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coopIn the past two years, I have been heavily involved in PLM Proof of Concepts sitting at both sides of the table. Supporting companies in their PLM selection, supporting a vendor explaining their value to the customer and supporting implementers assisting them with industry knowledge, all in the context of a PLM selection process.

The Proof of Concept is crucial in a PLM selection process as it is the moment where the first glimpse of reality comes to the table.

Different size of companies, different consultants all have a different view on the importance of the Proof of Concept. Let me share you my thoughts after a quick recap on the PLM selection process.

The PLM selection process

1. Build a vision

visionIt is important that a company understands what they want to achieve in the next five to ten years, before starting a PLM selection process. Implementing PLM means a business transformation, even if you are a small company. If the management does not understand a vision is required, there is a potential risk upcoming, as PLM without a change in the way people work, will not deliver the expected results.

2. Issue an RFI to potential candidates

rfi-plmOnce you have a PLM vision, it is time to get in touch with potential suppliers. The RFI (Request for Information) phase is the phase where you can educate yourself better by challenging the suppliers to work with you on the future solutions.

3. Discuss with selected candidates

discussFrom the RFI responses you understand which companies are attractive because they match your vision, your budget or industry. Have a first interaction with the selected companies and let them demo their standard environment targeted to your vision.

4. POC

test conceptIn this stage, you check with the preferred companies their ability to deliver and your ability to work together. The POC phase should give you the understanding of the scope for the upcoming PLM project and help you to understand who and how the project can be executed. More details about this step below.

5. RFP

No_roiAlthough some companies start with an RFP before the POC, for me it makes most sense to verify the details after you have a proper understanding of the To-Be solution. The RFP is often the base for the contractual scope and therefore should be as accurate as possible

In the past, I wrote in more detail about the PLM selection process. Two posts:  PLM selection: Don’t do this and PLM selection: Do this. Have a read if you want to understand this part in more depth. Now let´s focus on the POC .

POC targets

  • As described before, the target of the Proof of Concept should be to get a better understanding of the potential To-Be processes and obtain an impression of the capabilities of the implementer and the preferred PLM software.

The result should be that you have more realistic expectations of what can be achieved and the challenges your company will face.

  • From there, you can evaluate the risks, address them and build an achievable roadmap to implement. It is important that the focus is not just on the cost of the implementation.
  • To sell PLM inside your company, you need to realign with the vision and explain, to all people involved,the value of “Why PLM”.

Explaining the value is complex, as not everyone needs the same message. The management will focus on business benefits where users will focus how it impacts their daily life.  If you forget to explain the value, the PLM projects, it is considered again as just another software purchase.

POC DO’s

businessMake sure the Proof of Concept is driven by validating future business scenarios, focusing on the To-Be solution. The high-level scenarios should be demonstrated and explained to the business people. In this stage, it is important people realize the benefits and the value of the new processes.

sales eventThe POC is also an internal sales event. The goal should be to get more enthusiastic and supportive business people in your company for the upcoming PLM project. Identify the champions you will need to lean on during the implementation.

balanceTest the implementer. To my opinion the critical success of a PLM implementation depends on the implementation team, not on the software. Therefore, the POC phase is the best moment to learn if you can work with the implementer. Do they know your business? Do they have experience with your business? The more you are aligned, the higher the chance you will be successful as a team

commitShow commitment to engage. Often I have seen POC engagements where the company demanded the implementer or vendor a Proof of Concept for free. This creates an unbalanced situation during the Proof of Concept as the vendor or implementer can not invest time and resources in the process as expected without any commitment from the company. By paying a certain fee for the POC, a company can demonstrate to the implementer /vendor that this POC is valuable for you and you can request the same response from them.

POC DON’Ts

no detailsThe Proof of Concept is not a detailed function/feature check to identify each mouse-click or option in the system. During the implementation, these details might come up. It is important in a Proof of Concept to understand the big picture and not to get lost in the details. As human beings we tend to focus on what does not work, not realizing that probably over eighty-ninety percent works according the needs

ultimateDo not expect the ultimate To-Be scenario demonstrated during the Proof of Concept. The Proof of Concept is a learning stage for both the company and the implementer to imagine the best possible scenario. PLM systems are generic and likely they will not provide a similar configuration and functionality matching your environment. At this stage validate if the primary capabilities are there and if there are gaps.

plm vendorDo not run a POC with a vendor (only). This might be one of the most critical points for a POC. A PLM software vendor’s target is to sell their software and for that reason they often have dedicated presales teams that will show you everything in a smooth manner, overwhelming you with all the beauty of the software. However after the POC this team is gone and you will have to align yourself again with the implementation partner, trying to match again your business needs and their understanding.

imageRealize – you get what you are asking for. This is more a Do-and-Don’t message packed together. A Proof of Concept phase is a point where companies get to know each other. If you are not focused, do not expect the implementer / vendor to be committed. A PLM implementation is not product. It is a business transformation supported by products and services. Do not treat PLM implementers and vendors in the same way, as your customers treat you (in case you deliver products).

