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Finally, I have time to share my PLM experiences with you in this blog. The past months have been very busy as I moved to a new house, and I wanted to do and control a lot of activities myself. Restructuring your house in an agile way is not easy. Luckily there was a vision how the house should look like. Otherwise, the “agile” approach would be an approach of too many fixes. Costly and probably typical for many old construction projects.
Finally, I realized the beauty of IKEA´s modular design and experienced the variety of high-quality products from BLUM (an impressive company in Austria I worked with)
In parallel, I have been involved in some PLM discussions where in all cases the connection with the real C-level was an issue. And believe it or not, my blog buddy Oleg Shilovitsky just published a post: Hard to sell PLM? Because nobody gives a SH*T about PLM software. Oleg is really starting from the basics explaining you do not sell PLM; you sell a business outcome. And in larger enterprises I believe you sell at this time the ability to do a business transformation as business is becoming digital, with the customer in the center. And this is the challenge I want to discuss in this post
The value of PLM at the C-level
Believe it or not, it is easier to implement PLM (in general) instead of explaining a CEO why a company needs modern PLM. A nice one-liner to close this post, however, let me explain what I mean by this statement and perhaps show the reasons why PLM does not seem to be attractive so much at the C-level. I do not want to offend any particular PLM company, Consultancy firm or implementor, therefore, allow me to stay on a neutral level.
The C-level time challenge
First, let´s imagine the situation at C-level. Recently I heard an excellent anecdote about people at C-level. When they were kids, the were probably the brightest and able to process and digest a lot of information, making their (school) careers a success. When later arriving in a business environment, they were probably the ones that could make a difference in their job and for that reason climbed the career ladder fast to reach a C-level position. Then arriving at that level, they become too busy to dive really deep into the details.
Everyone around them communicates in “elevator speeches” and information to read must me extremely condensed and easy to understand. As if people at C-level have no brains and should be informed like small kids.
I have seen groups of people working weeks on preparing the messages for the CEO. Every word is twisted hundred times – would he or she understand it? I believe the best people at C-level have brains, and they would understand the importance of PLM when someone explains it. However, it requires time if it does not come from your comfort zone.
Who explains the strategic value of PLM
There are a lot of strategic advisory companies who have access to the board room, and we can divide them into two groups. The ones that focus on strategy independent of any particular solution and the ones that concentrate on a strategy, guaranteeing their implementation teams are ready to deploy the solution. Let´s analyze both options and their advice:
Independent of a particular solution
When a company is looking for help from a strategic consultancy firm, you know upfront part of the answer. As every consultancy firm has a preferred sweet spot, based on their principal consultant(s). As a PLM consultant, I probably imagine the best PLM approach for your company, not being expert in financials or demagogic trends. If the advisory company has a background in accountancy, they will focus their advice on financials. If the company has a background in IT, they will focus their information on an infrastructure concept saving so much money.
A modern digital enterprise is now the trend, where digital allows the company to connect and interact with the customer and therefore react faster to market needs or opportunities. IoT is one of the big buzz words here. Some companies grasp the concept of being customer centric (the future) and adapt their delivery model to that, not realizing the entire organization including their product definition process should be changing too. You cannot push products to the market in the old linear way, while meanwhile expecting modern agile work processes.
Most of the independent strategic consultants will not push for a broader scope as it is out of their comfort zone. Think for a moment. Who are the best strategic advisors that can talk about the product definition process, the delivery process and products in operation and service? I would be happy if you give me their names in the comments with proof points.
Related to a particular solution
When you connect with a strategic advisory company, which an extensive practice in XXX or YYY, you can be sure the result will be strategic advice containing XXX or YYY. The best approach with ZZZ will not come on the table, as consultancy firms will not have the intention to investigate in that direction for your company. They will tell you: “With XXX we have successfully transformed (many) other companies like yours, so choose this path with the lowest risk.
And this is the part what concerns me the most at this time. Business is changing rapidly and therefore PLM should be changing too. If not that would be a strange situation? Read about the PLM Identity crisis here and here.
The solution is at C-level (conclusion)
I believe the at the end the future of your company will be dependent on your DNA, your CEO and the C-level supporting the CEO. Consultancy firms can only share their opinion from their point of view and with their understanding in mind.
