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While preparing my presentation for the Dutch Model-Based Definition solutions event, I had some reflections and experiences discussing Model-Based Definition. Particularly in traditional industries. In the Aerospace & Defense, and Automotive industry, Model-Based Definition has become the standard. However, other industries have big challenges in adopting this approach. In this post, I want to share my observations and bring clarifications about the importance.

 

What is a Model-Based Definition?

The Wiki-definition for Model-Based Definition is not bad:

Model-based definition (MBD), sometimes called digital product definition (DPD), is the practice of using 3D models (such as solid models, 3D PMI and associated metadata) within 3D CAD software to define (provide specifications for) individual components and product assemblies. The types of information included are geometric dimensioning and tolerancing (GD&T), component level materials, assembly level bills of materials, engineering configurations, design intent, etc.

By contrast, other methodologies have historically required the accompanying use of 2D engineering drawings to provide such details.

When I started to write about Model-Based definition in 2016, the concept of a connected enterprise was not discussed. MBD mainly enhanced data sharing between engineering, manufacturing, and suppliers at that time. The 3D PMI is a data package for information exchange between these stakeholders.

The main difference is that the 3D Model is the main information carrier, connected to 2D manufacturing views and other relevant data, all connected in this package.

 

MBD – the benefits

There is no need to write a blog post related to the benefits of MBD. With some research, you find enough reasons. The most important benefits of MBD are:

  • the information is and human-readable and machine-readable. Allowing the implementation of Smart Manufacturing / Industry 4.0 concepts
  • the information relies on processes and data and is no longer dependent on human interpretation. This leads to better quality and error-fixing late in the process.
  • MBD information is a building block for the digital enterprise. If you cannot master this concept, forget the benefits of MBSE and Virtual Twins. These concepts don’t run on documents.

To help you discover the benefits of MBD described by others – have a look here:

 

MBD as a stepping stone to the future

When you are able to implement model-based definition practices in your organization and connect with your eco-system, you are learning what it means to work in a connected matter. Where the scope is limited, you already discover that working in a connected manner is not the same as mandating everyone to work with the same systems or tools. Instead, it is about new ways of working (skills & people), combined with exchange standards (which to follow).

Where MBD is part of the bigger model-based enterprise, the same principles apply for connecting upstream information (Model-Based Systems Engineering) and downstream information(IoT-based operation and service models).

Oleg Shilovitsky addresses the same need from a data point of view in his recent blog: PLM Strategy For Post COVID Time. He makes an important point about the Digital Thread:

Digital Thread is one of my favorite topics because it is leading directly to the topic of connected data and services in global manufacturing networks.

I agree with that statement as the digital thread is like MBD, another steppingstone to organize information in a connected manner, even beyond the scope of engineering-manufacturing interaction. However, Digital Thread is an intermediate step toward a full data-driven and model-based enterprise.

To master all these new ways is working, it is crucial for the management of manufacturing companies, both OEM and their suppliers, to initiate learning programs. Not as a Proof of Concept but as a real-life, growing activity.

Why MBD is not yet a common practice?

If you look at the success of MBD in Aerospace & Defense and Automotive, one of the main reasons was the push from the OEMs to align their suppliers. They even dictated CAD systems and versions to enable smooth and efficient collaboration.

In other industries, there we not so many giant OEMs that could dictate their supply chain. Often also, the OEM was not even ready for MBD. Therefore, the excuse was often we cannot push our suppliers to work different, let’s remain working as best as possible (the old way and some automation)

Besides the technical changes, MBD also had a business impact. Where the traditional 2D-Drawing was the contractual and leading information carrier, now the annotated 3D Model has to become the contractual agreement. This is much more complex than browsing through (paper) documents; now, you need an application to open up the content and select the right view(s) or datasets.

In the interaction between engineering and manufacturing, you could hear statements like:

you can use the 3D Model for your NC programming, but be aware the 2D drawing is leading. We cannot guarantee consistency between them.

In particular, this is a business change affecting the relationship between an OEM and its suppliers. And we know business changes do not happen overnight.

Smaller suppliers might even refuse to work on a Model-Based definition, as it is considered an extra overhead they do not benefit from.

In particular, when working with various OEMs that might have their own preferred MBD package content based on their preferred usage. There are standards; however, OEMs often push for their preferred proprietary format.

It is about an orchestrated change.

Implementing MBD in your company, like PLM, is challenging because people need to be aligned and trained on new ways of working. In particular, this creates resistance at the end-user level.

Similar to the introduction of mainstream CAD (AutoCAD in the eighties) and mainstream 3D CAD (Solidworks in the late nineties), it requires new processes, trained people, and matching tools.

This is not always on the agenda of C-level people who try to avoid technical details (because they don’t understand them – read this great article: Technical Leadership: A Chronic Weakness in Engineering Enterprises.

I am aware of learning materials coming from the US, not so much about European or Asian thought leaders. Feel free to add other relevant resources for the readers in this post’s comments. Have a look and talk with:

Action Engineering with their OSCAR initiative: Bringing MBD Within Reach. I spoke with Jennifer Herron, founder of Action Engineering, a year ago about MBD and OSCAR in my blog post: PLM and Model-Based Definition.

Another interesting company to follow is Capvidia. Read their blog post to start with is MBD model-based definition in the 21st century.

The future

What you will discover from these two companies is that they focus on the connected flow of information between companies while anticipating that each stakeholder might have their preferred (traditional) PLM environment. It is about data federation.

The future of a connected enterprise is even more complex. So I was excited to see and download Yousef Hooshmand’s paper:  ”From a Monolithic PLM Landscape to a Federated Domain and Data Mesh”.

Yousef and some of his colleagues report about their PLM modernization project @Mercedes-Benz AG, aiming at transforming a monolithic PLM landscape into a federated Domain and Data Mesh.

This paper provides a lot of structured thinking related to the concepts I try to explain to my audience in everyday language. See my The road to model-based and connected PLM thoughts.

This paper has much more depth and is a must-read and must-discuss writing for those interested – perhaps an opportunity for new startups and a threat to traditional PLM vendors.

Conclusion

Vellum drawings are almost gone now – we have electronic 2D Drawings. The model-based definition has confirmed the benefits of improving the interaction between engineering, manufacturing & suppliers. Still, many industries are struggling with this approach due to process & people changes needed. If you are not able or willing to implement a model-based definition approach, be worried about the future. The eco-systems will only run efficiently (and survive) when their information exchange is based on data and models. Start learning now.

p.s. just out of curiosity:
If you are model-based advocate support this post with a

 

Once and a while, the discussion pops up if, given the changes in technology and business scope, we still should talk about PLM. John Stark and others have been making a point that PLM should become a profession.

In a way, I like the vagueness of the definition and the fact that the PLM profession is not written in stone. There is an ongoing change, and who wants to be certified for the past or framed to the past?

However, most people, particularly at the C-level, consider PLM as something complex, costly, and related to engineering. Partly this had to do with the early introduction of PLM, which was a little more advanced than PDM.

The focus and capabilities made engineering teams happy by giving them more access to their data. But unfortunately, that did not work, as engineers are not looking for more control.

Old (current) PLM

Therefore, I would like to suggest that when we talk about PLM, we frame it as Product Lifecycle Data Management (the definition). A PLM infrastructure or system should be considered the System of Record, ensuring product data is archived to be used for manufacturing, service, and proving compliance with regulations.

