Worker-Centric Workplaces for Smart Factories (FACTS4WORKERS) is a European collaborative R&D&I project with 15 European project partners and a project budget of 7.916.441 EUR coordinated by Virtual Vehicle Research Center and funded by the European Commission under Grant Agreement Nr. 636778.
FACTS4WORKERS will develop and demonstrate workplace solutions for factory workers that support the inclusion of increasing elements of knowledge work on the factory floor. These solutions will empower workers by applying state-of-the-art information and communication technologies. FACTS4WORKER‘s objectives are to increase problem-solving and innovation skills of workers, cognitive job satisfaction, and average worker productivity by 10%. As FACTS4WORKERS is underpinned by a human-centric approach, usability, user experience and technology acceptance are of the utmost project interest.
STAGE 1 - SETTING THE OBJECTIVES
Like all R&D&I projects, FACTS4WORKERS has run through a team building process, too. All stakeholders, mostly project partners defined at proposal stage how to achieve the project objective individually. And therefore, all partners started to run at full speed to tackle their subsequent tasks.
STAGE 2 - INDIVIDUAL VIEWS BEGIN TO BREAK
After a certain time one can observe that some/all partners have run into directions, which are not congruent to achieve the project objectives. In this second phase partners’ view of the project begin to break, which might result in chaos. Partners may observe that a taken strategy might not be successful at all.
STAGE 3 - MANAGING A COMMON VIEW
The project coordinator has to detect a potentially decreasing performance of the partners and then has to (re-)establish and communicate a common view on the project’s objectives as well as the way to achieve them. The project coordinator has to seek commitment of all stakeholders on a co-developed, sharpened common goal.
STAGE 4 - WORKING AS AN UNITED TEAM
In the fourth phase, project partners are ready to perform, and they become aware of the meaning of the project milestones and deadlines. They can work together more efficiently and effectively. At the stage, the project is really moved forward.
TOUCHPOINT 1 - KICK-OFF
At project kick-off everybody is talking on how to achieve the project’s objectives without knowing, how others “tick” and what they expect from the project. Project partners are talking about the same things – and they think that they are well understood by all others.
TOUCH POINT2 - DAILY WORK AND THE ROLE OF THE PROJECT COORDINATOR
In daily project work after a while, things become different. Problems and even conflicts arise, which may result in a disrupted collaboration if not handled properly. If a project coordinator is not able to recognize a potential team conflict at the right time, the project collaboration culture will break. It is important that a project coordinator expects this challenge and that a conflict between partners will arise during project runtime. It is then crucial that a project coordinator attempts to develop a common project objective together with the key stakeholders of the project to solve this challenge. Finding the right moment for this action is challenging. It is located somewhere between the point of no return and the forward planning of the project. The project coordinator has to detect a potentially decreasing performance of the project partners, which requires conducting many individual conversations with project partners, which are usually of a more open communication atmosphere. Some partners may be very honest in telling their opinion of the work of other partners, which is then a strong signal to act. In the usual group meetings, project partners are very silent on sensitive topics.
TOUCHPOINT 3 - PERIODIC STRATEGY MEETING
Periodic strategy meetings have proven a powerful tool in FACTS4WORKERS to solve conflicts, sharpening the project goal and refining the solution approach. It is important that this process is not conducted in a top-down manner. Solutions have to be worked out in a participative approach together with all partners and in a way that the high intrinsic motivation from the beginning of the project can be re-installed. All project partners have to realize by themselves, that a newly developed approach is valid.
In FACTS4WORKERS the collaboration concerning a main topic is paramount, while the elaboration of a certain solution approach is considered subordinate. At proposal stage the knowledge on how to solve the research topic was not fully available among the project partners. Hence at project kick-off, the project partners aimed to handle the topic without having a too concrete solution approach in mind.
In the second step of the collaboration initiative FACTS4WORKERS, solutions approaches and solution strategies started to crystalize. Some of them were already known at proposal stage; however it was not yet well-enough understood which of them seemed to be applicable and adequate.
It is the goal of a cooperative project like FACTS4WORKERS to mash-up the different roles of the actors. Solution providers for partial solutions (here: University & RTOs) cannot satisfy the needs of the industry partners alone; they must cooperate with others in order to be successful. Ambitious use cases were needed to establish a common sense across partners to solve the challenges emerging in the project in a cooperative way. The first phase of FACTS4WORKERS has been incredibly important to make the consortium fit for solving the challenges.
Determine the willingness to collaborate: At proposal stage a coordinator does not always know well enough, if project partners fit together at all, and which particular partners fit together very well. Are their overlaps between partners, conflicts of interests, competitive situations, or can the acting persons really work together as a team? Interestingly, a sensitive coordinator can – if he is willing to observe and listen to the conversations between partners – identify already at an early step, which partners are willing to really contribute, and which partners are only in the boat. Most of the time, this first impression proves to be true till project close out.
Own the required technical knowledge: Project partners need the required technical knowledge to really contribute solving the project’s challenges. There is a huge difference between partners who are just participating in the project with a focus on learning new things to those partners who really want to implement successful solutions. Collaborative projects will have partners belonging to one of these categories. If the majority of the partners are implementers who know what to do, a coordinator is lucky. This is rather a matter of persons in the project team than of organization names. Many persons have put their heads a long way over the parapet to become a consortium member in terms of formulating challenging tasks in the proposal. But they have not stated well enough beforehand, if and how well they are prepared to conduct their ambitious tasks in the project. Some partners may think they will manage their work somehow, and some partners may already have a clear understanding of what they are going to do in the project and why. A coordinator has to effectively manage both parties. Having more implementers in the project will make the project more successful.
Intrinsic motivation has to be in place: As a coordinator one has to assume that the individual goals of the partners have to match to the common goal of the project as defined in the proposal. If this is not the case right from the project start (the proposal stage respectively), a project may not be successful. At least an individual goal of a project partner will not be able to be satisfied through the project’s achievements. A successful R&D&I project usually starts with selecting the appropriate project partners. It is a dead letter to ensure during a running project that all goals of the partners can be met, if the goals have not been agreed already at the proposal stage. If somebody is not contributing well to the project already at the proposal stage, it may likely to happen that this one will become a problem candidate during the project runtime. A project coordinator cannot force a partner to perform a high quality work in the project: An intrinsic motivation is always required beforehand, and cannot be established through a coordinator’s actions.
It should be noted once more that face-to-face meetings is the strongest instrument to facilitate cooperation. Sitting around a table and having a face-to-face discussion is such a powerful instrument, which cannot replaced by virtual meetings.
The first phase of a European collaborative R&D&I project is crucial to make the consortium fit for solving future cooperation challenges. The project coordinator plays a major role in this process. As soon as individual views begin to break, the project coordinator has to start the process to manage a common view again. This requires both bilateral talks as well as periodic group meetings.
- Conduct regularly recurring project meetings in a short period (weekly or at least every two weeks).
- Have specific project meetings with a clear agenda and target audience.
- Address intrinsic motivation of the partners and keep up self-motivation of partners .
- Always evaluate if and how the project makes a sense for all partners.
- Do not solve conflicts on a bilateral level, but on project level.
- Do not refrain from communicating with the partners on a periodic short-term level.
- Do not focus on administrative and financial issues, only.