If you have a risk-averse management, you might be at risk.
Doing nothing or following the majority will not bring more competitive advantage.
The awareness that business is global and changing rapidly should be on every company’s agenda.
Change is always an opportunity to get better; still no outsider can recommend you what is the best. Take control and leadership. For me, it is clear that the product development and delivery process should be a part of this strategy. Call it PLM or something different. I do not care. But do not focus on efficiency and ROI, focus on being able to be different from the majority. Apple makes mobile phones; Nespresso makes coffee, etc.
Think and use extreme high elevators to talk with your C-level!
Two weeks ago I got this message from WordPress, reminding me that I started blogging about PLM on May 22nd in 2008. During some of my spare time during weekends, I began to read my old posts again and started to fix links that have been disappearing.
Initially when I started blogging, I wanted to educate mid-market companies about PLM. A sentence with a lot of ambiguities. How do you define the mid-market and how do you define PLM are already a good start for a boring discussion. And as I do not want to go into a discussion, here are my “definitions”
Warning: This is a long post, full of generalizations and a conclusion.
PLM and Mid-market
The mid-market companies can be characterized as having a low-level of staff for IT and strategic thinking. Mid-market companies are do-ers and most of the time they are good in their domain based on their IP and flexibility to deliver this to their customer base. I did not meet mid-market companies with a 5-year and beyond business vision. Mid-market companies buy systems. They bought an ERP system 25-30 years ago (the biggest trauma at that time). They renewed their ERP system for the Y2K problem/fear and they switched from drawing board towards a 2D CAD system. Later they bought a 3D CAD system, introducing the need for a PDM system to manage all data.
PLM is for me a vision, a business approach supported by an IT-infrastructure that allows companies to share and discover and connect product related information through the whole lifecycle. PLM enables companies to react earlier and better in the go-to-market process. Better by involving customer inputs and experience from the start in the concept and design phases. Earlier thanks to sharing and involving other disciplines/suppliers before crucial decisions are made, reducing the amount of iterations and the higher costs of late changes.
Seven years ago I believed that a packaged solution, combined with a pre-configured environment and standard processes would be the answer for mid-market companies. The same thought currently PLM vendors have with a cloud-based solution. Take it, us it as it is and enjoy.
Here I have changed my opinion in the past seven years. Mid-market companies consider PLM as a more complex extension of PDM and still consider ERP (and what comes with that system) as the primary system in the enterprise. PLM in mid-market companies is often seen as an engineering tool.
LESSON 1 for me:
The benefits of PLM are not well-understood by the mid-market
To read more:
Globalization and Education
In the past seven years, globalization became an important factor for all type of companies. Companies started offshoring labor intensive work to low-labor-cost countries introducing the need for sharing product data outside their local and controlled premises. Also, acquisitions by larger enterprises and by some of the dominant mid-market companies, these acquisitions introduced a new area of rethinking. Acquisitions introduced discussions about: what are real best practices for our organization? How can we remain flexible, meanwhile adapt and converge our business processes to be future ready?
Here I saw two major trends in the mid-market:
Lack of (PLM) Education
To understand and implement the value of PLM, you need to have skills and understanding of more than just a vendor-specific PLM system. You need to understand the basics of change processes (Engineering Change Request, Engineering Change Order, Manufacturing Change Order and more). And you need to understand the characteristics of a CAD document structure, a (multidisciplinary) EBOM, the MBOM (generic and/or plant specific) and the related Bill of Processes. This education does not exist in many countries and people are (mis-)guided by their PLM/ERP vendor, explaining why their system is the only system that can do the job.