In a modern way, the digital thread results from building such an infrastructure with related artifacts. The digital thread is somehow a slow-moving environment, connecting the various as-xxx structures (As-Designed, As-Planned, As-Manufactured, etc.). Looking at the different PLM vendor images, Aras example above, I consider the digital thread a fancy name for traceability.

I discussed the topic of Digital Thread in 2018:  Document Management or Digital Thread. One of the observations was that few people talk about the quality of the relations when providing traceability between artifacts.

The quality of traceability is relevant for traditional Configuration Management (CM). Traditional CM has been framed, like PLM, to be engineering-centric.

Both PLM and CM need to become enterprise activities – perhaps unified.

Read my blog post and see the discussion with Martijn Dullaart, Lisa Fenwick and Maxim Gravel when discussing the future of Configuration Management.

New digital PLM

In my posts, I talked about modern PLM. I described it as data-driven, often in relation to a model-based approach. And as a result of the data-driven approach, a digital PLM environment could be connected to processes outside the engineering domain. I wrote a series of posts related to the potential of such a new PLM infrastructure (The road to model-based and connected PLM)

Digital PLM, if implemented correctly, could serve people along the full product lifecycle, from marketing/portfolio management until service and, if relevant, decommissioning). The bigger challenge is even connecting eco-systems to the same infrastructure, in particular suppliers & partners but also customers. This is the new platform paradigm.

Some years ago, people stated IoT is the new PLM  (IoT is the new PLM – PTC 2017). Or MBSE is the foundation for a new PLM (Will MBSE be the new PLM instead of IoT? A discussion @ PLM Roadmap conference 2018).

Even Digital Transformation was mentioned at that time. I don’t believe Digital Transformation is pointing to a domain, more to an ongoing process that most companies have t go through. And because it is so commonly used, it becomes too vague for the specifics of our domain. I liked Monica Schnitger‘s LinkedIn post: Digital Transformation? Let’s talk. There is enough to talk about; we have to learn and be more specific.

 

What is the difference?

The challenge is that we need more in-depth thinking about what a “digital transformed” company would look like. What would impact their business, their IT infrastructure, and their organization and people? As I discussed with Oleg Shilovitsky, a data-driven approach does not necessarily mean simplification.

I just finished recording a podcast with Nina Dar while writing this post. She is even more than me, active in the domain of PLM and strategic leadership toward a digital and sustainable future. You can find the pre-announcement of our podcast here (it was great fun to talk), and I will share the result later here too.

What is clear to me is that a new future data-driven environment becomes like a System of Engagement. You can simulate assumptions and verify and qualify trade-offs in real-time in this environment. And not only product behavior, but you can also simulate and analyze behaviors all along the lifecycle, supporting business decisions.

This is where I position the digital twin. Modern PLM infrastructures are in real-time connected to the business. Still, PLM will have its system of record needs; however, the real value will come from the real-time collaboration.

The traditional PLM consultant should transform into a business consultant, understanding technology. Historically this was the opposite, creating friction in companies.

Starting from the business needs

In my interactions with customers, the focus is no longer on traditional PLM; we discuss business scenarios where the company will benefit from a data-driven approach. You will not obtain significant benefits if you just implement your serial processes again in a digital PLM infrastructure.

Efficiency gains are often single digit, where new ways of working can result in double-digit benefits or new opportunities.

Besides traditional pressure on companies to remain competitive, there is now a new additional driver that I have been discussing in my previous post, the Innovation Dilemma. To survive on our planet, we and therefore also companies, need to switch to sustainable products and business models.

This is a push for innovation; however, it requires a coordinated, end-to-end change within companies.

Be the change

When do you decide to change your business model from pushing products to the marker into a business model of Product as a Service? When do you choose to create repairable and upgradeable products? It is a business need. Sustainability does not start with the engineer. It must be part of the (new) DNA of a company.

Interesting to read is this article from Jan Bosch that I read this morning: Resistance to Change. Read the article as it makes so much sense, but we need more than sense – we need people to get involved. My favorite quote from the article:

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man”.

Conclusion

PLM consultants should retrain themselves in System Thinking and start from the business. PLM technology alone is no longer enough to support companies in their (digital/sustainable) transformation. Therefore, I would like to introduce BLM (Business Lifecycle Management) as the new TLA.

However, BLM has been already framed as Black Lives Matter. I agree with that, extending it to ALM (All Lives Matter).

What do you think should we leave the comfortable term PLM behind us for a new frame?

In February, the PLM Global Green Alliance published our first interview discussing the relationship between PLM and Sustainability with the main vendors. We talked with Darren West from SAP.

You can find the interview here: PLM and Sustainability: talking with SAP. We spoke with Darren about SAP’s Responsible Design and Production module, allowing companies to understand their environmental and economic impact by calculating fees and taxes and implement measures to reduce regulatory costs. The high reliance on accurate data was one of the topics in our discussion.

In March,  we interviewed Zoé Bezpalko and Jon den Hartog from Autodesk. Besides Autodesk’s impressive sustainability program, we discussed Autodesk’s BIM technology helping the construction industry to become greener and their Generative Design solution to support the designer in making better material usage or reuse decisions.

The discussion ended with discussing Life Cycle Assessment tools to support the engineer in making sustainable decisions.

In my last blog post, the Innovation Dilemma, I explored the challenges of a Life Cycle Assessment. As it appears, it is not about just installing a tool. The concepts of a data-driven PLM infrastructure and digital twins are strong transformation prerequisites combined with the Inner Development Goals (IDG).

The IDGs are a human attitude needed besides the Sustainability Development Goals.

Therefore we were happy to discuss last week with Florence Verzelen, Executive Vice President Industry, Marketing & Sustainability and Xavier Adam, Worldwide Sustainability Senior Manager from Dassault Systemes. We discussed Dassault Systemes’ business sustainability goals and product offerings based on the 3DEXPERIENCE platform.

Have a look at the discussion below:


The slides shown in the recording can be found HERE.

 

What I learned

Dassault Systemes’ purpose has been to help their customers imagine sustainable innovations capable of harmonizing product, nature, and life for many years. A statement that now is slowly bubbling up in other companies too. Dassault Systemes has set a clear and interesting target for themselves in 2025. In that year two/thirds of their sales should come from solutions that make their customers more sustainable.

Their Eco-design solution is one of the first offerings to reach this objective. Their Life Cycle Assessment solution can govern your (virtual) product design on multiple criteria, not only greenhouse gas emissions.  It will be interesting to follow up on this topic to see how companies make the change internally by relying on data and virtual twins of a product or a manufacturing process.

Want to learn more?

Conclusion

80 % of the environmental impact of products is decided during the design phase. A Lifecycle Assessment Solutions combined with a virtual product model, the virtual design twin, allows you to decide on trade-offs in the virtual space before committing to the physical solution. Creating a data-driven, closed-loop between design, engineering, manufacturing and operations based on accurate data is the envisioned infrastructure for a sustainable future.

Yes, it is not a typo. Clayton Christensen famous book written in 1995 discussed the Innovator’s Dilemma when new technologies cause great firms to fail. This was the challenge two decades ago. Existing prominent companies could become obsolete quickly as they were bypassed by new technologies.

The examples are well known. To mention a few: DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation), Kodak, and Nokia.

Why the innovation dilemma?

This decade the challenge has become different. All companies are forced to become more sustainable in the next ten years. Either pushed by global regulations or because of their customer demands. The challenge is this time different. Besides the priority of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, there is also the need to transform our society from a linear, continuous growth economy into a circular doughnut economy.

The circular economy makes the creation, the usage and the reuse of our products more complex as the challenge is to reduce the need for raw materials and avoid landfills.

The circular economy concept – the regular product lifecycle in the middle

The doughnut economy makes the values of an economy more complex as it is not only about money and growth, human and environmental factors should also be considered.

Doughnut Economics: Trying to stay within the green boundaries

To manage this complexity, I wrote SYSTEMS THINKING – a must-have skill in the 21st century, focusing on the logical part of the brain. In my follow-up post, Systems Thinking: a second thought, I looked at the human challenge. Our brain is not rational and wants to think fast to solve direct threats. Therefore, we have to overcome our old brains to make progress.

An interesting and thought-provoking was shared by Nina Dar in this discussion, sharing the video below. The 17 Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) describe what needs to be done. However, we also need the Inner Development Goals (IDGs) and the human side to connect. Watch the movie:

Our society needs to change and innovate; however, we cannot. The Innovation Dilemma.

The future is data-driven and digital.

What is clear to me is that companies developing products and services have only one way to move forward: becoming data-driven and digital.

Why data-driven and digital?

Let’s look at something companies might already practice, REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals). This European directive, introduced in 2007, had the aim to protect human health and protect the environment by communicating information on chemicals up and down the supply chain. This would ensure that manufacturers, importers, and their customers are aware of information relating to the health and safety of the products supplied.

The regulation is currently still suffering in execution as most of the reporting and evaluation of chemicals is done manually. Suppliers report their chemicals in documents, and companies report the total of chemicals in their summary reports. Then, finally, authorities have to go through these reports.

Where the scale of REACH is limited, the manual effort to have end-to-end reporting is relatively high. In addition, skilled workers are needed to do the job because reporting is done in a document-based manner.

Life Cycle Assessments (LCA)

Where you might think REACH is relatively simple, the real new challenges for companies are the need to perform Life Cycle Assessments for their products. In a Life Cycle Assessment. The Wiki definition of LCA says:

Life cycle assessment or LCA (also known as life cycle analysis) is a methodology for assessing environmental impacts associated with all the stages of the life cycle of a commercial product, process, or service. For instance, in the case of a manufactured product, environmental impacts are assessed from raw material extraction and processing (cradle), through the product’s manufacture, distribution and use, to the recycling or final disposal of the materials composing it (grave)

This will be a shift in the way companies need to define products. Much more thinking and analysis are required in the early design phases. Before committing to a physical solution, engineers and manufacturing engineers need to simulate and calculate the impact of their design decisions in the virtual world.

This is where the digital twin of the design and the digital twin of the manufacturing process becomes relevant. And remember: Digital Twins do not run on documents – you need connected data and various types of models to calculate and estimate the environmental impact.

LCA done in a document-based manner will make your company too slow and expensive.

I described this needed transformation in my series from last year: The road to model-based and connected PLM – nine posts exploring the technology and concept of a model-based, data-driven PLM infrastructure.

Digital Product Passport (DPP)

The European Commission has published an action plan for the circular economy, one of the most important building blocks of the European Green Deal. One of the defined measures is the gradual introduction of a Digital Product Passport (DPP). As the quality of an LCA depends on the quality and trustworthy information about products and materials, the DPP is targeting to ensure circular economy metrics become reliable.

This will be a long journey. If you want to catch a glimpse of the complexity, read this Medium article: The digital product passport and its technical implementation related to the DPP for batteries.

The innovation dilemma

Suppose you agree with my conclusion that companies need to change their current product or service development into a data-driven and model-based manner. In that case, the question will come up: where to start?

Becoming data-driven and model-based, of course, is not the business driver. However, this change is needed to be able to perform Life Cycle Assessments and comply with current and future regulations by remaining competitive.

A document-driven approach is a dead-end.

Now let’s look at the real dilemmas by comparing a startup (clean sheet / no legacy) and an existing enterprise (experience with the past/legacy). Is there a winning approach?

The Startup

Having lived in Israel – the nation where almost everyone is a startup – and working with startups afterward in the past 10 years, I always get inspired by these people’s energy in startup companies. They have a unique value proposition most of the time, and they want to be visible on the market as soon as possible.

This approach is the opposite of systems thinking. It is often a very linear process to deliver this value proposition without exploring the side effects of such an approach.

For example, the new “green” transportation hype. Many cities now have been flooded with “green” scooters and electric bikes to promote transportation as a service. The idea behind this concept is that citizens do not require to own polluting motorbikes or cars anymore, and transportation means will be shared. Therefore, the city will be cleaner and greener.

However, these “green” vehicles are often designed in the traditional linear way. Is there a repair plan or a plan to recycle the batteries? Reuse of materials used.? Most of the time, not. Please, if you have examples contradicting my observations, let me know. I like to hear good news.

When startup companies start to scale, they need experts to help them grow the company. Often these experts are seasoned people, perhaps close to retirement. They will share their experience and what they know best from the past:  traditional linear thinking.

As a result, even though startup companies can start with a clean sheet, their focus on delivering the product or service blocks further thinking. Instead, the seasoned experts will drive the company towards ways of working they know from the past.

Out of curiosity: Do you know or work in a startup that has started with a data-driven and model-based vision from scratch?  Please add the name of this company in the comments, and let’s learn how they did it.

The Existing company

Working in an established company is like being on board a big tanker. Changing its direction takes a clear eye on the target and navigation skills to come there. Unfortunately, most of the time, these changes take years as it is impossible to switch the PLM infrastructure and the people skills within a short time.

From the bimodal approach in 2015 to the hybrid approach for companies, inspired by this 2017 McKinsey article: Toward an integrated technology operating model, I discovered that this is probably the best approach to ensure a change will happen. In this approach – see image – the organization keeps running on its document-driven PLM infrastructure. This type of infrastructure becomes the system of record. Nothing different from what PLM currently is in most companies.

In parallel, you have to start with small groups of people who independently focus on a new product, a new service. Using the model-based approach, they work completely independently from the big enterprise in a data-driven approach. Their environment can be considered the future system of engagement.

The data-driven approach allows all disciplines to work in a connected, real-time manner. Mastering the new ways of working is usually the task of younger employees that are digital natives. These teams can be completed by experienced workers who behave as coaches. However, they will not work in the new environment; these coaches bring business knowledge to the team.

People cannot work in two modes, but organizations can. As you can see from the McKinsey chart, the digital teams will get bigger and more important for the core business over time. In parallel, when their data usage grows, more and more data integration will occur between the two operation modes. Therefore, the old PLM infrastructure can remain a System of Record and serve as a support backbone for the new systems of engagement.

The Innovation Dilemma conclusion

The upcoming ten years will push organizations to innovate their ways of working to become sustainable and competitive. As discussed before, they must learn to work in a data-driven, connected manner. Both startups and existing enterprises have challenges – they need to overcome the “thinking fast and acting slow” mindset. Do you see the change in your company?

 

Note: Before publishing this post, I read this interesting and complementary post from Jan Bosch Boost your digitalization: instrumentation.

