Projects Projects Projects – Virtual Brainstorming In 2021

How are your 2021 projects going so far? If you’re anything like me not much has changed since 2020. We are still working from home, wearing masks, and trying to think of creative ways to overcome new challenges every day.

It doesn’t matter what industry or department you’re in. The events of the previous year have placed you and your business in a reactionary position. Kudos to you if you could foresee a global pandemic and strategize how to defend against it, but the majority of us were blindsided.

Now that we are coming up on the one-year anniversary of the beginning of lockdowns, it’s time to begin the discussion on moving forward strategically, and that means managing projects in an alternative workspace.

Identifying Your Projects

All projects involve innovation. The beauty of modern project management techniques is that they are applicable in a variety of industries and departments.

Innovation is simply identifying and solving problems creatively. These problems can be customer experience, technological, or even a lack of creative spark since everyone has left the office. Let’s face it. Individual components can be worked on from home, but idea generation meetings run better when everyone is in the same room.

Asking the right questions is important. What are your points of stress? Where is the user experience lacking? Where is too much money being spent? What is consuming the majority of staff time? These are all questions that can help you identify which issues you need to resolve, and then the problem is primed to be solved.

The point is that innovation is not as difficult as it may seem. The first step is identifying a problem.

Brainstorming Your Projects Backlog

There are a ton of different brainstorming exercises that you and your team can walk through together with a few simple modifications to uncover problems and find solutions.

Here is a list of some brainstorming and decision exercises that we find most helpful. These will be outlined in more detail in a future article.

  • ‘This would be easier if…’
  • ‘How might we?…’
  • Timed ideating
  • Mind Mapping
  • Vision Boarding

Leading Projects Brainstorming Sessions Virtually

Creative brainstorming sessions just work better in groups where you can draw on the whiteboard, stick note cards to the wall, and say all kinds of crazy things in rapid succession without waiting for video conferencing lag to catch up.

For most of us, that is not an option right now.

So how do you run a brainstorming session without 4 walls and a marker board? You do your best.

Zoom has a marker board feature within their meetings. One idea is to use an iPad, a 2 in 1, or a drawing tablet.  While it’s more difficult to stick notes to a virtual whiteboard, this can be utilized for quick thinking exercises and drawing diagrams if you’re willing to invest in technology beyond clicking and dragging your mouse or trackpad.

Another option is to use a OneNote notebook over a screen sharing session (perhaps in Microsoft Teams.) Whatever your preferred whiteboard alternative is, this is the hardest part.

Otherwise, virtual creative meetings run similarly to their physical counterparts. Make sure that everyone on your team is properly equipped with sticky notes and markers. You can use your phone to run a timer, or better yet show one on the screen. Any sense of normalcy is really going to help your team.

When time is up for your chosen brainstorming exercise, have your team members share their results individually, and write them down either in a document or a virtual notebook, then use a polling app or feature to have your team vote on the priority of these project ideas.


It is possible to still be creative, collaborative, and even productive without being physically in the same space. A collaborative approach to problem-solving can yield great results that wouldn’t be thought of simply by listing out the issues and trying to solve them alone.

Don’t let the pandemic slow down the growth of your business. Just treat it the same way that you do any other problem. Identify the issues as a group then ideate a workable solution to solve them that is effective and efficient for everyone involved.

My Supplier Said to Me: Just Use Different Screws

On the eleventh (work) day of Christmas my supplier said to me ‘are you sure you can’t just use new screws that fit the thread in the parts we already sent?’ 

Specification issues arise in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Some are big issues and make you pause to ask how it’s possible that the batch was shipped. Other issues are so small it’s impressive that they were ever discovered. 

An incorrect thread cut into a screw hole is one of those things that is almost never discovered until the part that it lives in is installed. After the manufacturing tech encounters the issue on the assembly line, an inventory check is commissioned which reveals that the entire batch has screw holes that are out of specification. 

Clearly, this is a quality issue. So, what now? You can send an angry email, an RMA, or a Supplier Corrective Action Request, or you can buy different screws that resolve the problem without stirring the pot. If you opt for the last option, who is going to pay for the new screws and how is that going to ensure that this issue doesn’t come up again? The answer, of course, depends on how tightly you want to abide by your parts diagram and whether or not your process allows for part substitutions.

This issue, so small as screw threads, has now caused a ripple effect and is now impacting other parts as well as costing hundreds of dollars in parts and time to make up for the mistake. Even if it’s just a different screw, the problem resolution must be documented and handled appropriately so that when someone needs a replacement part, they can find the correct one. 

