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Last week I started a small series of posts related to the topic PLM 2.0. I was hoping for more comments and discussion about the term PLM 2.0, although I must say I was glad Oleg picked it up in his posts: PLM 2.0 born to die? and Will JT-open enable future of PLM 2.0?

Oleg, as a full-time blogger, of course had the time to draw the conclusions, which will take me another two weeks, hoping meanwhile the discussion evolves. Where Oleg’s focus is on technology and openness (which are important points), I will also explain that PLM 2.0 is a change in doing business, but this will be in next week’s post.

This week I will focus on the current challenges and pitfalls in PLM. And we all know that when somebody talks about challenges, there might be problems.

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Last week : What is PLM 2.0?
This week: : Challenges in current PLM
Next : Change in business
Final post : Why PLM 2.0 – conclusions

The Challenges in current PLM

First I want to state that there are several types of definition in the world for PLM, coming from different type of organizations – I listed here two vendor independent definitions:

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The Wiki definition:

In industry, product lifecycle management (PLM) is the process of managing the entire lifecycle of a product from its conception, through design and manufacture, to service and disposal. PLM integrates people, data, processes and business systems and provides a product information backbone for companies and their extended enterprise.


clip_image005The 2PLM definition:

Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) is the business activity of managing a company’s products all the way across the lifecycle in the most effective way. The objective of PLM is to improve company revenues and income by maximizing the value of the product portfolio

And there are more definitions. Just recently, I noticed on the PlanetPTC blog from Aibhe Coughlan a post where she promoted a definition of PLM published in the Concurrent Engineering blog. Here I got immediate a little irritated reading the first words: “PLM is software designed to enhance process efficiencies ……… and more …”

clip_image007I do not believe PLM is software. Yes there is software used to automate or implement PLM practices, but this definition starts to neglect the culture and process sides of PLM. And as Oleg was faster – read his more extended comment here

(I am not paid by Oleg to promote his blog, but we seem to have similar interests)

Back to the classical definitions

The Wiki definition gives the impression that you need to have an infrastructure to manage (store) all product data in order to serve as an information backbone for the extended enterprise. It becomes more an IT-project, often sponsored by the IT-department, with the main goal to provide information services to the company in a standardized manner.

This type of PLM implementations tends to be the same type of implementation as an ERP system or other major IT-system. In this type of top-down implementations, the classical best practices for project management should be followed. This means:

  • A clear vision
  • Management sponsorship
  • A steering committee
  • A skilled project leader and team
  • Committed resources
  • Power user involvement
  • Communication
  • …… and more …

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These PLM projects are promoted by PLM vendors and consultants as the best way to implement PLM. And there are a lot of positive things to say about this approach. For many big companies implementing cPDM or PLM was a major step forward. Most of the ROI stories are based on this type of implementations and have been the showcases on PLM events. It is true that data quality increases, therefore efficiency and product quality. Without PLM they would not reach the same competiveness as they have now.

But sometimes these projects go into extreme when satisfying users or IT-guidelines

To avoid the implementation of a ‘new IT-system’, companies often have the strategy that if we already have an ERP-system , let’s customize or extend it, so we can store the additional data and perform workflow processes based on this system.

In a recent webinar, I heard a speaker saying that in their company they had the following automation strategy defined together with IT is:

  • First they will see if the needed PLM functionality exists in their ERP system or is part of the portfolio of their ERP provider. If the functionality is there (this means the ERP vendor has the capability to store metadata and a factsheet mentioning the right name), there is no looking outside.
  • If the functionality is not there, there will be a discussion with the ERP vendor or implementer to build it on top of their ERP system.

clip_image011I have seen implementations where the company has developed complete custom user interfaces in order to get user acceptance (the users would not accept the standard graphical interface). At that time, no one raised the flag about future maintenance and evolution of these custom environments. The mood was: we kept it simple – one single system.

I believe this closes the door for real PLM, as storing data in a system does not mean you will use it in an efficient and optimized manner. How will you anticipate on changes in business if it is just doing more with the same system?

And mid-market companies ?

The top-down approach described before is the fear of many mid-market companies, as they remember how painful their first ERP implementation was. And now with PLM it is even more unclear. PLM aims to involve the engineering department, which so far has not worked in a very procedural manner. Informal and ad-hoc communication combined with personal skills within this department was often the key for success.

clip_image013And now an unfriendly system is brought in, with low or little usability, pushing these creative people to enter data without seeing any benefits. The organization downstream benefits but this will be only noticed later in time. And for the engineering department it will take more effort to change their work methodology focused on innovation. However, in general in the mid-market, the target of a PLM project is to have a Return on Investment (ROI) in a very short timeframe ( 1-2 years). Investing in usability should be even more important for this type of companies as there is less top-down pressure to accept this new PLM system.

And flexibility ?

clip_image015In the past years we have seen that business is changing – there is a shift in global collaboration and manufacturing and from the recent history we can learn that those big enterprise projects from the past became a threat. Instead of being able to implement new concepts or new technology, the implementation became more and more vendor monolithic as other capabilities and applications do not fit anymore. This is against the concept of openness and being flexible for the future. I believe if PLM becomes as rigid as ERP, it blocks companies to innovate – the challenge for big companies is to find the balance between stability and flexibility (This was the title from Sony Ericsson’s presentation at the PLM forum in Sweden this year)

And again for mid-market companies who do not have the budget or resources to invest in similar projects. They have less a drive to optimize themselves in the same manner as big companies do as flexibility is often their trade mark (and capability to innovate) . So PLM for the mid-market will not work in the classical way.

This is one of the reasons why a mid-market PLM standard has not yet been found (yet ?). From the other hand many mid-market companies are dealing with PLM practices although often it is more close to PDM and CAD data management. And mid-market companies do not change their organization easily – there is more a departmental approach avoiding therefore a change in business.

To summarize the biggest challenges in current PLM described in this post:

  • PLM is considered complex to implement
  • PLM is a huge IT-project
  • PLM requires change and structuring – but what about flexibility
  • Where is the PLM value and ROI – user acceptance
  • PLM for the mid-market – does it exist ?

Conclusion: I have been writing about the PLM challenges in the past, see the links below if you are interested in more details on a specific topic.

In 2008,I thought that Out-of-the-Box PLM systems and standard functionalities could bring a solution for the mid-market, perhaps future solutions based on the cloud. However I learned that if you want to do real PLM in a modern manner, you need to change the way you do your business – and this I will explain in my upcoming post.

Related links:

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