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observation Last weeks have been busy weeks and I have seen various PLM candidates all around Europe. As these companies were mid-market companies, I noticed again how difficult it is for these companies to follow the ideal path towards PLM.

For those reading my blog frequently they might remember my definition of mid-market and PLM. For newer readers I will give my definitions again, as everyone has their own definition.

Mid market company: For me the definition of a mid-market company does not have to do with revenue or the amount of people working for this company. I characterize a mid-market company as a company, where everyone has a focus on the company’s primary process. There is no strategic layer of people, who are analyzing the current business and defining new strategies for the future. In addition, the IT-staff is minimal, more seen as an overhead than as strategic. Mid-market companies have their strength in being flexible and reacting fast on changes, which might contradict with a long term strategic approach.


As what happens if you are only in a reactive mode – it can be too late.

(the boiling frog)

PLM: For me PLM is not a product but a vision or business approach based on a collection of best practices (per industry). Main characteristics of PLM are centralizing all product knowledge (IP) throughout all the lifecycle stages and a focus on best practices and immediate visibility on all lifecycle stages.  Combining concept, planning, development, production planning and after sales / service into one integrated process. It is more than concurrent engineering, it is about sharing data and ownership of data through different departments. And this means business transformation, breaking through traditional barriers. Of course PLM vendors have a slight different definition in order to differentiate themselves from other vendors. For example more focus on a virtual product definition (CAD PLM vendors) or a focus on efficiency and one single platform (ERP PLM vendors)


Who will initiate this change ?

And these two definitions already raise the questions I want to reflect here as I experienced again in two recent visits that the pain to move to PLM is here.

First what is the result of a reactive mode, even when it is a quick reaction ?

jugleA reactive mode leads to a situation where a company will never be able to differentiate rapidly from their competition. As every change takes time to implement, it is logically that a real business change will not be implemented as a quick reaction. The company needs to have a long term vision. And this is one of the things I noticed talking with mid-market companies. Ask these questions: “Where do you want to be in five years from now” and “How do you make sure you achieve these goals (if goals exist)” and often you find the company is depending on the business instinct of the founder(s) and has no real answers for the long term future.

god_comp This is of course a result of the typical mid-market company, they have no internal people who will step outside the daily hectic and work on a change. And being reactive always means you are (a little) behind. And this was the situation in one of the companies that I have met recently. There was an initial understanding of the values that PLM could bring, but when talking about some of the basic principles of PLM, the answers was: In our company ERP is God. This means real PLM has no chance – you do not want to fight against God.



And now the discussion who can initiate the change towards PLM

wise Now another example of a mid-market company that had a long term PLM vision but got trapped in their own approach. The company has been growing fast and like many European companies, production is done in China. And this causes collaboration issues around communication and quality between Europe and China as the company only knows CAD data management and ERP. The engineering manager was assigned to solve these issues.He did not get a full strategic assignment to look at the complete picture, but the management pushes him to solve the current pains, having the PLM wishes still in mind.

And solving the current pains lead again to function / feature comparison with a short term justification, believing that in the future all will fit in the PLM vision, as the potential resellers for the new solution said: “Yes we can”. Have you ever heard a reseller say “No we cannot”

The result, the engineering manager has to make a decision based on the ‘blue eyes’ of the reseller as he does not get the mandate and power from his management to analyze and decide on a PLM strategy for the long term. For one of the resellers talking about the details of PLM was even more a disadvantage as it creates an impression that PLM is complex. It is easier to sell a dream. A similar situation as I described in my posts: Who decides for PLM in a mid-market company

My conclusion

Although I am aware that many mid-market companies implement basics of PLM, it is frustrating to see that lack of priority and understanding of the management in mid-market companies blocks the growth to full benefits for PLM. The management is not to blame, as most PLM messages either come from the high-end PLM vendors or from product resellers both not packaged for the mid-market. See PLM for the mid-market – a mission impossible ?

