended enterprise, providing a product information backbone for companies and their extended supply chain.

PLM key functions

Centralizing Product Data: PLM systems store all information related to a product, allowing easy access and ensuring all stakeholders are on the same page.

Streamlining Processes: By automating workflows and reducing manual tasks, PLM helps eliminate inefficiencies and speeds up the product development process.

Enhancing Collaboration: PLM facilitates communication across departments and geographical boundaries, helping teams work together more effectively.

Improving Quality Control: With better traceability and visibility across the product development cycle, PLM helps identify and address quality issues early.

Integrating PLM into workstreams ensures that every project component is aligned with overarching product strategies, enhancing overall effectiveness and efficiency. Let’s examine how product lifecycle management facilitates the structuring of workstreams.

What is a Workstream?

A workstream is a contiguous series of organized, integrated, closely related digital tasks that can be automated to scale processes. This process allows tasks to be completed independently and combined, accelerating the project’s progress. 

By breaking down large and complex projects into smaller, manageable components, workstreams simplify overall project management and enhance planning, execution, and monitoring. Each operates with its own timelines, milestones, risks, and dedicated teams, all directed toward a common goal of efficient project delivery.

Workstreams v Workflows

While related to the project management process, workflows, and workstreams serve distinct functions and shouldn’t be confused with one another. A workflow is a specific sequence of tasks designed to achieve an organizational goal, effectively mapping out each step needed to complete a project. 

In contrast, a workstream is the collective output from diverse workgroups focusing on varied objectives within the same project. This distinction is crucial as it highlights the operational versus the strategic elements of project management, with workflows providing the “how” and workstreams focusing on the “what” to meet broader project goals.

What are the benefits of Workstreams?

The benefits of contiguous workstreams are numerous and varied. PLM software commonly manages workstreams in product manufacturers and is usually associated with engineering because CAD vendors initially created PLM to manage CAD design files in engineering. 

Today, where products have a high percentage of sourced content from the supply chain, CAD file management for engineering is merely one benefit, but there are many more to consider. Contiguous workstreams today extend beyond the manufacturer’s engineering department into the supply chain. Let’s look at the benefits of workstreams.

Efficiency benefits

If a workstream is 100% efficient, it doesn’t exist—existing workstreams have some degree of inefficiency, such as gaps, manual touch, data translation/augmentation, etc.

Most manufacturers continuously improve and refine their existing processes, often satisfied with fractions of a percentage improvement in efficiency (LEAN manufacturing), because they can measure saved time, increased profitability, and revenue. 

The problem with chasing efficiency improvement of existing processes is that it traps the manufacturer into the same way of doing things, albeit more efficiently. Iconic companies such as Blackberry, Boeing, and Kodak are examples.

It’s important to step back, study existing workstreams, and consider alternate new workstreams that might obsolete multiple processes altogether, thus delivering far bigger efficiency gains overall.

Traceability benefits

Digital workstreams offer traceability. Tracing a product’s complete genealogy is essential in most industries, especially regulated industries like aerospace and medical devices. As manufacturers increasingly rely on the supply chain for much of their product content, traceability is even more important than ever before. 

The Alaska Airlines 737 Max flight that left Portland on January 5th could have caused multiple fatalities when the door blew off. Fortunately, all passengers had their seat belts still fastened.

The FAA investigation verified numerous points of failure in Boeing’s supply chain and internal procedures that caused the accident by using rigorous traceability procedures.

Whether for commercial aviation safety, food processing, and distribution, spare parts authenticity, or circuit board manufacturing processes, digital traceability is imperative.

Velocity benefits

Digital workstreams move product information at practically infinite velocity, providing no gaps or manual touch interrupting data flow. Product data does not get stuck waiting for someone to approve something or perform a task.

It’s always in motion, and as it moves, it becomes enriched with more information needed by the next department or milestone stage. 

Velocity helps simultaneously make the same products faster and/or more product variants with the same resources. Without sacrificing quality, velocity is the new standard in leading companies.

AI will take this to a whole new level in the future by optimizing massive complexity to make better choices, thus increasing velocity even further.

Scalability benefits

Scalability means being able to grow your business without impediments.

Hyperscaling, a common term for Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and NVIDIA, is used in technology and business to describe the ability of a system, organization, or infrastructure to scale rapidly and efficiently to handle increasing demands.

Whether scalability or hyperscaling, digital workstreams allow a company to grow and meet current market demands continuously.

Repeatability benefits

It’s not uncommon for manufacturers to reinvent the wheel and make the same mistakes as last time.

This often occurs because of organizational silos and lack of governance standards, leading to critical information about product decision-making (the who, what, where, and why) isn’t available or is too hard to find; it’s not shared.

Digital corporate governance workstreams that each product team, department location, or country uses ensure repeatability.

Globalization benefits

Digital corporate governance workstreams, adopted globally, allow manufacturers to load balance. This means assigning manufacturing projects to locations based on criteria like capacity, skill set, proximity to customer/market, and proximity to critical supply chain sources (perhaps cobalt from China for EV battery production).

A follow-the-sun paradigm, which is a single, virtual, global organization, may be implemented. This lowers costs, saves time by removing bottlenecks, and allows optimal use of assets (digital, physical, and human).

Five Examples of Practical Workstreams

Let’s explore five practical examples of workstreams that can transform theoretical efficiency into tangible results. These examples demonstrate how integrating workstreams within a company’s operational structure can foster enhanced coordination, focus, and productivity across various departments.