It is in the air – grab it.

 

Two weeks ago, I wrote a generic post related to System Thinking, in my opinion, a must-have skill for the 21st century (and beyond). Have a look at the post on LinkedIn; in particular interesting to see the discussion related to Systems Thinking: a must-have skill for the 21st century.

I liked Remy Fannader’s remark that thinking about complexity was not something new.

This remark is understandable from his personal context. Many people enjoy thinking – it was a respected 20th-century skill.

However, I believe, as Daniel Kahneman describes in his famous book: Thinking Fast and Slow, our brain is trying to avoid thinking.

This is because thinking consumes energy, the energy the body wants to save in the case of an emergency.

So let’s do a simple test (coming from Daniel):

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A bat and a ball cost together $ 1.10 –  the bat costs one dollar more than the ball. So how much does the ball cost?

Look at the answer at the bottom of this post. If you have it wrong, you are a fast thinker. And this brings me to my next point. Our brain does not want to think deeply; we want fast and simple solutions. This is a challenge in a complex society as now we hear real-time information coming from all around the world. What is true and what is fake is hard to judge.

However, according to Kahneman, we do not want to waste energy on thinking. We create or adhere to simple solutions allowing our brains to feel relaxed.

This human behavior has always been exploited by populists and dictators: avoid complexity because, in this way, you lose people. Yuval Harari builds upon this with his claim that to align many people, you need a myth. I wrote about the need for myths in the PLM space a few times, e.g., PLM as a myth? and The myth perception

And this is where my second thoughts related to Systems Thinking started. Is the majority of people able and willing to digest complex problems?

My doubts grew bigger when I had several discussions about fighting climate change and sustainability.

 

 

Both Brains required

By coincidence, I bumped on this interesting article Market-led Sustainability is a ‘Fix that Fails’…

I provided a link to the post indirectly through LinkedIn. If you are a LinkedIn PLM Global Green Alliance member, you can see below the article an interesting analysis related to market-led sustainability, system thinking and economics.

Join the PLM Global Green Alliance group to be part of the full discussion; otherwise, I recommend you visit Both Brains Required, where you can find the source article and other related content.

It is a great article with great images illustrating the need for systems thinking and sustainability. All information is there to help you realize that sustainability is not just a left-brain exercise.

The left brain is supposed to be logical and analytical. That’s systems thinking, you might say quickly. However, the other part of our brain is about our human behavior, and this side is mostly overlooked. My favorite quote from the article:

Voluntary Market-Led activities are not so much a solution to the sustainability crisis as a symptom of more profoundly unsustainable foundations of human behavior.

The article triggered my second thoughts related to systems thinking. Behavioral change is not part of systems thinking. It is another dimension harder to address and even harder to focus on sustainability.

The LinkedIn discussion below the article Market-led Sustainability is a ‘Fix that Fails’… is a great example of the talks we would like to have in our PLM Global Green Alliance group. Nina Dar, Patrick Hillberg and Richard McFall brought in several points worth discussing. Too many to discuss them all here – let’s take two fundamental issues:

1. More than economics

An interesting viewpoint in this discussion was the relation to economics. We don’t believe that economic growth is the main point to measure. Even a statement like:  “Sustainable businesses will be more profitable than traditional ones” is misleading when companies are measured by shareholder value or EBIT (Earnings Before Interest or Taxes). We briefly touched on Kate Raworth’s doughnut economics.

This HBR article mentioned in the discussion: Business Schools Must Do More to Address the Climate Crisis also shows it is not just about systems thinking.
We discussed the challenges of supply chains, not about resilience but about sustainability. Where an OEM can claim to be sustainable, there are often not aware of what happens at the level of their suppliers. As the OEM measure their suppliers mostly on Quality/Reliability and Cost, they usually do not care about local human issues or sustainability issues.

We have seen this in the Apparel industry with the horrible collapse of a factory in Bangladesh  (2013). Still, the inhumane accidents happen in southeast Asia. I like to quote Chris Calverley in his LinkedIn article: Making ethical apparel supply chains achievable on a global scale.

 

No one gets into business because they want to behave unethically. On the contrary, a lack of ethics is usually driven by a common desire to operate more efficiently and increase profit margins. 

In my last post, I shared a similar example from an automotive tier 2  supplier. Unfortunately, suppliers are not measured or rewarded for sustainability efforts; only efficiency and costs are relevant.

The seventeen Sustainability Development Goals (SDG), as defined by the United Nations, are the best guidance for sustainable drivers beyond money. Supporting the SDGs enforce systems thinking when developing a part, a product, or a solution. Many other stakeholders need to be taken care of, at least if you truly support sustainability as a company.

2. The downside of social media

The LinkedIn discussion related to Market-led Sustainability is a ‘Fix that Fails’… The thread shows that LinkedIn, like other social media, is not really interested in supporting in-depth discussions – try to navigate what has been said in chronological order. With Patrick, Nina and Richard, we agreed to organize a follow-up discussion in our PLM Global Green Alliance Group.

And although we are happy with social media as it allows each of us to reach a global audience, there seems to be a worrying contra-productive impact. If you read the book Stolen Focus. A quote:

All over the world, our ability to pay attention is collapsing. In the US, college students now focus on one task for only 65 seconds, and office workers, on average, manage only three minutes

This is worrying, returning to Remy Fannader’s remark: thinking about complexity was not something new. The main difference is that it is not new. However, our society is changing towards thinking too fast, not rewarding systems thinking.

Even scarier, if you have time, read this article from The Atlantic: about the impact of social media on the US Society. It is about trust in science and data. Are we facing the new (Trump) Tower of Babel in our modern society? As the writers state: Babel is a metaphor for what some forms of social media have done to nearly all of the groups and institutions most important to the country’s future—and to us as a people.

 

I have talked in previous posts about the Dunner-Kruger effect, something that is blocking systems thinking. The image to the left says it all. Due to social media and the safe place behind a keyboard, many of us consider ourselves confident experts explaining to the real expert why they are wrong. For addressing the topics of sustainability and climate change, this attitude is killing. It is the opposite of systems thinking, which costs energy.

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Congratulations

support

The fact that you reached this part of the post means your attention span has been larger than 3 minutes, showing there is hope for people like you and me. As an experiment to discover how many people read the post till here, please answer with the “support” icon if you have reached this part of the post.

I am curious to learn how many of us who saw the post came here.

 

Conclusion

Systems Thinking is a must-have skill for the 21st century. Many of us working in the PLM domain focus on providing support for systems thinking, particularly Life Cycle Assessment capabilities. However, the discussion with Patrick Hillberg, Nina Darr and Richard McFall made me realize there is more: economics and human behavior. For example, can we change our economic models, measuring companies not only for the money profit they deliver? What do?

Answering this type of question will be the extended mission for PLM consultants of the future – are you ready?

 

The answer to the question with the ball and the bat:

A fast answer would say the price of the ball is 10 cents. However, this would make the price of the bat $1.10, giving a total cost of $1.20. So the right answer should be 5 cents. To be honest, I got tricked the first time too. Never too late to confirm you make mistakes, as only people who do not do anything make no mistakes.

In several discussions and posts I wrote, I talked about systems thinking, assuming everyone has the same understanding.