Interesting enough the most read posts on my blog are about the MBOM, the ETO, BTO and CTO processes. This illustrates there is a need for a proper, vendor-independent and global accepted terminology for PLM
Some educational posts:
Bill of Materials for Dummies – ETO ranked #1
ECR/ECO for Dummies ranked #2
BOM for Dummies – CTO ranked #4
BOM for Dummies: BOM and CAD ranked #7
The dominance of ERP
As ERP systems were introduced long before PLM (and PDM), these systems are often considered by the management of a mid-market company as the core. All the other tools should be (preferably) seen as an extension of ERP and if possible, let´s implement ERP vendor´s functionality to support PLM – the Swiss knife approach – one tool for everything. This approach is understandable as at the board level there are no PLM discussions. Companies want to keep their “Let´s do it”-spirit and not reshuffle or reorganize their company, according to modern insights of sharing. Strangely enough, you see in many businesses the initiative to standardize on a single ERP system first, instead of standardizing on a single PLM approach first. PLM can bring the global benefits of product portfolio management and IP-sharing, where ERP is much more about local execution.
PLM is not understood at the board level, still considered as a tool
Some post related to PLM and ERP
Where is the MBOM ? ranked #3
The human factor
A lot of the reasons why PLM has the challenge to become successful have to do with its broad scope. PLM has an unclear definition and most important, PLM forces people to share data and work outside their comfort zones. Nobody likes to share by default. Sharing makes day-to-day life more complicated, sharing might create visibility on what you actually contribute or fix. In many of my posts, I described these issues from various viewpoints: the human brain, the innovators dilemma, the way the older generation (my generation) is raised and used to work. Combined with the fact that many initial PLM/PDM implementations have created so many legacies, the need to change has become a risk. In the discussion and selection of PLM I have seen many times that in the end a company decides to keep the old status quo (with new tools) instead of really having the guts to move toward the future. Often this was a result of investors not understanding (and willing to see) the long term benefits of PLM.
PLM requires a long-term vision and understanding, which most of the time does not fit current executive understanding (lack of education/time to educate) and priority (shareholders)
Many recent posts are about the human factor:
The digital transformation
The final and most significant upcoming change is the fact that we are entering a complete new era: From linear and predictable towards fast and iterative, meaning that classical ways we push products to the market will become obsolete. The traditional approach was based on lessons learned from mechanical products after the second world-war. Now through globalization and the importance of embedded software in our products, companies need to deliver and adapt products faster than the classical delivery process as their customers have higher expectations and a much larger range to choose from. The result from this global competitiveness is that companies will change from delivering products towards a more-and-more customer related business model (continuous upgrades/services). This requires companies to revisit their business and organization, which will be extremely difficult. Business wise and human change require new IT concepts – platform? / cloud services? / Big data?
Older enterprises, mid-market and large enterprises will be extremely challenged to make this change in the upcoming 10 years. It will be a matter of survival and I believe the Innovator´s Dilemma applies here the most.
The digital transformation is apparent as a trend for young companies and strategic consultants. This message is not yet understood at the board level of many businesses.
Some recent post related to this fast upcoming trend:
ROI (Return On Investment)
I also wrote about ROI – a difficult topic to address as in most discussions related to ROI, companies are talking about the costs of the implementation, not about the tremendous larger impact a new business approach or model can have, once enabled through PLM. Most PLM ROI discussions are related to efficiency and quality gains, which are significant and relevant. However these benefits are relative small and not comparable with the ability to change your business (model) to become more customer centric and stay in business.
Some of the ROI posts:
A (too) long post this time however perhaps a good post to mark 7 years of blogging and use it as a reference for the topics I briefly touched here. PLM has many aspects. You can do the further reading through the links.
From the statistics it is clear that the education part scores the best – see rankings. For future post, let me know by creating a comment what you are looking for in this blog: PLM Mid-Market, Education, PLM and ERP, Business Change, ROI, Digitalization, or …??
Also I have to remain customer centric – thanks for reading and providing your feedback
Human beings are a strange kind of creatures. We think we make a decision based on logic, and we think we act based on logic. In reality, however, we do not like to change, if it does not feel good, and we are lazy in changing our habits.
Disclaimer: It is a generalization which is valid for 99 % of the population. So if you feel offended by the previous statement, be happy as you are one of the happy few.
Our inability to change can be seen in the economy (only the happy few share). We see it in relation to global climate change. We see it in territorial fights all around the world.
Owning instead of sharing. ?
The cartoon below gives an interesting insight how personal interests are perceived more important than general interest.
It is our brain !
