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tacit_logoThe brain has become popular in the Netherlands in the past two years. Brain scientists have been publishing books sharing their interpretations on various topics of human behavior and the brain. Common theme of all: The brain is influencing your perceptions, thoughts and decisions without you even being aware of it.

Some even go that far by claiming certain patterns in the brain can be a proof if you have a certain disorder. It can be for better or for worse.

“It was not me that committed this crime; it was my brain and more…”

Anyway this post will be full of quotes as I am not the  brain expert, still giving the brain an important role (even in PLM)

“My brain? That´s my second favorite organ” – Woody Allen

It is good to be aware of the influence of the brain. I wrote about this several times in the past, when discussing PLM vendor / implementer selection or when even deciding for PLM. Many of my posts are related to the human side of justifying and implementing PLM.

As implementing PLM for me primary is a business change instead of a combination of IT-tools to implement, it might be clear that understanding the inhibitors for PLM change are important to me.

In the PLM communities, we still have a hard job to agree between each other what is the meaning of PLM and where it differs from ERP. See for example this post and in particular the comments on LinkedIn (if you are a member of this group): PLM is a business process, not a (software) tool

And why it is difficult for companies to implement PLM beside ERP (and not as an extension of ERP) – search for PLM and ERP and you find zillions of thoughts and answers (mine too).

Charles_RoxburghThe brain plays a major role in the Why PLM we have ERP battle (blame the brain). A week ago I read an older publication from Charles Roxburgh (published in May 2003 for McKinsey) called: Hidden flaws in strategy subtitle: Can insights from behavioral economics explain why good executives back bad strategies. You can read, hear and download the full article here if you are a registered user.

The article has been written long before the financial and global crises were on the agenda and Mr. Roxburgh describes 8 hidden flaws that influence our strategic decision making (and PLM is a strategy). I recommend all of you to read the full article, so the quotes I will be making below will be framed in the bigger picture as described by Mr. Roxburgh. Note all quotes below are from his publication.

Flaw 1: Overconfidence

We often make decisions with too much confidence and optimism as the brain makes us feel overconfident and over optimistic about our own capabilities.

Flaw 2: Mental accounting

Avoiding mental accounting traps should be easier if you adhere to a basic rule: that every pound (or dollar or euro) is worth exactly that, whatever the category. In this way, you will make sure that all investments are judged on consistent criteria and be wary of spending that has been reclassified. Be particularly skeptical of any investment labeled “strategic.”

Here I would relate to the difference in IT-spending and budget when you compare ERP and PLM. ERP spending is normal (or strategic) where PLM spending is not understood.

Flaw 3: The status quo bias

People would rather leave things as they are. One explanation for the status quo bias is aversion to loss—people are more concerned about the risk of loss than they are excited by the prospect of gain.

Another reason why adapting and implementing PLM in an organization is more difficult than for example just automating what we already do.

Flaw 4: Anchoring

Anchoring can be dangerous—particularly when it is a question of becoming anchored to the past

PLM has been anchored with being complex and expensive. Autodesk is trying to change the anchoring. Other PLM-like companies stop talking about PLM due to the anchoring and name what they do different: 3DExperience, Business Process Automation, …..

Flaw 5: The sunk-cost effect

A familiar problem with investments is called the sunk-cost effect, otherwise known as “throwing good money after bad.” When large projects overrun their schedules and budgets, the original economic case no longer holds, but companies still keep investing to complete them.

I have described several cases in the past anonymously; where companies kept on investing and customizing their ERP environment in order to achieve PLM goals. Although it never reached the level of acceptance and quality a PLM system could offer, stopping these projects was impossible.

Flaw 6: The herding instinct

This desire to conform to the behavior and opinions of others is a fundamental human trait and an accepted principle of psychology.

Warren Buffett put his finger on this flaw when he wrote, “Failing conventionally is the route to go; as a group, lemmings may have a rotten image, but no individual lemming has ever received bad press.”

A quote in a quote but so true. Innovative thinking, introducing PLM in a company requires a change. Who needs to be convinced? If you do not have consensus (which usually happens as PLM is vague) you battle against the other lemmings.

Flaw 7: Misestimating future hedonic states

Social scientists have shown that when people undergo major changes in circumstances, their lives typically are neither as bad nor as good as they had expected—another case of how bad we are at estimating. People adjust surprisingly quickly, and their level of pleasure (hedonic state) ends up, broadly, where it was before

A typical situation every PLM implementation faces: users complaining they cannot work as efficient anymore due to the new system and their work will be a mess if we continue like this. Implementers start to customize quickly and we are trapped. Let these people ‘suffer’ with the right guidance and motivation for some months (but this is sometimes not the business model the PLM implementer pushes as they need services as income)

Flaw 8: False consensus

People tend to overestimate the extent to which others share their views, beliefs, and experiences—the false-consensus effect. Research shows many causes, including these:

  • confirmation bias, the tendency to seek out opinions and facts that support our own beliefs and hypotheses
  • selective recall, the habit of remembering only facts and experiences that reinforce our assumptions
  • biased evaluation, the quick acceptance of evidence that supports our hypotheses, while contradictory evidence is subjected to rigorous evaluation and almost certain rejection; we often, for example, impute hostile motives to critics or question their competence
  • groupthink, the pressure to agree with others in team-based cultures

