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.
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.
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 !
- 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: