simpleMy recent posts were around the words Simple (PLM is not simple) and Simplicity  (Human Beings, PLM and Simplicity).  Combined with a blog dialogue with Oleg Shilovitsky (Small manufacturers and search of simple solutions)  and comments to these posts, the theme Simple has been discussed in various ways. Simple should not be confused with Simplicity. The conclusion: A PLM implementation should reduce complexity for an organization, aiming for increasing simplicity. The challenge: Achieving more simplicity is not simple (the picture related to this paragraph)

What does simplicity mean in the context of PLM?

My definition would be that compared to the current state, the future state should bring measurable benefits by reducing or eliminating non-value added activities. Typical non-value added PLM activities are collecting data from various disciplines to get a management understanding, conversion of file formats to support other disciplines or collecting and distributing data for change and approval processes.

If you can reduce or eliminate these steps, significant benefits can be achieved: reducing iterations, increasing quality and (re)acting faster to changes. These benefits are the whole idea behind Digital PLM. See Accenture’s explanation or read my post: Best Practices or Next Practices.DigitalPLM

Simplicity comes from the fact that the user does not need to depend on intermediate people or data formats to have an understanding of “the best so far truth.” Empowered users are a characteristic of modern digital processes. Empowered users need to have different skills than persons working in a traditional environment where exchange and availability of information are more controlled through communication between silos.  Some people can make the change, some will never make the change.

What can you do?

On LinkedIn, I found some good suggestions from Peter Weis in his CIO article: The most painful, gut-wrenching part of leading transformation. Peter’s post is about the challenges within a company going through a transformation and to keep the pace. My favorite part:

For me, the most difficult and gut-wrenching part of leading our transformation was not the technology involved. It was making and acting on those tough decisions about who was not going to succeed. In some cases, people had been with the company for decades and had been rewarded and encouraged for the very work they were no longer required to do. These were good people, skilled talent, who provided a great service to the company – but the technology and the cultural gap were just too wide for them to bridge.

Peter describes a dilemma that many of us consultants should face when implementing a business change. Keeping on board all employees is a mission impossible. But what if you want to keep them all on board?

Reducing complexity by making the system rigid?

One of the companies, I am currently working with, decided to keep all employees on board by demanding for a PLM system that is so rigid and automated that a user cannot make mistakes or wrong decisions. For example: Instead of allowing the user to decide which approval path should be chosen, the predefined workflow should be started where all participants are selected by automation. The idea: reducing the complexity for the (older) user. The user does not have to learn how to navigate in a new environment to decide what is the best option. There is always one option. Simple isn’t it?

I believe it reduces any user to a person that clicks on buttons and writes some comments. It is not about real empowerment.

There are two downsides to this approach

  • To make the PLM system, so incredibly rigid additional customizations are needed (which come with a cost). However more costly will be the upgrades in the future and the maintenance of every change in business process which is hard coded currently.
  • The system will be so rigid that even future, more digital native users, will dislike the system as it does not challenge them to think. Implementing the past or pushing for the future?

My challenge:

  • A rigid system creates the illusion that the system is secure and simple for the existing employees (who you do not want to challenge to change)
  • A rigid system leads by default to complexity in the future with high costs of change.

I am curious to learn how you would approach my challenge (a PLM consultant’s challenge)
Making the customer happy or being the “bad news” guy who creates fear for the future?
I assume a topic many PLM consultants should face nowadays – your opinion?