Although positioned as number 8 by Mr. Roxburgh, I would almost put it as the top when referring to PLM and PLM selection processes. So often a PLM decision has not been made in an objective manner and PLM selection paths are driven to come to the conclusion we already knew. (Or is this my confirmation bias too Smile)

Conclusion

As scientists describe, and as Mr. Roxburgh describes (read the full article !!!) our strategic thinking is influenced by the brain and you should be aware of that. PLM is a business strategy and when rethinking your PLM strategy tomorrow, be prepared to avoid these flaws mentioned in this post today.

tornado_butterfly You might have heard about the chaos theory and the butterfly effect ? In general, the theory promoted by Edward Lorentz and others, claims that the flapping of the wings of a butterfly, somewhere in South America may influence ultimately the path of a tornado, either preventing or accelerating that a tornado may hit at a certain place in North America.

WOW, if a butterfly can do this, can you imagine the impact of all of us, flapping our notes and plans around PLM in an organization ?  What a chaos we can create ?

I came to this association, looking back on my activities the past three weeks. Talking with implementers and companies, who all had a tornado of wishes and activities,  trying to create order through a PLM implementation – the anti-chaos theory.

Most of the discussions were based on a typical mid-market approach.

What do I mean by a typical mid-market approach – and I am generalizing here. None of the people I have been talking to in the past weeks match the exact characteristics, however all contributed to the picture in my mind.

shout_left

 

Typical mid-market approach (my generalization):

 

  • (Power) User Driven / Do It yourself approach – inside the organization there are people who have the dream to improve the company with PDM / PLM and the energy to prove it. They build the plan and define the solutions. External resources are only hired to do specialized services, fitting in the thought process of the power users. They believe that everyone will see the benefits of the implementation and join their approach step-by-step enthusiastically.
  • Focus on technical details- often the wishes are based on implementing technical capabilities close to the understanding of users, usually requiring a minimum of change in the daily processes. For example the focus might be on a technical capability how to connect the PLM system to the ERP system (Middleware / XML /Web Services / …..)  instead of discussing how it will work from the process point of view – how is the process impacted ?
  • Task solving – much in combination with the previous point, the focus is on optimizing and/or automating tasks of a certain user. The end-user’s daily tasks/pains are the focus for solving, which means trying to automate as much as possible, providing as much as possible single system / single screen solutions. 
  • Risk Avoidance – often these companies do not have the capabilities (people / time / budget) to experiment with new directions. Approaches from other similar companies are followed (looking for references). For sure not a bad approach, however the result is it will be harder to be differentiate from your competitors. And of course risk avoidance should always be considered in the scope of manageable risks.
  • Lack of top-management investment / push – although the top management in these companies subscribe to the needs for PLM, the focus of the investment is usually mainly on the external costs (software and services), where internal resources are forced to do the PLM activities beside daily tasks. Later the management will wonder why things are going slow, as they did their job (they approved the investment– waiting for the results now)
  • Focus on business skills – the people in the project team are often well educated in their daily business and practices, but lack project management, risk management and change management skills. These ‘soft’ skills are often acquired by buying a book to be placed on the desk.

observation

 

After writing these generalizations, I had the feeling that instead of characteristics, i was writing about risks . As this was not the intention, let see the how to manage these risks:

 

  • The power users should realize that they are sent on a difficult mission which requires a lot of creativity to implement changes in the context of the PLM project. And strange as it seems the PLM software might not be the biggest challenge.
    The biggest challenge will be on choosing the right best practices and to implement them with acceptance of the users. This is change management combined with implementation knowledge / experience. They point for the power users should be to have an implementation partner with experience, who can explain why best practices work and explain how other companies address this issue. Without practical guidance the power users have become pioneers, which is something the management for sure wants to avoid.
    Often to avoid user objections, the project team decides on heavy customizations or ‘weird’ compromises – nice to keep the user community quiet, but bad for the future, as benefits will not be the same.
    This mainly happens as there is too much focus the ‘hard’ side of the project ( hardware /software /IT /Services ) , and no or limited attention to the human / change management side.
    Power Users – be aware !
  • The management should realize that it is a company’s decision and vision. So from their side a steering committee with a clear vision is required. Their job is to keep the vision, prioritize the activities and make sure the power users are not creating an isolated solution based on their dreams.
    The most important role of the management is to take continues responsibility for the project – it does not end by giving the approval for the project and budget. Where users might reluctantly accept changes, it is the job of the management to enforce the changes and support them.
    This can be done in a harsh way by imposing the changes, however this will cause resistance and the end users will demonstrate the management was wrong. This leads at the end to a situation where the company as a whole will be in a worse position as before.
    So managing by motivation should be the approach, as after all the power lies in motivated users, who understand the benefits of the changes and benefits for their future job.
    Management – be aware !
  • Make sure the focus and priority is on business not on IT. Sell and explain the business benefits internally all the time.
    All be aware !

To conclude:

  • The mid-market characteristics look like risks for a successful PLM implementation, if not addressed and taken seriously
  • There is significant management support and control needed to monitor, guide and sell the PLM project.
    To make sure the company benefits are targeted and not the individual users or departments demands only.
  • Implement bottom up but control and direct top-down
  • Your implementation partner should have resources with skills for both levels – so not only programmers who can do miracles, but also consultants that can explain, validate best practices based on other experiences

 

Understanding chaos – enjoy:

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