PLM is a cross-departmental solution and the management should look for partners who can explain the business values and share best practices for mid-market companies business  wise.
The partner is 50 % of the success for a PLM implementation.

Do you recoginize similar situations ? How would you address them ?


My PLM blog cloud based on Wordie – see the virtualdutchman blog cloud

observationThe last two weeks I spent around two events for the automotive industry. First the SAE event in Chicago and this week the COE Automotive in Detroit to give a lecture around the future possibilities of a supply chain in a web 2.0 (PLM 2.0) world. For many of the lower tiers suppliers in the automotive supply chain this seems to be something far from their daily business. I guess one of the issues here is, that these companies are used to solve their problems per department, without having a corporate vision or strategy where the company should be in five years from now.

And here I see many challenges (in Europe we would call them possible problems). As the smaller mid-market companies try to solve their problems per department, you will find all around the world bright engineering managers who conclude that their company needs PLM. As they understand all the engineering challenges, they understand that in order to really understand what their department is doing, they should work in a different way than file based.

This is what companies working file-based think

When working file based companies rely on the following main contributors for getting information (in order of importance)

  • we do not need these expensive solutions for PLM etc …
  • the most important is the experienced engineer who knows what has been done in the past and where to possible find it
  • the company directory structure which allows everyone to find and store data related to a customer, project or product
  • the file name of the designs and documents which ‘exactly’ describes what’s inside the file

You just need to follow this order and you will always find the right information (or be close to it).


..and these are the issues they do not tell you.

  • I guess we really do not know what to do with PLM as we never studied it, what it would be for our company
  • we cannot bypass our experienced engineers – although at a certain moment they will retire, currently they would feel very insecure if we tried to collect their explicit knowledge and make it available for all. They would feel their jobs are less secure
  • there are some issues with this directory structure. Sometime someone deletes or overwrites a file that we needed, and of course we are not sure if all the data we need is really there. We always need to double check with the people to be sure – and sometimes it hurts, but we are used to it
  • or people are creative that only they understand what is in their own files and even from the file name, which can be long, we do not fully understand where it fits, what is the status and where is it also used.

Seeing these two opposite messages, we need to understand what are the challenges for these companies in the near future.

Challenges for these companies

The current workforce is aging all around the world – i recently read that although many believe China is the next promising country for the future, due the the one-child-per-family strategy in the past, they also will face in the near future (10-20 years) the same problems Europe and the US will have.

A huge part of the population will retire and especially in Europe and the US with this retirement a lot of real knowledge will disappear. The new generation will come with different skills, a different background and attitude to engineering. And due to the difference in attitude there is little or no communication between these generations.

So if you are an (aging) manager in a mid-market company in an automotive supply chain, you have two options to react:

  • you become fatalistic and believe that the new world is bad and you cling as long as possible to the old habits you are familiar with


  • or you understand every few decades a change in the way of working is required, which means moving away for the traditional knowledgeable people with their files to an internal, knowledge sharing environment where everyone has access to understand what exists and in which status it is.

So only one conclusion

 Survival for the future requires a change in the way these companies are working. It reminds me of the boiling frog story. We do not see the world is changing around us, till it is too late. I guess human beings should be more clever than frogs and they are able to collect information from outside their ‘pan’. 

Working with ENOVIA SmarTeam solutions, in particular the Design Express solution, I learned that this solution is an excellent entry point to move away from file based work towards data management.

Still not convinced ? Challenge me by adding a comment (public exposure)  or sent me a private email for a one-to-one discussion

As there are many engineering managers who believe that they understood the issue and started to implement an implement a PLM solution in their department, I will address in my next post they challenges they face with this bottom-up approach to convince the company PLM is unavoidable

Below just a goodie to enjoy



  1. Jos, one could take the approach that there is an engineering transformation strategy that can be realized by implementing PLM…

  2. Jos, I agree we should break out from the monolithic approach as this typically means lock-in, risk and frustration. The…

  3. Jos, Thanks for these insights. I believe that the mature capabilities provided by advanced toolsets can also be of benefit…

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