Even for something that appears so insignificant, you may need to execute a part purge and at the very least an RCCA discussion with your supplier, which is now completely outside the realm of EDI. How do you handle your RCCA communications? 

My Supplier Said to Me: Just in Time Delivery?

On the ninth (work) day of Christmas my supplier said to me “We are working on it, but when do you REALLY need that Just in Time delivery?”

The answer to the question in the title is, of course, Just in Time. Inventory management is critical for modern supply chains. The longer that parts inventory is held by your company, the more money it costs. If parts deliveries are early then inventories can pile up, and the cost of maintaining that inventory stock increases with it. Conversely, if those deliveries are late then you could have to halt production. 

Either of those situations are bad news for a manufacturing company, and if the supplier has to ask when the Just in Time delivery is, that’s a bad sign. 

Maintaining inventory is a delicate balance. The general rule of them is that the less inventory you’re keeping in stock the better. 

Learning to recognize the signs of potential issues and correcting them leads to fewer early or late deliveries resulting in lower costs and more consistent forecasting. Supplier communications are key. Don’t just send an email assuming that it was received, and everything is moving according to schedule. You need structured, process oriented b2b communications if you want to operate with efficiency and effectiveness. 

Let’s look at the example of charge backs and penalties for deliveries made outside of the Just in Time delivery window. Chargebacks can occur for a variety of reasons, but they’re particularly common for just in time delivery infractions. In fact, the number one cause of a chargeback is not receiving an ASN on time. This is a huge reason to make sure that your suppliers are electronically enabled. 

This brings us back around to the first post in this series. When your suppliers aren’t compliant with your standards it is really difficult for you to enforce just in time delivery standards because you have no way to verify that mission critical business documents are being sent and received on time. 

How are you enforcing your Just in Time Delivery standards with your non-EDI suppliers? 

My Supplier Said to Me: I’m Out of Office Next Week

On the eighth (work) day of Christmas my supplier said to me “I’m out of office all next week. Could we wait till I’m back in the office to have this conversation?”

A sure-fire way to experience a quality issue is to press for a quick resolution before key people and stakeholders are out for a week on personal business or vacation. Everyone likes solving problems efficiently. Nobody likes having to wait through a week of dead time because somebody is out of the office. 

So clearly the best option is to rush into a resolution before your supplier’s leave starts, right? Wrong. When resolutions are rushed mistakes are made, and both parties involved own the errors that are produced. 

The supplier’s people value their vacation time just as much as you do. It’s important. We work to live, not the other way around. However, when someone starts to become more excited about getting out of there for a week, their mind is not on the quality of their work anymore. If you don’t believe, me ask every high school senior in the United States of America. It’s normal. 

Expediency without focus leads to carelessness which leads to accidents and quality issues that can cost time, money, and sometimes blood on the shop floor (God forbid). These issues can even further delay your batch when the rework requires rework.

As the old saying goes, anything worth doing is worth doing correctly. To insist that your supplier rush around at the last minute before their vacation to fix your issue does not do anything but cause quality problems and potentially strain the relationship you have with that supplier.

If your resolution is not an emergency just wait. Send your RMA after the supplier returns to the office. Your supplier will come back from their leave and then they will resolve your problem with a much higher level of quality, and you will be much happier with the end result. 

My Supplier Said to Me: Uh, We Just Finished That Batch

On the seventh (work) day of Christmas my supplier said to me “We just finished that batch. I’ll have to start a new one to make that change.”

You just want to issue a quick change-order, but you’re too late. Just as they receive the notification, they have just finished the batch of your parts. Well. Now what? They want to start a new batch. Who will pay for the scrap from the first batch? 

Communication with your suppliers is critical for maintaining a fast and efficient supply chain. 

If the supplier was given advance notice via an EDI 860 transaction set that a new specification was on its way, then the whole situation might have been avoided. Normally, the supplier is only responsible for making parts that are compliant with the specifications they receive at the time of the order. This means that the lack of structured supplier communication has resulted in you as the customer covering the cost of a new batch or trying to find a work around that allows you to use the newly out of spec parts. 

If new specifications are received after production begins, then the cost of halting production and retooling is owned by the purchaser of the parts who sends the new specifications. There is no ethical dilemma here. It is the right thing to do. It still costs money, and that comes out of your company’s profitability. 

So, what is at the root of this problem? I’m glad you asked.

Emails are lost and phone calls are missed. People are busy. When schedules do not line up and supplier communication is not standardized, production can continue for days before your change-order is received. 

What’s the bottom line? You need your suppliers to be tightly integrated so that you have both process and visibility in your communications in order to make these incidents much less common. 

How do you manage change-orders with non-EDI suppliers? 

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