For example last year with the PLM Global Green Alliance (PGGA) we had a discussion with Frank Popielas Managing Partner and Co-founder of SMS_ThinkTank™ related to sustainability. We used the term “Systems Thinking” several times assuming everyone knows the concept.

I should have known better. When using terms in your profession, you always have to verify if the others have the same meaning. Crucial when you start a PLM implementation project.

For example, several years ago, I was asked to audit a PLM implementation that got stalled because the PDM and ERP-system capabilities created a conflict. In my first interview with the PLM team, they mentioned they were quite advanced in Systems Engineering. Everyone in the core team confirmed this. However, when diving into the details of the “Systems Engineering” activities, it appeared that they were talking about (product) Configuration Management.

When working with different people, always make sure you have a common dictionary.

What is a part? What is a material? What is a Workflow, and is it different from a Business Process? And also, for Configuration Management, you often see two definitions.

One focuses on the consistency of the product’s definition, the other more on the allowed configurations of a product. So now let’s dive into Systems Thinking which is not the same as Systems Engineering.

Systems thinking – a definition

When I checked on Wiki, I found this complex definition:

Systems thinking
is a way of making sense of the complexity of the world by looking at it in terms of wholes and relationships rather than by splitting it down into its part. It has been used as a way of exploring and developing effective action in complex contexts. Systems thinking draws on and contributes to systems theory and the system sciences.

A careful reader would extract from this definition that the focus for systems thinking is looking at the bigger picture, the whole, a holistic approach. Of course, when using a holistic approach, you take more relationships or possibilities into account,  which broadens your thinking (or value of your solution). The opposite of Systems Thinking is to focus on a single issue or part and describe it best. Let me explain this by an example:

The BIC ballpoint

You might remember the first BIC ballpoints with the sharp cap when you are as old as me.

This image is from the time I was born. The BIC ballpoint, with the pointed cap, was one of the most popular ballpoints during my teenage years.

In primary school not allowed, as we first had to learn to write with an ink pen or fountain pen. The BIC pen at that time was designed as a product with a single purpose: enabling people to write affordable, comfortable, and fast.

With a more holistic view of the BIC pen, you might say: “What happens when children play with it?” And apparently, there were accidents with children stabbing themselves in the eye with the sharp cap.

And this was indeed the case when considering the BIC ballpoint as a system; other stakeholders and scenarios were considered.

Now the cap is flattened (safe for children). The cap’s open end is apparently there to support performing a tracheotomy when no medical equipment is available (just a sharp knife and the BIC ballpoint are needed).

Don’t try this at home for fun: Performing the Tracheotomy

I hope the example illustrates that you can look at a product differently.

First as a product with a single purpose (single stakeholder) or as a system interacting with other stakeholders (writing, safe for children, first aid support).

System Thinking, therefore, is an attitude which not natural for humans. In his famous book Thinking Fast & Slow, Daniel Kahneman explains that our evolutionary brain always wants to save energy.

Therefore our brain is pushing us to make fast intuitive decisions, not always the ones that you would make after serious thinking.

Systems Thinking costs energy for the brain.

Often we hear that companies want to reduce their costs and time spent on engineering – more efficiency.

Systems Thinking and Systems Engineering are aiming for the opposite – spend more time thinking and analyzing in the virtual world, before committing to the physical world. Fixing issues once you are in the physical world is much more costly than in the virtual world.

Click on the image to see the details.

This brings us to the relationship with Systems Engineering

Systems thinking and Systems Engineering

You could say Systems Engineering is the best example of Systems Thinking. There are various viewpoints on Systems Engineering, best characterized in these two directions (Wiki here):

  • Systems engineering is an interdisciplinary field of engineering and engineering management that focuses on how to design, integrate, and manage complex systems over their life cycles. At its core, systems engineering utilizes systems thinking principles to organize this body of knowledge. The individual outcome of such efforts, an engineered system, can be defined as a combination of components that work in synergy to collectively perform a useful function. Here the focus is on managing in a proven manner complexity
  • Systems engineering focuses on analyzing and eliciting customer needs and required functionality early in the development cycle, documenting requirements, then proceeding with design synthesis and system validation while considering the complete problem, the system lifecycle. This includes fully understanding all of the stakeholders involved. Here the focus is on delivering the best product for the relevant stakeholders involved, not necessarily managing the complexity of the product.

To manage complexity, we have always used models. The weather forecast is based on models, the profitability of a business is based on models, and the behavior of a product can be predicted and analyzed using models. This is Model-Based Systems Engineering MBSE), and I wrote a lot about the Model-Based approach last year. Read The road to model-based and connected PLM

When it comes to extending the support for different stakeholders, we have seen the example of the BIC ballpoint.

However, when we start to talk about sustainability, we will see that by enlarging the number of stakeholders and their importance, we observe another way of Systems Thinking.

Systems thinking and sustainability

The title of this post is related to the challenges we have with sustainability, our society and even our planet. Currently, reducing carbon emissions gets the highest priority as we see the impact on our planet. Perhaps the awareness is not the same for everyone; the richer you are, the less you might feel impacted by climate change. Still, indisputably it is happening as the IPCC is reporting.

Now let’s look at the relation between systems thinking and sustainability.

Let’s imagine I work for a tier 2 or tier 3 supplier of an OEM. This means the OEM wants a component for their solution with the highest quality and the lowest price.

In the traditional approach, the supplier will try to find the cheapest materials that match the required quality. They will look for the most inexpensive manufacturing process to build their component. Everything extra will reduce their chances of remaining the OEM contractor and profitable. The only stakeholder in this process is the OEM and potentially some existing regulations. For example, ROHS controls the usage of hazardous materials.

Next, imagine a supplier that wants to be more sustainable. They will add sustainability requirements to their component design. They start to treat their product as a system. What would be the difference between choosing material A over material B or choosing production process ABC over production Process XYZ?

If it is up to the OEM, it is only costs, quality and compliance. Suppose the supplier will select an alternative material that has less impact on the environment. For example, recycling or needing less energy (carbon emissions) is easier to produce. In that case, this option might be more expensive. It is up to the OEM to decide if they accept this higher cost price to be more sustainable with their products.

To understand the sustainability of a product, we need to dive into a full Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). LCA is at the heart of PLM.

When a product or component is designed, the LCA will give you the information related to the impact of your product, assuming you have the accurate data to make the assessment. This is currently one of the major areas to focus on when it comes to sustainability – how can we measure the environmental impact of each part through its whole lifecycle.

With sustainability, the needs are no longer defined by the OEM. Other stakeholders, like authorities and consumers, will also have an impact. Realistically, we will see that mainly regulations will be the biggest driver towards sustainability as consumers still want the lowest price.

Currently, we see this behavior with the rising energy prices. Unfortunately, people complain about the price instead of realizing the price has always been too low. Changing behavior (energy consumption) might be the best path for the future, but that is more difficult than complaining.

Systems Thinking and the Circular Economy

Finally, I want to mention one topic closely related to Systems Thinking and Sustainability: the Circular Economy. The Circular Economy is well explained by the Ellen McArthur Foundation. Follow the link and get educated as the Circular Economy is about a system. A system that tries to minimize the leakage of resources and the need for new raw materials. Each loop is a process to consider.

With the PLM Global Green Alliance, we discussed the circular economy together with Darren West from SAP in our session: PLM and Sustainability: talking with SAP. I hope and trust we will learn more about companies to follow the principle of a circular economy.