More and more I realize that the success of PLM is also related to his human behavior; we like to own and find it difficult to share. PLM primarily is about sharing data through all stages of the lifecycle. A valid point why sharing is rare , is that current PLM systems and their infrastructures are still too complex to deliver shared information with ease. However, the potential benefits are clear when a company is able to transform its business into a sharing model and therefore react and anticipate much faster on the outside world.
But sharing is not in our genes, as:
- In current business knowledge is power. Companies fight for their IP; individuals fight for their job security by keeping some specific IP to themselves.
- As a biological organism, composed of a collection of cells, we are focused on survival of our genes. Own body/family first is our biological message.
Breaking these habits is difficult, and I will give some examples that I noticed the past few weeks. Of course, it is not completely a surprise for readers of my blog, as a large number of my recent posts are related to the complexity of change. Some are related to human behavior:
Ed Lopategui, an interesting PLM blogger, see http://eng-eng.com, wrote a long comment to my PLM and Blockers post. The (long) quote below is exactly describing what makes PLM difficult to implement within a company full of blockers :
“I also know that I was focused on doing the right thing – even if cost me my position; and there were many blockers who plotted exactly that. I wore that determination as a sort of self-imposed diplomatic immunity and would use it to protect my team and concentrate any wrath on just myself. My partner in that venture, the chief IT architect admitted on several occasions that we wouldn’t have been successful if I had actually cared what happened to my position – since I had to throw myself and the project in front of so many trains. I owe him for believing in me.
But there was a balance. I could not allow myself to reach a point of arrogance; I would reserve enough empathy for the blockers to listen at just the right moments, and win them over. I spent more time in the trenches than most would reasonably allow. It was a ridiculously hard thing and was not without an intellectual and emotional cost.
In that crucible, I realized that finding people with such perspective (putting the ideal above their own position) within each corporation is *exceptionally* rare. People naturally don’t like to jump in front of trains. It can be career-limiting. That’s kind of a problem, don’t you think? It’s a limiting factor without a doubt, and not one that can be fulfilled with consultants alone. You often need someone with internal street cred and long-earned reputation to push through the tough parts”
Ed concludes that it is exceptionally rare to find people putting the ideal above their own position. Again referring to the opening statement that only a (happy) few are advocates for change
Now let´s look at some facts why it is exceptionally rare, so we feel less guilty.
Although it was not the easiest book to read during a holiday, it was well written considering the complexity of the topic discussed. Jeff describes how the information architecture of the brain could work based on the neocortex layering.
In his model, he describes how the brain processes information from our senses, first in a specific manner but then more and more in an invariant approach. You have to read the book to get the full meaning of this model. The eye opener for me was that Jeff described the brain as a prediction engine. All the time the brain anticipates what is going to happen, based on years of learning. That’s why we need to learn and practice building and enrich this information model.
And the more and more specialized you are on a particular topic, it can be knowledge but it can also be motoric skill, the deeper in the neocortex this pattern is anchored. This makes is hard to change (bad) practices.
The book goes much further, and I was reading it more in the context of how artificial intelligence or brain-like intelligence could support the boring PLM activities. I got nice insights from it, However the main side observation was; it is hard to change our patterns. So if you are not aware of it, your subconscious will always find reasons to reject a change. Follow the predictions !
Thinking Fast and Slow
And this is exactly the connection with another book I have read before: Thinking Fast and Slow from Daniel Kahneman. Daniel explains that our brain is running its activities on two systems:
System 1: makes fast and automatic decisions based on stereotypes and emotions. System 1 is what we are using most of the time, running often in subconscious mode. It does not cost us much energy to run in this mode.
System 2: takes more energy and time; therefore, it is slow and pushes us to be conscious and alert. Still system 2 can be influenced by various external, subconscious factors.
Thinking Fast and Slow nicely complements On Intelligence, where system 1 described by Daniel Kahneman is similar to the system Jeff Hawkins describes as the prediction engine. It runs in an subconscious mode, with optimal energy consumption allowing us to survive most of the time.