Conclusion

There are still many more thoughts about the Proof of Concept . Ideally you run two POCs in parallel, either with two implementers of the preferred software (if possible) or with two different implementers representing different software.

Ideally, as I know it is a challenge, especially for small and medium-sized businesses, where people are running to keep the business on-going.

Still remember, PLM is a business transformation, targeting to improve your business in the upcoming five to ten years, avoiding you are running out of business.

Your thoughts ?

As a bonus a short anecdote that I posted in 2010 still relevant:

plm heaven or hell

Some time ago a Christian PLM Sales professional died (let’s call him Jack) and according to his believe he faced Saint Peter at the gates of Heaven and Hell.
Saint Peter greeted Jack and said: “Jack, with the PLM Sales you have done good and bad things to the world. For that reason, I cannot decide if you should go to Heaven or to Hell. Therefore, I allow you to make the choice yourself”.

Jack replied: “But Saint Peter, how can I make such an important decision for the rest of my eternal life. It is too difficult!”

Saint Peter replied: “No problem Jack, take a look at Heaven and Hell, take your time and then tell me your decision.”

Jack entered Heaven and he was surprised about the quietness and green atmosphere there. Angels were singing, people were eating from golden plates with the best food ever, people were reading poetry and everything was as peaceful as you could imagine. In the distance, he could see God surrounded by some prophets talking about the long-term future. After some time, Jack had seen it and went to Hell to have a view there.

And when he opened the gates of Hell, he was astonished. Everywhere he looked there were people partying, having fun. It reminded him off these sales kick-offs, he had in the past, exotic places with lots of fun. In the distance, he could see the Devil as DJ playing the latest dance music – or was it DJ Tiësto?

Jack did not hesitate and ran back to Saint Peter, no time to lose. “Saint Peter,” he said “I want to go to Hell, no doubt. And pity I did not know it before”

“So be it, ” said Saint Peter “go for it.”

And then once Jack entered Hell, it was suddenly all fire around him, people were screaming of pain and suffering and also Jack felt the first flames.

“Devil!!”  He screamed “what happened to what I have seen before?”

With a sarcastic voice, the devil replied: “That? That was a proof of concept.”

In my previous post (PLM Selection – Don’t do this) – I wrote about what not to do, if you want to make a PLM selection and many thanks for the responses and feedback I got on this post. It is obvious that a PLM selection is not as simple as purchasing a new car, but for the sake of the simplification, I will use it as a comparison once and a while in this post.

 Understanding the need

All around you, people are driving cars and there are objectives you can only achieve in an efficient matter if you have the flexibility of car. In some countries, the governments are pushing people to public means of transport for obvious reasons. However this reduces the flexibility, and in general it fails due to our individual (read customer centric) needs.

imageFor PLM this is somehow the same. Many companies require an implementation of the PLM vision to achieve their goals and being more customer-centric. Of course there are lots of standard tools available which bring you from A to B, but then you have to walk from B to C in order to get connected again for the next part. Not efficient and not connected. The challenges of public transport as an analogy for connectivity in a tool based environment.

So let’s assume which PLM to look for is similar to which car to select. From your needs and budget you will narrow down the search.

Do you need a bus, a jeep, a van, a sports car, an SUV, etc, etc?

 You can write down all the features and functions that you can imagine to do with your new car on a checklist and send this list out to somebody (a car consultant?) to do the verification with all the known car manufacturers. (You use a car consultant as it is too time consuming and you are not the expert in this area)

From the previous post we learned this is waste of time and budget, except for the consultant. I am pretty sure that most of the companies are aware of their pains and if they would invest in understanding the PLM vision, without jumping immediately into products, they would be able to create a shortlist of needs based on their main characteristics:

  • What is my main businesses process (ETOBTOCTOMTS – etc) and where do I want to be in the long term?
  • Am I using a single CAD platform or do I require a multi-CAD strategy?
  • Do I go with the flow (low risk/lower costs/less different) or do I want to be outside the flow (develop new practices / new technology / differentiate)
  • Is my company really independent in its processes and data or are we depending on specific collaboration. For example in a supply chain or conglomerate of companies?

 

For those questions, to formalize the company’s strategy and dependencies between business goals and organization, it is not as easy as buying a car. Often external help is needed, as inside your company it is very rare that you will find someone, who can spend the time to collect this knowledge (or has this broad knowledge) and to bring it back to the company in an ‘objective’ manner.

That’s the role of an independent PLM consultant. I underlined the word independent as you can read some remarks in the footnote of this post on what independent means in this context.

There must be hundreds of independent PLM consultants, who can assist a company formalizing their PLM needs, without jumping and starting to talk immediately from the point of view of a specific product. Complementary you have the dependent PLM consultants and also there you will find good expertise. Their knowledge and focus however is more to fit you in their product range – good once you have made your choice.

