imageSome weeks ago PLMJEN asked me my opinion on Peter Schroer´s post and invitation to an ARAS webinar called: Change Management: One Size Will Never Fit All. Change Management is actually a compelling topic, and I realized I had never written a dedicated post to such an essential topic. The introduction from Peter was excellent:

Change management is the toughest thing inside of PLM. It’s also the most important.

For the rest, the post elaborated further into software capabilities and the value of having templates processes for various industry practices. I share that opinion when talking to companies that are starting to establish their processes. It is extremely rare that an existing company will change its processes towards more standard processes delivered by the PLM system when implementing a new system. The rule of thumb is People, Processes and Tools. This all is nicely explained by Stephen Porter in his latest blog post Beware the quick fix successful plm deployment strategies. As I was not able to attend the webinar, here are my more general thoughts related to change management and why it is essential for PLM.

Change Management has always been there

It is not that PLM has invented change management. Before companies started to use ERP and PDM systems, every company had to deal with managing changes. At that time, their business was mostly local and compared with today slow. “Time to market” was more a “Time to Region” issue. Engineering and Manufacturing were operating from the same location. Change management was a personal responsibility supported by (paper) documents and individuals. Only with the growing complexity of products, growing and global customer demands and increasing regulatory constraints it became impossible to manage change in an unstructured manner.

Survival of the fittest change organization

imageI have worked with several companies where change management was a running Excel business. Running can be interpreted in two ways. The current operation could not stop and step back and look into an improvement cycle, and a lot of people were running to collect, check and validate information in order to make change estimates and make decisions based on the collected data.

When a lot of people are running, it means your business is at risk. A lot of people means costs for data (re)search and handling are higher than the competition if this can be done automatically. Also in countries of low labor costs, a lot of people running becomes a threat at a certain moment. In addition, running people can make mistakes or provide insufficient information, which leads to the wrong decisions.

Wrong decisions can be costly. Your product may become too expensive; your project may delay significant as information was based on conflicting information between disciplines or suppliers. Additional iterations to fix these issues lead to a longer time to market. Late discoveries can lead to severe high costs. For certain, when the product has been released to the market the cost might be tremendous.

NoChangeFrom the other side if making changes becomes difficult because the data has to be collected from various sources through human intervention, organizations might try to avoid making changes.

Somehow this is also an indirect death penalty. The future is for companies that are able to react quickly at any time and implement changes.

The analogy is with a commercial aircraft and a fighter plane. Let’s take the Airbus 380 in mind and a modern fighter jet the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). The Airbus 380 brings you comfortable from A to B as long as A and B are well prepared places to land. The flight is comfortable as the plane is extremely stable. It is a well planned trip with an aversion to change of the trajectory.

The JSF airplane by definition is an unstable plane. It is only by its computer steering control that the plane behaves stable in the air. The built-in instability makes it possible to react as quickly as possible to unforeseen situations, preferable faster than the competition. This is a solution designed for change.

Based on your business you all should admire the JSF concept and try to understand where it is needed in your organization.

Why is change management integrated in PLM so important?

If we consider where changes appear the most, it is evident in the early lifecycle of the product most of the changes occur. And as long as they are in the virtual world with uncommitted costs to the product they are relative cheap. To my surprise many engineering companies and engineering departments work only with change management outside their own environment. Historically because outside their environment connected to prototyping or production costs of change are the highest. And our existing ERP system has an Engineering Change process – so let’s use that.

whyworryMeanwhile, engineering is used to work with the best so far information. At any moment, every discipline stores their data in a central repository. This could be a directory structure or PDM systems. Everyone is looking to the latest data. Files are overwritten with the latest versions. Data in the PDM system shows the latest version to all users. Hallelujah

And this is the place where it goes wrong. A mechanical engineer has overlooked a requirement in the specification that has been changed. Yes, the latest version of the 20 page document is there. An electrical engineer has defined a new control system for the engine, but has not noticed that the operating parameters of the motor have been changed. Typical examples where a best so far environments creates the visibility, but the individual user cannot understand the impact of a change anymore (especially when additional sites perform the engineering work)

Here comes the value of change management in PLM. Change Management in PLM can be light weighted in the early design phases, providing checks on changes (baselines) and notifications to disciplines involved. Approval processes are more agreements to changes to implement and their impact on all disciplines.

sel_aPLM supports the product definition through the whole product lifecycle, change management at each stage can have its particular behavior. In the early stages a focus on notifications and visibility of change, later checking the impact based on the maturity of the various disciplines and finally when running into production and materials commitment towards a strict and organized change mechanism. It is only in a PLM system where the gradual flow can be supported seamless

Change Management and ERP

As mentioned before, most manufacturing companies have implemented change management in ERP as the costs of change are the highest when the product capabilities are committed. However, the ERP system is not the place to explore and iterate for further improved solutions. The ERP system can be the trigger for a change process based on production issues. However the full implementation of the change requires a change in the product definition, the area where PLM is strong.

NOTE: on purpose I am not mentioning a change in the engineering definition as in some cases the engineering definition might remain the same, but only the manufacturing process or materials need to be adapted. PLM supports iterations, not an ERP execution matter.

Change Management and Configuration Management

cmiiSo far we have been discussing how the manufacturing system would be able to offer products based on the right engineering definition. As each specific product might not have an individual definition checked at any time, there is the need for configuration management (CM). Proper implemented configuration management assures there is a consistent relationship between how the product is specified and defined and the way it is produced. Read a refined and precise explanation on wiki

In one of my following posts I will focus on configuration management practices and why PLM systems and Configuration Management are like a Siamese twins


Storing your data in a (PLM) system has only value if you are able to keep the actual status of the information and its context. Only then a person can make the right decisions immediately and with the right accuracy. The more systems or manual data handling, the less completive your company will be. Integrated and lean change management means survival !