Fast thinking leads to boiling frogs
And this links again to the boiling frog syndrome. If you are not familiar with the term follow the link. In general it means that people (and businesses) are not reacting on (life threating) outside change when it goes slowly, but would react immediately if they are confronted with the end result. (no more business / no more competitive situation)
Conclusion: our brain by default wants to keep business in predictive mode, so implementing a business change is challenging, as all changes are painful and against our subconscious system.
So PLM is doomed, unless we change our brain behavior ?
The fact that we are not living in caves anymore illustrates that there have been always those happy few that took a risk and a next step into the future by questioning and changing comfortable habits. Daniel Kahneman´s system 2 and also Jeff Hawkins talk about the energy it takes to change habits, to learn new predictive mechanisms. But it can be done.
I see two major trends that will force the classical PLM to change:
- The amount of connected data becomes so huge, it does not make sense anymore to store it and structure the information in a single system. The time required to structure data does not deliver enough ROI in a fast moving society. The old “single system that stores all”-concept is dying.
- The newer generations (generation Y and beyond) grew up with the notion that it is impossible to learn, capture and own specific information. They developed different skills to interpret data available from various sources, not necessary own and manage it all.
These two trends lead to the point where it becomes clear that the future in system thinking becomes obsolete. It will be about connectivity and interpretation of connected data, used by apps, running on a platform. The openness of the platform towards other platform is crucial and will be the weakest link.
The PLM vision is not doomed and with a new generations of knowledge workers the “brain change” has started. The challenge is to implement the vision across systems and silos in an organization. For that we need to be aware that it can be done and allocate the “happy few” in your company to enable it.
What do you think ???????????????????????????
Everyone wants to be a game changer and in reality almost no one is a game changer. Game changing is a popular term and personally I believe that in old Europe and probably also in the old US, we should have the courage and understanding changing the game in our industries.
Why ? Read the next analogy.
With my Dutch roots and passion for soccer, I saw the first example of game changing happening in 1974 with soccer. The game where 22 players kick a ball from side to side, and the Germans win in the last minute.
My passion and trauma started that year where the Dutch national team changed the soccer game tactics by introducing totaalvoetbal.
Defenders could play as forwards and they other way around. Combined with the offside-trap; the Dutch team reached the finals of the world championship soccer both in 1974 and 1978. Of course losing the final in both situations to the home playing teams (Germany in 74 – Argentina in 78 with some help of the referee we believe)
This concept brought the Dutch team for several years at the top, as the changed tactics brought a competitive advantage. Other teams and players, not educated in the Dutch soccer school could not copy that concept so fast
At the same time, there was a game changer for business upcoming in 1974, the PC.
On the picture, you see Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak testing their Apple 1 design. The abbreviation IT was not common yet and the first mouse device and Intel 8008 processor were coming to the market.
This was disruptive innovation at that time, as we would realize 20 years later. The PC was a game changer for business.
Johan Cruyff remained a game changer and when starting to coach and influence the Barcelona team, it was his playing concept tika-taka that brought the Spanish soccer team and the Barcelona team to the highest, unbeatable level in the world for the past 8 years
Instead of having strong and tall players to force yourself to the goal, it was all about possession and control of the ball. As long as you have the ball the opponent cannot score. And if you all play very close together around the ball, there is never a big distance to pass when trying to recapture the ball.
This was a game changer, hard to copy overnight, till the past two years. Now other national teams and club teams have learned to use these tactics too, and the Spanish team and Barcelona are no longer lonely at the top.
Game changers have a competitive advantage as it takes time for the competition to master the new concept. And the larger the change, the bigger the impact on business.
Also, PLM was supposed to be a game changer in 2006. The term PLM became more and more accepted in business, but was PLM really changing the game ?
PLM at that time was connecting departments and disciplines in a digital manner with each other, no matter where they were around the globe. And since the information was stored in centralized places, databases and file sharing vaults, it created the illusion that everyone was working along the same sets of data.
The major successes of PLM in this approach are coming from efficiency through digitization of data exchange between departments and the digitization of processes. Already a significant step forward and bringing enough benefits to justify a PLM implementation.
Still I do not consider PLM in 2006 a real game changer. There was often no departmental or business change combined with it. If you look at the soccer analogy, the game change is all about a different behavior to reach the goal, it is not about better tools (or shoes).