Want to learn more?

There is so much more to say about Systems Thinking in general, and I will come back to this topic in a future post. Meanwhile, I recommend this post for all of you who want to learn more about systems thinking and sustainability: Systems Thinking can help build a sustainable world:  A Beginning Conversation from the MAHB (Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere). There is so much to learn and discuss if you are actively looking for it.

Conclusions

Systems Thinking is needed to solve the issues in a complex society. It is an attitude, not a new approach. Systems Thinking helps to manage a complex system, it helps to address sustainability, and it helps fight against populism. Simple answers do not exist – looking to the bigger picture, using systems thinking will make you better informed wherever you are on this limited planet

War is a place where young people who don’t know each other, and don’t hate each other, kill each other, by the decision of old people who know each other, and hate each other, but don’t kill each other…”

 

Three weeks ago, we published our first PLM Global Green Alliance interview discussing the relationship between PLM and Sustainability with the main vendors. We talked with Darren West from SAP.

You can find the interview here: PLM and Sustainability: talking with SAP.

When we published the interview, it was also the moment a Russian dictator started the invasion of Ukraine, making it difficult for me to focus on our sustainability mission, having friends in both countries.

Now, three weeks later, with even more horrifying news coming from Ukraine, my thoughts are with the heroic people there, who resist and fight for their lives to exist. And it is not only in Ukraine. Also, people suffering under other totalitarian regimes are fighting this unfair battle.

Meanwhile, another battle that concerns us all might get stalled if the conflict in Ukraine continues. This decade requires us to focus on the transition towards a sustainable planet, where the focus is on reducing carbon emissions. It is clear from the latest IPPC report: Impacts Adaptation and Vulnerability that we need to act.

Autodesk

Therefore, I am happy we can continue our discussion on PLM and Sustainability, this time with Autodesk. In the conversation with SAP, we discovered SAP’s strength lies in measuring the environmental impact of materials and production processes. However, most (environmental) impact-related decisions are made before the engineering & design phase.

Autodesk is a well-known software company in the Design & Manufacturing industry and the AEC (Architecture, Engineering and Construction) industry.

Autodesk was open to sharing its sustainability activities with us. So we spoke with Zoé Bezpalko, Autodesk’s Sustainability Strategy Manager for the Design & Manufacturing Industries,  and Jon den Hartog, Product Manager for Autodesk’s PDM and PLM solutions. So we were talking with the right persons for our PLM Global Green Alliance.

Watch the 30 minutes recording below, learn more about Autodesk’s sustainability goals and offerings and get motivated to (re)act.

The slides shown in this presentation can be downloaded HERE

What we have learned

The interview showed that Autodesk is actively working on a sustainable future. Both by acting internally, but, and even more important, by helping their customers to have a positive impact, using technologies like generative design and more environmentally friendly building projects. We talked about the renovation project of our famous Dutch Afsluitdijk.

The second observation is that Autodesk is working on empowering the designer to make better decisions regarding material usage or reuse. Life Cycle Assessment done by engineers will be a future required skill. As we discussed, this bottom-up user empowerment should be combined with a company strategy.

Want to learn more?

As you can see from the image shown in the recording, there is a lot to learn about Autodesk Forge. Click on the image for your favorite link, or open the PDF connected to the recording for your sustainability plans.

And there is the link to the Autodesk sustainability hub: Autodesk.com/sustainability

Conclusion

This was a motivating session to see Autodesk acting on Sustainability, and they are encouraging their customers to act.

It is necessary that companies and consumers get motivated and supported for more sustainable products and activities. We look forward to coming back with Autodesk in a second round with the PLM vendors to discover and discuss progress.

Sustainability has been already a topic on my agenda for many years. So when Rich McFall asked me to start the PLM Global Green Alliance (PGGA) in 2018, I supported that initiative. You can read more about my PLM and Sustainability ideas in this post here.

I have been lecturing about the relation between PLM and Sustainability last year. In 2018, the PGGA was a niche alliance trying to find people who would like to work and share PLM-related practices with others for a greener and sustainable planet.

Thanks to, or actually due to, the pandemic, climate disasters and the return of the US supporting the Paris Climate agreements, it became clear companies need to act. And preferably as soon as possible, which led to sustainability activities in many companies.

Also, the main PLM vendors started to publish their support and vision for a sustainable future, the area where we believe the PGGA can contribute in spreading the practices and experiences.

For that reason, the PGGA is aiming this year to have a series of discussions with the main PLM Vendors and their sustainability programs.

SAP

This time we are happy to publish an interview with Darren West from SAP. Darren West is the product management lead for SAP’s Circular Economy solutions. His role is to work with customers, sales and pre-sales colleagues, partners, solutions teams and product owners to expand existing and build new sustainability products, particularly those impacting Circular Economy topics.

We are glad to speak with Darren, as we believe sustainability and the circular economy go hand in hand and it requires systems thinking. We believe SAP, strong in managing materials and manufacturing processes, should be a leader in providing insights in ESG reporting. Helping companies to improve their environmental impact of products and production processes as they have the data.

Have a look at this 34 minutes interview and discussion with Darren West

The slides shown in this recording can be found  here: Circular Economy -SAP for PLM Green Alliance

What we have learned

The interview showed that SAP is actively working on a sustainable future. Both by acting by themselves, but even more important, by helping their customers to change to more sustainable designs and production methods. There is still a way to go and we do not have too much time to sit back. The power of the current SAP Responsible Design and Production module is that it allows companies to understand their environmental impact and improve where possible. This is step 1 in my opinion to find a way to create sustainable products and business models.

The second, more general observation, is that we need to make our full product lifecycle management digital and connected. Data-driven is the only way to have efficient processes to estimate and calculate our environmental impact – my favorite From Coordinated to Connected topic.

Want to learn more?

In the context of this recording, Daren shared the following links for those of you who got inspired by the discussion (in alphabetical order):

Conclusion

This was a motivating session to see PLM-related vendors are taking action. Next time, you will learn more from the design side when we talk with Autodesk about their sustainability program.

Unfortunately the day after this motivating session we were shocked by the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.  So I am in a mixed mood, as having friends in both countries makes me realize that one dictator can kill people and hope.

Listen to president Zelensky’s speech to the Russian people and get inspired to act against any brainwashing or dictatorship. To my friends and readers, wherever you are, stay strong, informed and human.


 

In the past four weeks, I have been discussing PLM education from different angles through interviews with Peter Bilello (CIMdata), Helena Gutierrez (Share PLM), John Stark (John Stark Associates) and Dave Slawson (Quick Release). Each of these persons brought their specialized focus on PLM.

In this post, I want to conclude and put their expertise in the context of PLM – people, processes and tools.

CIMdata

Originally CIMdata became known for their CAD/CAM market analysis, later expanding into simulation and PLM vendors analysis. And they are still a reference for everyone following the PLM Market. They provide market numbers and projections related to PLM for that part. Together with ARC, they are for me the two sources to understand what is happening business-wise in the PLM market.

Thanks to the contacts with all the vendors, they have a good overview of what is happening. That makes their strategic advice and training useful for companies that want to benchmark where they are and understand the current trends, all vendor-independent.

Their PLM Roadmap conferences have been one of the few consistent vendor-independent conferences that still take place.

If you search for the term “The weekend after PLM Roadmap …..” you will find many of my reviews of these conferences.

