By Kirana Prahasanti and Talia Tan
As a Regional Program Manager with Schneider Electric, Isdiyanah Puteri collaborates with factories in the region to drive Smart Factory projects and identify strategic opportunities. In her role, she also works with digital site leaders to obtain buy-in from management for proof of concept topics and partners with external vendors to identify potential technologies for use in their factories.
In this article, Isdiyanah shares more about her industry and experience working at Schneider Electric, having graduated from university with a Business degree specialising in HR. She also provides advice on joining this field and the importance of keeping an open mind while working on projects.
Right now, I am doing more in programmes management rather than project management.
But, programme management in Schneider mainly involves managing different projects within the Smart Factory programme. I usually start my day by reviewing the list of to-dos for the week. This will include follow-ups from meetings in the previous week and follow-ups from certain groups of people.
Each day, I also do a lot of deep work where I review some of the actions completed, figure out what the benefits are, what the cost impacts are and build business cases. But, that is largely done at the start of the year, when we think of the bigger picture. I also have to review the adoption of each of the projects deployed so it also does go beyond project management.
In project management, there are a lot of different methodologies. Depending on the nature of the project, I would adjust what I do in a day accordingly. Some of the projects I do follow the Agile methodology while some follow the Waterfall one. The latter is a lot more sequential, whereas the Agile one is more iterative and requires constant collaboration across stakeholders.
Project management entails a lot of communication, stakeholder management and a lot of deep work that people do not really look towards.
Preparation ahead of time before implementing a project is very important yet often overlooked. The closure of each project is equally crucial as well. You would want to see a project through, from the preparation stage, execution and closing stage. It is really an end-to-end process and there is a lot of communication involved. We have to see things from a bigger picture.
For example, when some engineers dive into details, they may not see the larger scheme of things in terms of how their actions could affect another project deliverable. As a project manager, that is something you need to bring up to the team like, “Hey, I am fine with your side, but maybe this part will need to be faster. Otherwise, it will impact the other team.”
So, it is also about stakeholder management and adjusting different timelines accordingly.
In terms of digital transformation, we focus on our factories and supply chain and how they could go through digital transformation.
We aim to adopt practices that could simplify our processes and increase our efficiency while using Schneider’s products and software. That said, people often think of digital transformation as just simply purchasing a software, but it is not. Change management is critical and the hardest as it involves all the people in the company. That is also something that the company is focusing heavily on – building the digital competency of our employees and making sure that we are maximising the benefits and simplifying our processes.
And people are critical for sustaining digital transformation. As such, it is a constant work in progress; it cannot just happen overnight.
Right now, there is a lot of research and development that is being done with different technologies to improve processes in the factories or our supply chain. We are moving towards a more collaborative kind of automation. In the past, we also tend to do it in silos. different data sets and teams may not have to interact to get a task done.
Now, the industry is evolving with digital twin and the ability to see the real-time digital counterpart of a physical object or process enables us to also connect the data points and create analytical models around it for better yield and results. So yeah, it will definitely be more collaborative – and it is very important to be such. Otherwise, it will be difficult to match the end-to-end processes which is very crucial in a supply chain.
At the same time, it will be very interesting to see how the digital industry or supply chain will evolve because of the current trend that is remote work. People working in the factories do not really do remote work. They have to be in the factories, so it is something that is being explored especially with the pandemic – Can the supply chain be managed remotely? Do people working in production have to be there 24/7? Could we make use of remote expertise and minimise the number of people on the production floor?
These are some of the interesting things to observe.
I studied business and specialised in HR so everything was technically unexpected as I entered the manufacturing industry.
I think what was especially unexpected for me was the level of openness. I am quite impressed with our factories in Schneider Electric. We are really working towards digital transformation, putting in place certain digital projects, applications, or software to improve our production, and developing the competency of our operators and engineers.
Another thing I was unaware of was how big the supply chain was and the complexity and dependency of each part of the supply chain.
I used to think project management was mainly about execution, where you tell people “this is what you need to do” etc.
But there is also preparation and closing. A great project manager is able to execute all three aspects very well so that the team knows what preparations they need to do, how they are going to execute the project and closing the project through the reflection of pain points and lessons learnt from the project.
Communication is very important. When it comes to stakeholder management and change management, it boils down to communication. If you do not hone that communication skill; if you are not really clear in terms of your direction – it could potentially affect the project as a whole.
Being able to adjust to different communication styles which could be a direct or indirect approach depending on the countries you work with since I am working with teams in the region.
At the same time, building relationships with your teammates is crucial as well. You need to make sure you know the working styles of your team.
It was different because I got to interact directly with the factory’s engineers in the factory itself. Before that, given my role, I was always interacting with them via Microsoft Teams or Skype. It was difficult for me to really understand the project because I was not actually looking at the production line or the actual execution and usability of the software in their daily operation. That was the key difference – that I actually got to see the impact of it, seeing the engineers using the applications accordingly and highlighting whatever pain points there were.
As for what I gained from the experience, I gained a lot more in terms of the cultural context because I was in Thailand. How I interacted with them was pretty different.
The plan was always to do HR, and I stumbled upon project management. I started working on digital projects and ended up managing projects. I think these are very similar to projects at university but those were more on the micro-level because the number of stakeholders is very little.
However, it is pretty similar to final-year projects, where you are working with another company to build a particular case when it comes to stakeholder management, or timeline-wise.
My experiences in university allowed me to gain many transferable skills – critical thinking and communication. But, they did not contribute to my decision to go into project management. I stumbled upon it, remained open, explored it further, and realised that I do enjoy the nature of the projects I am working on.
Keep an open mind and continue to hone your communication and organisational skills are definitely beneficial because you would know what is due, when it is due and who is responsible for it.
When it comes to project management, you need to know other people’s workload so that they are able to do the tasks you need them to complete accordingly. It is also crucial to build relationships – getting to know everyone’s jobs and what they do.
When I first started out, I was an associate who was already connecting with different teams, and that helped me when I eventually took on the role of project engineer, before going on to becoming a project manager. It was a lot easier for me to say “oh okay I know that this is your scope, are you able to do XXX, and by when?” or “I know that it’s downtime for you, can you get this done by X and X?”
You do not have to rush to enter this field per se. For me, I was working on something and realised that I was doing something related to project management. Then, I tried to hone my knowledge on the formal methodology etc and applied it to whatever projects that I did.
For project management, it is important to keep an open mind. Not all projects can be treated the same way, although methodology-wise, they are about the same. A lot of the time, it is about adjusting, and being adaptable, while at the same time communicating what you are adapting to. I also have my mentor to thank for being a constant source of guidance in how I could improve myself in managing projects.
You must be conscious of the situation and adjust your projects accordingly. I think what is exciting about project management is that your projects could change and the issues or barriers you encounter will change and it is on you to then think of a resolution for your team to be able to move forward with the project.