After my previous post about the PLM migration dilemma, I had several discussions with peers about why this PLM bad news creates so much debate. Of course, I can publish a failure story for every PLM vendor if I want. However, the reality is that the majority of PLM implementations do not fail.

Yes, they can cause discomfort or friction in an organization, as implementing the tools often forces people to work differently. And often, operating differently is not anticipated by the (middle) management and causes a mismatch in the people, process & tools paradigm.

So we love bad news in real life. We talk about terrorism, while meanwhile, many people are dying through guns, cars, and even the biggest killer, mosquitos.

Fear stories sell better than success stories, and in particular, in the world of PLM Vendors, every failure of the competition is enlarged. However, more actors are involved in a PLM implementation, and if PLM systems were that bad, they would not exist anymore and be replaced by ………?


Who to blame – the vendor?

Of course, it is the easiest way to blame the vendor as their marketing promises to solve all problems. However, from a distance to the traditional PLM vendor community, you see they are in a rat race to deliver the latest and greatest technology ahead of their competition, often driven by some significant customers.

Their customers are buying the vision and expect it to be ready and industrialized, which is not the case – look at the digital twin hype or AI (Artificial Intelligence).

Released PLM software is not at the same maturity compared to office applications. Office applications do not innovate so much and have thousands of users during a beta cycle and no dependency on processes.

Most PLM vendors are happy when a few customers jump on their latest release, combined with the fact that implementations of the most recent version are not yet a push on the button. However, this might change long-term if PLM Vendors can deliver cloud-based solutions.

PLM implementations within the same industry might look the same but often vary significantly due to existing practices, which will not change due to the tool. So there is a need for customization or configuration.

PLM systems with strong business rules inside their core might more and more develop towards configuration, whereas PLM toolkit-like systems might focus on ease of customization. But, of course, both approaches have pros and cons (in another blog post, perhaps).

Another topic to blame the vendor is the lack of openness. You hear it in many discussions. If vendor X were open, they would not lock the data – a typical marketing slogan. If PLM vendors were completely open, to which standards should they adhere? Every PLM has its preferred collection of tools together – if you stay within their portfolio, you have a minimum of compatibility or interface issues.

This logic started already with SAP in the previous century. For PLM vendors, there is no business model for openness. For example, the SmarTeam APIs for connecting and extracting data are free of charge, leading to no revenue for the vendor and significant revenue for service providers. They can build any type of interface/solution without any license costs.

In the end, when the PLM vendor has no sustainable revenue, the vendor will disappear, as we had seen between 2000 and 2010 when several stand-alone PLM systems disappeared.

So yes, we can blame PLM vendors for their impossible expectations – coming to realistic expectations related to capabilities and openness is probably the biggest challenge.

Who to blame – the implementer?

The second partner in a PLM implementation is the implementation partner, often a specialized company related to the PLM vendor. There are two types of implementation partners: strategic and system integrators.

Let’s see where we can blame them.

Strategic partners, the consultancy firms,  often have a good relationship with the management; they help the company to shape its future strategy, including PLM. You can blame this type of company for their lack of connection to the actual business. What is the impact on the organization to implement a specific strategy, and what does this mean for current or future PLM?

Strategic partners should be the partner to support business change management as they are likely to have experience with other companies. Unfortunately, this type of company does not have significant skills in PLM as the PLM domain is just a tiny subset of the whole potential business strategy.

You can blame them that they help build a vision/strategy but fail to create a consistent connection to the field.

Implementation partners, the system integrators, are usually specialized in one or two PLM vendor’s software suites, although the smaller the implementation partner, the less broad their implementation skills. These implementation partners sometimes have built their own PLM best practices for a specific vendor and use this as a sales argument. Others blindly follow what the vendor is promoting or what the customer is asking for.

They will do anything you request as long as they get paid. The larger ones have loads of resources for offshore deliveries – the challenge you see here is that it might look cheap; however, it becomes expensive if there is no apparent convergence of the deliverables.

As I mentioned, they will never say No to a customer and claim to fill all the “gaps” in the PLM environment.

You can blame implementation partners that their focus is on making money from services. And they are right; your company needs to be profitable to remain in business. It is like lawyers; they will invoice you based on their efforts. And the less you take on your plate, the more they will do for you.

The challenge for both consultancy partners and system integrators is to find a balance between experienced people who make it happen and educating juniors to become experts. Often the customer pays for the education of these juniors.

Who to blame – your company?

If your company is implementing PLM, then probably the perception is that you made all the effort to make it successful. You followed the strategic consultants’ advice, selected the best PLM Vendor and system integrator, and created a budget – so what could go wrong?

This all depends on your company’s ambition and scope for PLM.

Implementing the as-is processes

This might work out if your PLM implementation is just there to automate existing practices and store data in a central location. And this is most of the time when PLM implementations are successful. You know what to expect, and your system integrator knows what to expect.

This type of project can run close to budget, and some system integrators might be tempted to offer a fixed price. I am not a fan of fixed-priced projects, as you never know exactly what needs to be done. The system integrator might raise the target price by 20 – 40 % to cover their risk, or you, as a company, might select the cheapest bid – another guarantee for failure. A PLM implementation is not a one-time project but an ongoing journey. Therefore your choice needs to be sustainable.

My experience with this type of implementation is that it is easy to blame the companies here too. Often the implementation becomes an IT project, as business people are too busy to run their day-to-day jobs. Therefore, they only incidentally support the PLM project. The result is that at a specific moment, users confronted with the system feel disconnected from the new system – it was better in the past. In particular, configuration management and change processes can become waterproof, leaving no freedom for the users. Then the blaming starts – first the software, then the implementer.

But what if you have an ambitious PLM project as part of a business transformation?

In that case, the PLM platform is just one of the elements to consider. It will be the enabler for new ways of working, enabling customer-centric processes, multi-discipline collaboration, and more. All are related to the digital transformation of the enterprise. Therefore, I mention the PLM platform instead of the PLM system. Future enterprises run on data through connected platforms. The better you can connect your disciplines, the more efficient and faster your company will operate. This as opposed to the coordinated approach, which I have been addressing several times in the past.

A business transformation combines an end-to-end understanding of what to change – from management vision connected to the execution in the field. And as there is not an out-of-the-box template for business transformation, it is crucial a company experiments, evaluates and, when successful, scales up new habits.

Therefore, it is hard to define all the effort for the PLM platform and implementation resources upfront. What is sure is that your company is responsible for that, not an external part. So if it fails, your company is to blame.

Is everyone to blame?

You might feel that everyone is to blame when a PLM implementation fails. I believe that is indeed the case. If you know in advance where all players have their strengths and weaknesses, a PLM implementation should not fail but be balanced with the right resources. Depending on the scope of your PLM implementation, whether it is a consolidation or a transformation, you should take care of all stakeholders participating in the anti-blame game.

The anti-blame game is an exercise where you make sure that the other parties in the game cannot blame you.

  • If you are a vendor – do not over commit
  • If you are a consultant or system integrator – learn to say NO
  • If you are the customer – ensure enough resources are assigned – you own the project. It is your project/transformation.

This has been my job several times, where I was asked to mediate in a stalling PLM implementation. Most of the time, at that time, it was a blame game, missing the target to find a solution that made sense. Here coaching from experienced PLM consultants makes sense.



Most of the time, PLM implementations are successful if the scope is well understood and not transformative. You will not hear much about these projects in the news, as we like bad news.

To avoid bad news challenging, PLM implementations should make sure all parties involved are challenging the others to remain realistic and invest enough. Again, the role of an experienced external coach can help here.