Workstream 1 – Design Reuse


Most new designs use existing products as their base, with new products being 80-90% similar to existing ones, often refreshed with minor features or colors. Leveraging existing product records, including CAD files, process plans, and quality test procedures, avoids redundant work and maximizes efficiency.

Strategic Highlights:

  • Design Baselines: Utilize baselines to independently manage the core design and variants. This avoids replicating CAD files and documents as discrete records.
  • Change Management: Changes to the design baseline propagate across all related products, saving time and reducing errors.
  • Efficiency Gains: Mature manufacturers can trigger actions to all affected products with a single change, optimizing efficiency and ensuring accuracy.
  • Avoiding Silos: Avoid starting new designs from historical data by copying files over. By doing this, you prevent the creation of orphan products.

Best Practices:

  1. Requirements Management: Compare similar design specs.
  2. Discovery: Test multiple design alternatives and choose the optimal one.
  3. Engineering Design: Use the baseline/variant data model.
  4. Sourcing from within PLM: Balance cost, availability, and lead time.
  5. Final Release: Digital handoffs to procurement, manufacturing, quality, marketing, field maintenance, and customer success.

Workstream 2 – Informal Decision Making


Collaboration among product stakeholders inside and outside the company is essential, but records are often not captured in PLM systems. This leads to inefficiencies, potential errors, and liabilities.

Strategic Highlights:

  • Integration of Collaboration Tools: Tools like Slack and Linear should be integrated into PLM to maintain all records and compliance with corporate governance standards. Today, collecting the informal actions that took place is an admin task after the fact and is often overlooked.
  • Ad Hoc Collaboration: Allows free, spontaneous engagement among stakeholders but must be recorded formally to avoid errors.
  • Example Workflow: Collaboration through various tools (e.g., Git, Slack, Linear, PLM) before and throughout the formal project, providing the tool is integrated with PLM software.

Best Practices:

  • Integrating collaboration tools with formal systems like product lifecycle management ensures a single source of truth for all product information and actions.
  • Automating digital workstreams following documenting end-to-end processes existing today and optimal in the future.
  • Best practices for automating workstreams.

Workstream 3 – Sourced Content


Modern industrial and consumer products heavily rely on sourced content. Accurate information about sourced components is crucial for efficient design decision-making and cost management.

Strategic Highlights:

  • Criteria Differences for Sourced Content:
  • Engineering chooses components based on their form, fit, and function
  • Procurement chooses components based on brand, price, availability, and lead time.
  • Commercial Governance: The Procurement department is measured by saving money, so they consolidate choices around fewer brands and specifications to gain higher buying power.
  • Friction Reduction: A digital workstream that includes all stakeholders reduces in-person meetings and friction between engineering and procurement.

Best Practices:

  • Make engineering information available to Procurement throughout all stages of product development.
  • Provide accurate sourcing information directly to engineers via their PLM system to use during the design phase.
  • Emerging AI solutions in PLM will automatically provide advanced and accurate information for sourcing without human involvement, sending notification prompts to affected stakeholders.

Workstream 4 – Supplying Product Information to Sales


Sales organizations need accurate product information on websites, packaging, internal systems, and data sheets. Inaccuracies can lead to lost deals or unprofitable contracts.

Strategic Highlights:

  • Synchronization: Ensuring product information is synchronized across all platforms.
  • Sales Collaboration: Sales teams work with engineering, production, product management, and finance to gather accurate information.

Best Practices:

  • Sales literature, stored in field sales repositories, sources its data directly from engineering.
  • Sales literature documents are live forms in a standard layout and are constantly getting refreshed, so they are always current and consistent.
  • AI PLM will soon be able to inform all stakeholders when changes affect product literature, e.g., when a foreign country regulatory change, a new ECO engineering change order has been initiated, or a product is obsolete.

Workstream 5 – Higher Margin Products


Profitable companies build high-margin products and invest in innovative future products. Baseline designs with shared components and subassemblies are key to reducing costs and increasing margins.

Strategic Highlights:

  • Innovation and R&D: Investing in R&D and sharing new innovations across all product families.
  • Collaboration Across Departments: Improved collaboration between sales, marketing, engineering, procurement, and finance using a continuous, seamless digital thread, aka workstreams.
  • Reducing Silos: Avoiding isolated product lines and teams and sharing components to reduce costs.

Best Practices:

    1. Market Research and Design: Continuous improvement and innovation.
    2. Cost Management: Efficient sourcing and operational efficiency by providing engineering access to sourcing information via their PLM system.
    3. Pricing Strategy and Sales: Effective market segmentation and customer engagement.
    4. Innovation and Continuous Improvement. Invest profits in future product development.
    5. Design using Baselines and Variables: Avoid copying product data files. This reduces part numbers, SKUs, and downstream costs associated with them.

The takeaway – let PLM guide your Workstreams

In navigating the complexities of project management and organizational efficiency, the role of workstreams is indisputable. They break down monolithic projects into achievable segments, assign clear responsibilities, and track progress through defined metrics and milestones. 

Integrating product lifecycle management software into this framework supercharges the effectiveness of workstreams. A robust and flexible PLM software system acts as a guiding swimlane, aligning various project components and enhancing communication, data management, and operational efficiency. 

By adopting PLM to steer your workstreams, your organization can achieve streamlined processes, reduce overheads, and ultimately, drive successful project outcomes. Your PLM system isn’t just another software tool; it’s, first and foremost, an approach to business.

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