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dontmissPLM is a popular discussion topic in various blogs, LinkedIn discussion groups, PLM Vendor web sites and for the upcoming Product Innovation congress in Berlin.  I look forward to the event to meet and discuss with attendees their experience and struggle to improve their businesses using PLM.

From the other side talking about pure PLM becomes boring. Sometimes it looks like PLM is a monotheistic topic:

  • “What is the right definition of PLM ?” (I will give you the right one)
  • “We are the leading PLM vendor” (and they all are)
  • A PLM system should be using technology XYZ (etc, etc)

Some meetings with customers  in the past three weeks and two different blog posts I read recently made me aware of this ambiguity between boring and fun.

PLM dictating Business is boring

Oleg Shilovitsky´s sequence of posts (and comments) starting with A single bill of materials in 6 steps was an example of the boring part. (Sorry Oleg, as you publish so many posts, there are many that I like and some I  can use as an example). When reading the BOM-related posts,  I noticed  they are a typical example of an IT- or Academic view on PLM, in particular on the BOM topic.

questionWill these posts help you after reading them ? Do they apply to your business ? Or do you feel more confused as a prolific PLM blogger makes you aware of all the different options and makes you think you should use a single bill of materials ?

I learned from my customers and coaching and mediating  hundreds of PLM implementations, that the single BOM discussion is one of the most confusing and complex topics. And for sure if you address it from the IT-perspective

The customer might say:
Our BOM is already in ERP – so if it is a single BOM you know where it is – goodbye !”.

A different approach is to start looking for the optimal process for this customer, addressing the bottlenecks and pains they currently face.  It will be no surprise that PLM best practices and technology are often the building blocks for the considered solution. If it will be a single BOM or a collection of structures evolving through time, this depends on the situation, not on the ultimate PLM system.

Business dictating PLM is fun

Therefore I was happy to read Stephen Porter´s opinion and comments in: The PLM state: Pennywise Pound Foolish Pricing and PLM where he passes a similar message as mine, from a different starting point, the pricing models of PLM Vendors. My favorite part is in his conclusion:

A PLM decision is typically a long term choice so make sure the vendor and partners have the staying power to grow with your company. Also make sure you are identifying the value drivers that are necessary for your company’s success and do not allow yourself to be swayed by the trendy short term technology

Management in companies can be confused by starting to think they just need PLM because they hear from the analysts, that it improves business. They need to think first to solve their business challenges and change the way they currently work in order to improve. And next look for the way to implement this change.

Changing the way to work is the problem, not PLM.

It is not the friendly user-interface of PLM system XYZ or the advanced technical capabilities of PLM system ABC,  that will make a PLM implementation easier. Nothing is solved on the cloud  or by using a mobile device. If there is no change when implementing PLM, why implement  and build a system to lock yourself in even more?

abbThis is what Thomas Schmidt (VP Head of Operational Excellence and IS at ABB’s Power Products Division) told last year at PLM Innovation 2012 in Munich. He was one of the keynote speakers and surprised the audience by stating he did not need PLM !

He explained this by describing the business challenges ABB has to solve: Being a global company but acting around the world as a local company. He needed product simplification, part reduction among product lines around the world, compliance and more.

Another customer in a total different industry mentioned they were looking for improving global instant collaboration as the current information exchange is too slow and error prone. In addition they want to capitalize on the work done and make it accessible and reusable in the future, authoring tool independent. But they do not call it PLM as in their business nobody uses PLM !

Both cases should make a PLM reseller´s mouths water (watertanden in Dutch), as these companies are looking for key capabilities available in  most of the PLM systems. But none of these companies asked for a single BOM or a service oriented architecture. They wanted to solve their business issues. And for sure it will lead into implementing PLM capabilities when business and IT-people together define and decide on the right balance.

Management take responsibility

And here lies the management responsibility of these companies. It is crucial that a business issue (or a new strategy) is the driving force for a PLM implementation.

In too many situations, the management decides that a new strategy is required. One or more bright business leaders decide they need PLM (note -the strategy has now changed towards buying and implementing a system). Together with IT and after an extensive selection process is done, the selected PLM system (disconnected from the strategy) will be implemented.

deaf_blindAnd this is the place where all PLM discussions come together:

- why PLM projects are difficult

- why it is unclear what PLM does.

PLM Vendors and Implementers are not connected anymore at this stage to the strategy or business. They implement technology and do what the customer project team tells them to do (or what they think is best for their business model).

Successful implementations are those where the business and management are actively involved during the whole process and the change.  And this requires a significant contribution from their side, often delegated to business and change consultants.

PLM Implementations usually lead to a crisis at some moment in time, when the business is not leading and the focus is on IT and User Acceptance. In the optimal situation business is driving IT. However in most cases due to lack of time and priorities from the business people, they delegate this activity to IT and the implementation team. And here it is a matter of luck if they will be successful:

  • how experienced is the team ?
  • Will they really implement a new business strategy or just automate and implement they way the customer worked before, but now in a digital manner ?
  • Do we blame the software when the people do not change ?

Back to fun

imageI would not be so passionate about PLM if it was boring. However looking back the fun and enthusiasm does not come from PLM. The fun comes from a pro-active business approach knowing that first the motivating the people and preparing the change are defined, before implementing PLM practices

I believe the future success for PLM technologies is when we know to speak and address real business value and only then use (PLM) technologies to solve them.

PLM becomes is a  logical result not the start.

And don´t underestimate: change is required.

What do you think – is it a dream ?

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