Besides these activities, they are also facilitating industry action groups where similar companies in an industry discuss and evaluate various methodologies and how they could be implemented using various PLM systems – the most visible for me is the Aerospace & Defense PLM Action Group

Share PLM

Share PLM is still a young organization focusing on Humanizing PLM. Their focus is on the end-to-end PLM education process. Starting from an education strategy focusing on people, they can organize and help you build attractive and didactical training or elearnings related to your PLM processes and systems in use.

Besides their core offering, they are also justifying their name; they really share PLM information. So have a look at their Our Work tab with samples. In particular, as I mentioned in my interview with them, I like their podcasts.

 

In this post, I try to find similar people or companies to those I interviewed.

When looking at Share PLM, Action Engineering in the US comes to my mind. They are the specialists dedicated to helping organizations large and small achieve their Model-Based Definition (MBD) and Model-Based Enterprise (MBE) goals.

To refresh your memory, read my post with Jennifer Herron, the founder of Action Engineering here: PLM and Model-Based Definition

 

John Stark

Although John might be known as a leading writer of PLM books, he is also active in advising companies in their PLM journeys. Somehow similar to what I do, the big difference is that John takes the time to structure the information and write it down in a book. Just have a look at his list of published PLM books here.

My blog posts are less structured and reflect my observations depending on the companies and people I meet. Writing a foundational book about PLM would be challenging, as concepts are radically changing due to globalization and digitization.

John’s books are an excellent foundation for students who want to learn PLM’s various aspects during their academic years. Students can sit down and take the time to study PLM concepts. Later, suppose you want to acquire PLM knowledge relevant to your company.

In that case, you might focus on specialized training, like the ones CIMdata provides.

There are many books on PLM – have a look at this list. Which book to read depends probably a lot on your country and the university you are associated with. In my network, I have recently seen books from Martin Eigner and  Uthayan Elangovan.   Rosemary Astheimer’s book Model-Based Definition in the Product Lifecycle is still on my to-read list.

And then, there is a lot of research done by universities worldwide. So, if you are lucky, there is good education for PLM-related practices in your country.

Quick Release

My post with Quick Release illustrated the challenges of a PLM consultancy company. It showed their efforts to enable their consultants to be valuable for their customers and create a work environment that inspires them to grow and enjoy their work.

Quick Release aims for a competitive advantage to have their consultants participate in actual work for their customers.

Not only from the conceptual point of view but also to get their hands “dirty”.

There are many other PLM consultancy firms. Having worked with Atos, Accenture, Capgemini, Delloite, PWC, who have their PLM practices, you realize that these companies have their methodologies and preferences. The challenge of their engagements is often the translation of a vision into an affordable roadmap.

Example of Accenture Digital PLM message

Consultancy firms need to be profitable, too, and sometimes they are portrayed as a virus. Once they are in, it is hard to get rid of them.

I do not agree with that statement, as companies often keep relying on consultants because they do not invest in educating their own people. It is a lack of management prioritization or understanding of the importance. Sometimes the argument is: “We are too busy” – remember the famous cartoons.

Consultants cannot change your company; in the end, you have to own the strategy and execution.

And although large consultancy firms might have many trained resources, my experience with these companies is that success often depends on one or two senior consultants. Consultancy is also a human-centric job, being able to connect to the customer in their language and culture.

Good consultants show their value by creating awareness and clarity first. Next, by helping the customer execute their strategy without big risks or hiccups. Finally, a good consultant becomes redundant as the knowledge has been transferred and digested to the customer.

It is like growing up.

System Integrators

It is a small step from consultancy firms to system integrators, as many consultancy firms have specialists in their company that are familiar with certain vendors’ systems. And you might have discovered that the systems that require the most integration or configuration work have the largest practices globally.

So I did a “quick and dirty” search on LinkedIn, looking for people with the xxx PLM consultant role, where xxx is the name of the PLM Vendor.

This to understand how big is the job market for such a specialized PLM consultant.

The image shows the result and I let you draw your own conclusions.

System Integrators are usually the most important partners for a PLM implementation once you choose. Therefore, when I support a PLM selection process, I always look at the potential implementation partner. Their experience, culture and scale are as important as selecting the best tools.

System Integrators can benefit from their past experiences and best practices. It is a myth that every company is so unique and should be treated differently. Instead, companies are different because of historical reasons. And these differences to best practices are sometimes inhibitors instead of advantages.

Related to education, System Integrators are often focused on technical training. Still, they might also have separate experts in training or organizational change management.

 

PLM Vendors

For me, the PLM vendors are the ones that should inspire the customers. Have a look at the “famous” CIMdata slide illustrating the relation between vision, technology and implemented practices – there is a growing gap between the leaders and the followers.

PLM Vendors often use their unique technical capabilities as a differentiator to the competition and inspiration for C-level management. Just think about the terms: Industry 4.0, Digital Twin, Digital Thread, Digital Platform, Model-Based Enterprise and more about sustainability targeted offerings.

The challenge however is to implement these concepts in a consistent manner, allowing people in an organization to understand why and what needs to be done.

The PLM editor’s business model is based on software sales or rental. Therefore, they will focus on their benefits and what competitors fail to do. And as they have the largest marketing budgets, they are the most visible in the PLM-related media.

Of course reality is not that dramatic – education is crucial

You can compare PLM Vendors also with populists. The aim of a populist is to create an audience by claiming they can solve your problems (easily) by using simple framing sentences. However, the reality is that the world and the current digitalization in the PLM domain are not simple.

Therefore we need education, education and education from different sources to build our own knowledge. It is not about the tool first. It is people, process and then tools/technology

 

People, Process, Tools

Education and the right education for each aspect of PLM are crucial to making the right decision. To simplify the education message, I tried to visualize and rate each paragraph along with the People, Process and Tools assessment.

What do you think? Does this make sense related to education?

 

Conclusion

Education is crucial at every level of an organization and at every stage of your career. Take your time to read and digest the information you see and compare and discuss it with others. Be aware of the People, Process and Tools matrix when retrieving information. Where does it apply, and why.

I believe PLM is considered complex because we are dealing with people who all have different educational backgrounds and, therefore, an opinion. Invest in alignment to ensure the processes and tools will be used best.

In the past four weeks, I have been writing about the various aspects related to PLM Education. First, starting from my bookshelf, zooming in on the strategic angle with CIMdata (Part 1).

Next, I was looking at the educational angle and motivational angle with Share PLM (Part 2).

And the last time,  I explored with John Stark the more academic view of PLM education. How do you – students and others – learn and explore the full context of PLM (Part 3)?

Now I am talking with Dave Slawson from Quick Release_ , exploring their onboarding and educational program as a consultancy firm.

How do they ensure their consultants bring added value to PLM-related activities, and can we learn something from that four our own practices?

Quick Release

Dave, can you tell us something more about Quick Release, further abbreviated to QR, and your role in the organization?
.

Quick Release is a specialist PDM and PLM consultancy working primarily in the automotive sector in Europe, North America, and Australia. Robust data management and clear reporting of complex subjects are essential.

Our sole focus is connecting the data silos within our client’s organizations, reducing program or build delays through effective change management.

Quick Release promise – PDT 2019

I am QR’s head of Learning and Development, and I’ve been with the company since late 2014.

