This time a post that has been on the table already for a long time – the importance of having established processes, in particular with implementing PLM.  By nature, most people hate processes as it might give the idea that their personal creativity is limited, where large organizations love processes as for them this is the way to guarantee a confident performance.  So let’s have a more in-depth look.

Where processes shine

In a transactional world, processes can be implemented like algorithms, assuming the data to be processed has the right quality. That is why MRP (Material Requirement Planning) and ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) don’t have the mindset of personal creativity. It is about optimized execution driven by financial and quality goals.

When I started my career in the early days of data management, before it was called PDM/PLM, I learned that there is a need for communication-related to product data. Terms are revisions, and versions started to pop-up combined with change processes. Some companies began to talk about configuration management.

Companies were not thinking PLM along the whole lifecycle. It was more PDM for engineering and ERP for manufacturing. Where PDM was ultimate a document-control environment, ERP was the execution engine relying on documented content, but not necessarily connected. Unfortunate this is still the case at many companies, and it has to do with the mindset. Traditionally a company’s performance has been measured based on financial reporting coming from the ERP system. Engineering was an unmanageable cost in the eyes of the manufacturing company’s management and ERP-software vendors.

In de middle of the nineties (previous century now ! ), I had a meeting with an ERP-country manager to discuss a potential partnership. The challenge was that he had no clue about the value and complementary need for PLM. Even after discussing with him the differences between iterative product development (with revisioning) and linear execution (on the released product), his statement was:

“Engineers are just resources that do not want to be managed, but we will get them”

Meanwhile, I can say this company has changed its strategy, giving PLM a space in their portfolio combined with excellent slides about what could be possible.

To conclude, for linear execution the meaning of processes is more or less close to algorithms and when there is no algorithm, the individual steps in place are predictable with their own KPIs.

Process certification

As I mentioned in the introduction, processes were established to guarantee a predictable outcome, in particular when it comes to quality. For that reason, in the previous century when globalization started companies were somehow forced to get ISO 900x certified. The idea behind these certifications was that a company had processes in place to guarantee an expected outcome and for when they failed, they would have procedures in place to fix these gaps. The reason companies were doing this because no social internet could name and shame bad companies. Having ISO 900x certification would be the guarantee to deliver quality.  In the same perspective, we could see, configuration management, a system of best practices to guarantee that product information was always correct.

Certification was and is heaven for specialized external auditors and consultants.  To get certification you needed to invest in people and time to describe your processes, and once these processes were defined, there were regular external audits to ensure the quality system has been followed.  The beauty of this system – the described procedures were more or less “best intentions” not enforced. When the auditor would come the company had to play some theater that processes were followed., the auditor would find some improvements for next year and the management was happy certification was passed.

This has changed early this century. In particular, mid-market companies were no longer motivated to keep up this charade. The quality process manual remained as a source of inspiration, but external audits were no longer needed. Companies were globally connected and reviewed, so reputation could be sourced easily.

The result: there are documented quality procedures, and there is a reality. The more disconnected employees became in a company due to mergers or growth, the more individual best-practices became the way to deliver the right product and quality, combined with accepted errors and fixes downstream or later. The hidden cost of poor quality is still a secret within many companies.  Talking with employees they all have examples where their company lost a lot of money due to quality mistakes. Yet in less regulated industries, there is no standard approach, like CAPA (Corrective And Preventive Actions), APQP or 8D to solve it.

Configuration Management and Change Management processes

When it comes to managing the exact definition of a product, either an already manufactured product or products that are currently made, there is a need for Configuration Management.  Before there were PLM systems configuration management was done through procedures defining configurations based on references to documents with revisions and versions. In the aerospace industry, separate systems for configuration management were developed, to ensure the exact configuration of an aircraft could be retrieved at any time. Less regulated industries used a more document-based procedural approach as strict as possible. You can read about the history of configuration management and PLM in an earlier blog post: PLM and Configuration Management – a happy marriage?

With the introduction of PDM and PLM-systems, more and more companies wanted to implement their configuration management and in particular their change management inside the system, as the changes are always related to product information that can reside in a PLM-system. The change of part can be proposed (ECR), analyzed and approved, leading to and implementation of the change (ECO) which is based on changed specifications, designs (3D Models / Drawings) and more. You can read the basics here: The Issue and ECR/ECO for Dummies (Reprise)

The Challenge (= Problem) of Digital Processes

More and more companies are implementing change processes fully in PLM, and this is the point that creates the most friction for a PLM implementation. The beauty of digital change processes is that they can be full-proof. No change gets unnoticed as everyone is forced to follow the predefined procedures, either a type of fast track in case of lightweight (= low risk) changes or the full change process when the product is already in a mature state.

Like the ISO-900x processes, the PLM-implementer is often playing the role of the consultancy firm that needs to recommend the company how to implement configuration management and change processes. The challenge here is that the company most of the time does not have a standard view for their change processes and for sure the standard change management inside PLM s not identical to their processes.

Here the battle starts….

Management believes that digital change processes, preferable out-of-the-box, a crucial to implement, where users feel their job becomes more an administrative job than a creative job. Users that create information don’t want to be bothered with the decisions for numbering and revisioning.

They expect the system to do that easily for them – which does not happen as old procedures, responsibilities, and methodologies do not align with the system. Users are not measured or challenged for data quality, they are measured on the work they deliver that is needed now. Let’s first get the work done before we make sure all is consisted defined in the PLM-system.

Digital Transformation allows companies to redefine the responsibilities for users related to the data they produce. It is no longer a 3D Model or a drawing, but a complete data set with properties/attributes that can be shared and used for analysis and automation.

Conclusion

Implementing digital processes for PLM is the most painful, but required step for a successful implementation. As long as data and processes are not consistent, we can keep on dreaming about automation in PLM. Therefore, digital transformation inside PLM should focus on new methods and responsibilities to create a foundation for the future. Without an agreement on the digital processes there will be a growing inefficiency for the future.

 

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