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After my previous post about the PLM migration dilemma, I had several discussions with peers in the field why these PLM bad news are creating so much debate. For every PLM vendor, I can publish a failure story 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 working differently is not anticipated by the (middle) management and causes, therefore, a mismatch for the people, process & tools paradigm.

So we love bad news in real life. We talk about terrorism while meanwhile, a large number of 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, there are more actors involved in a PLM implementation, and if PLM systems would be that bad, they would not exist anymore and replace by ………?

Who to blame – the vendor?

Of course, it is the easiest way to blame the vendor as their marketing is promising to solve all problems. However, when you look 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.  This might change in the long term if PLM Vendors can deliver cloud-based solutions.

PLM implementations within the same industry might look the same but often vary a lot 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, where PLM toolkit-like systems might focus on ease of customization. Both approaches have their pro’s and con’s (in another blog post perhaps).

Another topic to blame the vendor is 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 would be 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 available free of charge, leading to no revenue for the vendor and significant revenue for service providers. Without any license costs, they can build any type of interface/solution. In the end, when the PLM vendor has no sustainable revenue, the vendor will disappear as we have seen between 2000 and 2010, where 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 – the strategic partners and the 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 the 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. Unfortunate, this type of companies does not have significant skills in PLM as the PLM domain is just a small subset of the whole potential business strategy.

You can blame them that they are useful in building a vision/strategy but fail to create a consistent connection to the field.

Implementation partners, the system integrators, are most of the times 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 just follow blindly what the vendor is promoting or what the customer is asking for.

They will do anything you request, as long as they get paid for it. 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 before they will never say No to a customer and claim to fill all the “gaps,” there are in the PLM environment.

You can blame implementation partners that their focus is on making money from services. And they are right, to remain in business your company needs to be profitable. 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 as system integrators is to find a balance between experienced people, who really make it happen and educating juniors to become experts too. 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 that you made all the effort to make it successful.  You followed the advice of the strategic consultants, you selected the best PLM Vendor and system integrator, you 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

If your PLM implementation is just there to automate existing practices and store data in a central location, this might work out. 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 with 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, it is an on-going journey. Therefore your choice needs to be sustainable.

My experience with this type of implementations is that it 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 not connected to 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 related to a digital transformation of the enterprise. Therefore, I mention PLM platform instead of 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 is a combination of 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 upfront all the effort for the PLM platform and the implementation resources. 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 have the feeling 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, is it a consolidation or a transformation, you should take care of all stakeholders are 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 – make sure enough resources are assigned – you own the project. It is your project/transformation.

This has been several times my job in the past, 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 makes sense. Here coaching from experienced PLM consultants makes sense.

 

Conclusion

Most of the time, PLM implementations are successful if the scope is well understood and not transformative. You will not hear a lot 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. The role of an experienced external coach can help here.

 

 

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