I’ve always had a passion for developing people and giving them a platform to push themselves to realize their potential. QR wants to build talent from within instead of just hiring experienced people.

However, with our rapid growth, it became necessary to have dedicated full-time resources to faster onboarding and upskilling our employees. This is combined with having an ongoing development strategy and execution.

QRs Learning & Development approach

Let’s focus on Learning & Development internally at QR first. What type of effort and time does it take to onboard a new employee, and what is their learning program?
.

We have a six-month onboarding program for new employees. Most starters join one of our “boot camps”, a three-week intensive program where a cohort of between 6 and 14 new starters receive classroom-style sessions led by our subject matter experts.

During this, new starters learn about technical PDM and PLM and high-performance business skills that will help them deliver excellence for or clients and feel confident in their work.

Quick Release BoB track process – click to enlarge

While the teams spend a lot of time with the program coordinator, we also bring in our various Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to ensure the highest quality and variety in these sessions. Some of these sessions are delivered by our founders and directors.

As a business, we believe in investing senior leadership time to ensure quality training and give our team members access to the highest levels of the company.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic started, we moved our training program to be primarily distance learning. However, some sessions are in person, with new starters attending workshops in our regional offices. Our sessions focus on engagement and “doing” instead of just watching a presentation. New starters have fed back that they are still just as enjoyable via distance learning.

Following boot camp, team members will start work on their client projects, supported by a Project Manager and a mentor. During this period, their mentor will help them use the on-the-job experience to build up their technical knowledge on top of their bootcamp learning. The mentor is also there to help them cope with what we know is a steep learning curve. Towards the end of the six months program, each new starter will carry out a self-evaluation designed to help them recognize their achievements to date and identify areas of focus for ongoing personal development.

We gather feedback from the trainers and trainees throughout the onboarding programs, ensuring that the former is shared with their mentors to help with coaching.

The latter is used to help us continuously improve our offering. Our trainers are subject matter experts, but we encourage them to evolve their content and approach based on feedback.

 

The learning journey

Some might say you only learn on the job – how do you relate to this statement? Where does QR education take place? Can you make a statement on ROI for Learning & Development?

It is important to always be curious related to your work. We encourage our team members to challenge themselves to learn new things and dig deeper. Indeed, constant curiosity is one of our core values. We encourage people to challenge the status quo, challenge themselves, and adopt a growth mindset through all development and feedback cycles.

The learning curve in PDM and PLM can be steep; therefore, we must give people the tools and feedback that they can use to grow. At QR, this starts with our onboarding program and flows into an employee’s full career with us. In addition, at the end of every quarter, team members receive performance feedback from their managers, which feeds into their development target setting.

We have a wealth of internal resources to support development, from structured training materials to our internally compiled PDM Wiki and our suite of development “playbooks” (curated learning journeys catering to a range of learning styles).

On-the-job learning is critically important. So after the boot camp, we put our team members straight into projects to make sure they apply and build on their baseline knowledge through real-world experience. Still, they are supported with formal training and ongoing access to development resources.

Regarding Return on Investment, while it is impossible to give a specific number, we would say that quality training is invaluable to our clients and us. In seven years, the company has grown from 60 to 300 employees. In addition, it now operates in three other continents, illustrating that our clients trust the quality of how we train our consultants!

We also carried out internal studies regarding the long-term retention of team members relative to onboarding quality. These studies show that team members who experience a more controlled and structured onboarding program are mostly more successful in roles.

Investing in education?

I understood some of your customers also want to understand PLM processes better and ask for education from your side. Would the investment in education be similar? Would they be able to afford such an effort?

Making a long-term and tangible impact for our clients is the core foundation of what QR are trying to achieve. We do not want to come in to resolve a problem, only for it to resurface once we’ve left. Nor do we want to do work that our clients could easily hire someone to do themselves.

Therefore the idea of delivering a version of our training and onboarding program to clients is very attractive to us. We offer clients a shortened version of our bootcamp (focused on technical PDM, PLM and complexity management without the consultancy skills to our clients).

This is combined with an ongoing support program that transitions the responsibilities within the client team away from our consultants towards the client’s own staff.

We’d look to run that program over approximately 6 months so that the client can be confident that their staff has reached the level of technical expertise. There would be an upfront cost to the client to manage this.

However, the program is designed to support quality skills development within their organization.

 

PLM and Digital Transformation?

Education and digital transformation is a question I always ask. Although QR is already established in the digital era, your customers are not. What are the specific parts of digital transformation that you are teaching your employees and customers

The most inefficient thing we see in the PDM space is the reliance on offline, “analog” data and the inability to establish one source of truth across a complex organization. To support business efficiency through digital transformation, we promote a few simple core tenets in everything we do:

  • Establish a data owner who not only holds the single reference point but also is responsible for its quality
  • Right view reporting – clearly communicate exactly what people need to know, recognizing that different stakeholders need to know different things and that no one has time to waste
  • Clear communications – using the right channels of communication to get the job done faster (including more informal channels such as instant messaging or collaborative online working documents)
  • Smart, data-led decision making – reviewing processes using accurate data that is analyzed thoroughly, and justifying recommendations based on a range of evidence
  • Getting your hands dirty! – Digital Transformation is not just a “systems” subject but relies on people and human interaction. So we encourage all of our consultants to actually understand how teams work. Not be afraid to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in instead of just analyzing from the outside!

Want to learn more?

Dave, Could you point us to relevant Learning & Development programs and resources that are valuable for the readers of this blog?
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If you are interested in learning within the PDM and PLM space, follow Quick Release on LinkedIn as we publish thought leadership articles designed to support industry development.

For those interested in Learning & Development strategy, there is lots of UK and Ireland guidance available from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). Similar organizations exist in other countries, such as the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) in the USA) which are great resources for building Learning & Development specific skills.

In my research, I often find really thought-provoking articles that shape my approach and thinking regarding Learning & Development, HR and a business approach published by Forbes and Harvard Business Review.

 

What I learned

When I first discovered Quick Release as a company during one of the PLM Roadmap & PDT conferences (see “The weekend after PLM Roadmap & PDT 2019″) I was impressed by their young and energetic approach combined with being pragmatic and focused on making the data “flow”.  Their customers were often traditional automotive companies having the challenge to break the silos. You could say QR was working on the “connected” enterprise as I would name it.

PLM consultancy must change

Besides their pragmatic approach, I discovered through interactions with QR that they are a kind of management consultancy firm you would expect in the future. As everything is going to be faster experience counts. Instead of remaining conceptual and strategic, they do not fear being with their feet in the mud.

This requires a new type of consultant and training, as employees need to be able to connect both to specialists at their customers and also be able to communicate with management. These types of people are hard to get as this is the ideal profile of a future employee.

The broad profile

What I learned from Dave is that QR invests seriously in meaningful education and coaching programs for their employees – to give them a purpose and an environment where they feel valued. I would imagine this applies actually to every company of the future, therefore I am curious if you could share your experiences from the field, either through the comments to this post or contact me personally.

Conclusion

We have seen now four dimensions of PLM education and I wish they gave you insights into what is possible. For each of the companies, I interviewed there might be others with the same skills. What is important is to realize the domain of PLM needs those four dimensions. In my next (short) post I will provide a summary of what I learned and what I believe is the PLM education of the future. Stay connected!

And a bonus you might have seen before – the digital plumber:

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