The PLM picture shows the ideal 2006 picture, how each department forwards information to the next department. But where is PLM supporting after sales/services in 2006 ? And the connection between After Sales/Services and Concept is in most of the companies not formalized or existing. And exactly that connection should give the feedback from the market, from the field to deliver better products.
The real game changer starts when people learn and understand sharing data across the whole product or project lifecycle. The complexity is in the word sharing. There is a big difference between storing everything in a central place and sharing data so other people can find it and use it.
People are not used to share data. We like to own data, and when we create or store data, we hate the overhead of making data sharable (understandable) or useful for others. As long as we know where it is, we believe our job is safe.
But our job is no longer safe as we see in the declining economies in Europe and the US. And the reason for that:
Data is changing the game
In the recent years the discussion about BI (Business Intelligence) and Big Data emerged. There is more and more digital information available. And it became impossible for companies to own all the data or even think about storing the data themselves and share it among their dispersed enterprises. Combined with the rise of cloud-based platforms, where data can be shared (theoretically) no matter where you are, no matter which device you are using, there is a huge potential to change the game.
It is a game changer as it is not about just installing the new tools and new software. There are two major mind shifts to make.
- It is about moving from documents towards data. This is an extreme slow process. Even if your company is 100 % digital, it might be that your customer, supplier still requires a printed and wet-signed document or drawing, as a legal confirmation for the transaction. Documents are comfortable containers to share, but they are killing for fast and accurate processing of the data that is inside them.
- It is about sharing and combining data. It does not make sense to dump data again in huge databases. The value only comes when the data is shared between disciplines and partners. For example, a part definition can have hundreds of attributes, where some are created by engineering, other attributes created by purchasing and some other attributes directly come from the supplier. Do not fall in the ERP-trap that everything needs to be in one system and controlled by one organization.
Because of the availability of data, the world has become global and more transparent for companies. And what you see here is that the traditional companies in Europe and the US struggle with that. Their current practices are not tuned towards a digital world, more towards the classical, departmental approach. To change this, you need to be a game changer, and I believe many CEOs know that they need to change the game.
The upcoming economies have two major benefits:
- Not so much legacy, therefore, building a digital enterprise for them is easier. They do not have to break down ivory towers and 150 years of proud ownership.
- The average cost of labor is lower than the costs in Europe and the US, therefore, even if they do not do it right at the first time; there is enough margin to spend more resources to meet the objectives.
The diagram I showed in July during the PI Apparel conference was my interpretation of the future of PLM. However, if you analyze the diagram, you see that it is not a 100 % classical PLM scope anymore. It is also about social interaction, supplier execution and logistics. These areas are not classical PLM domains and therefore I mentioned in the past, the typical PLM system might dissolve in something bigger. It will be all about digital processes based on data coming for various sources, structured and unstructured. Will it still be PLM or will we call it different ?
The big consultancy firms are all addressing this topic – not necessary on the PLM level:
2012 Cap Gemini – The Digital advantage: …..
2013 Accenture – Dealing with digital technology’s disruptive impact on the workforce
For CEOs it is important to understand that the new, upcoming generations are already thinking in data (generation Y and beyond). By nature, they are used to share data instead of owning data in many aspects. Making the transition to the future is, therefore, also a process of connecting and understanding the future generations. I wrote about it last year: Mixing past and future generations with a PLM sauce
This cannot be learned from an ivory tower. The easiest way is not to be worried by this trend and continue working as before, losing business and margin slowly year by year.
As in many businesses people are fired for making big mistakes, doing nothing unfortunate is most of the time not considered as a big mistake, although it is the biggest mistake.
During the upcoming PI Conference in Berlin I will talk about this topic in more detail and look forward to meet and discuss this trend with those of you who can participate.
The soccer analogy stops here, as the data approach kills the the old game.
In soccer, the maximum remains 11 players on each side and one ball. In business, thanks to global connectivity, the amount of players and balls involved can be unlimited.
Because the leagues I was playing in, were always limited in scope: by age, local,regional, etc. Therefore it was easy to win in a certain scope and there are millions of soccer champions beside me. For business, however, there are almost no borders.
Global competition will require real champions to make it work !!!