 Or you might say: “I do not need this consultant. Let’s spent some money on reports from known independent PLM consultancy firms”. They have general reports about PLM and for each of the major PLM vendors, they will have a specific, sponsored reports explaining the PLM capabilities of these platforms. Again look at the footnote of what it means independent.

Narrowing down the choice

Finish the first phase would mean in car selection terminology, you understood now where to look – it will be:

  • An electrical car (new technology, sustainable, short distances required so far)
    going for the future – knowing the future is open
  • A high-end tuned CAR (a big investment, but now you can enjoy)
    as long as you do not get in or out a personal crisis
  • the mid-range CAR (everyone uses this car, it is price effective)
    but you do not want to be like everyone
  • the nano (it is cheap – it is a car)
    understanding this car does not fit expansion of the family
  • the MPV – (it can do everything – even consume fuel)
    never comfortable but it serves all
  • leasing /renting CAR capacity (drive immediately – the on-line CAR)
    you have to get rid of the idea that you need to own it
  • a free CAR (drive now – pay later – the Open Source car)
    freedom comes with other obligations in the long term

 

 

Evaluating the need

questionaire Now that you have narrowed down the selection, you are able to go into the details. And then the second most important option of the selection process comes: how does this PLM product/partner fit to my company.

In car terminology, you would do a test drive. You step into the car and you drive and experience. In PLM this is impossible, it is software applied to your company, it is business and people change. So your choice will be more based on feeling comfortable with the future

You might want to start with some basic PLM functionality, which suits best at your current situation, and gradually you extend the PLM coverage (as you own and should have the vision) inside the company.

So what I have seen companies are doing? They invite 3 to 5 suppliers of a PLM system to come and do a benchmark. Sometime they have a predefined scenario which everyone should follow; sometimes they allow the vendor to suggest best practices. I do not believe in this approach as I wrote in one of my older posts – I called it the academic approach.

I believe a PLM implementation requires a partner who understands your business, has experience in your business and is available and affordable to consult and work with.

Here there is not the unique need any more for independent consultants, as most of the PLM vendors have their consultants with product specific experience in your market. Only be aware of the following:

  • In this stage you are in a sales process – so each vendor will explain how easy and fast to implement, how easy to understand and how unique they are. Check here with customers.
  • They will use FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) and it is very difficult to understand the reality here. Here an independent consultant or customer reference can help to understand the reality
  • If the PLM supplier is selling hammers, for sure everywhere in your organizations there nails will pop up

image The main goal is to find a partner for the future, which you trust, from whom you feel they understand your business without immediately selling product features or customizations.

In my analogy with the car selection process, I live in a small village where we have one real car dealer for the mid-market from a certain French brand. The car dealer claims 60 % of the people in our village drive a car from this brand, due to the local support (I am sure it is less but it is visible)

Part of their sales process is to explain that if you consider another brand you might get stuck in the village on a snowy morning without support when you urgently need it (horror stories and all the other FUD). And if you want an electrical car, they will explain you that you do not want an electrical car as from insiders (unknown to us), they learned that they are not reliable, not cost-effective, where their brand is in the top of most of the lists.

 

So what replaces the test drive?

I assume if you have gone through the selection of a partner, who speaks the same language, has a clear vision and has shown the capability to deliver (through references and the interaction you had so far), you have only a short-list of one or maybe two candidates.

 So what is usual the case – the purchasing department starts to negotiate with both candidates (and sometimes invite a third supplier as this is company policy) and they try to squeeze out each of the PLM suppliers to the maximum for the full project scope till both sides have the feeling there is a base for a partnership .

How did you engage with your partner 😉 ?

My recommendation is to discuss with both candidates your possible roadmap. Let them explain in detail what should be done as the first small step and have them propose from there the next following steps. The first step should be with a clear budget, time (max 2 – 3 month) and effort specification – internal and external; the other steps roughly budgeted for costs and efforts

Then you have to make your choice, you do this first step, making sure it is reversible or it can be a single step. It is a verification of your first step (call it engagement / a test drive for a month) and from there you evaluate if you continue for the big step or rethink your first choice.

As choosing a PLM platform is a long term relation – at least 5 – 10 years – you need to use the engagement phase to meet the family and learn and understand the future.

Again the independent consultant?

Yes, when writing down the above paragraphs, I realized again that it is easier said than done. If you are not experienced with the PLM market guiding this process will be difficult and time consuming if you do it once in your life. So also in the selection phase an independent consultant can assist you with the selection process, the most logical roadmap for your company and interface with the PLM suppliers, knowing their strengths & weaknesses

Conclusion

PLM selection is not such a complex process where you need to understand all the details upfront. It is based on common sense, not equal to buying a car but also not rocket science. The independent consultant fits well in this approach, in cases where you did not have the time or people to build the expertise internally to define a PLM vision, justification and selection

Looking forward to your feedback

Independent

  • not influenced or controlled in any way by other people, events or things
  • free; autonomous, self-governing, sovereign; self-reliant, self-sufficient

The above definition says it all – not influenced or controlled. However being independent does not mean you have the knowledge of all products and technologies that exist. So an independent consultant should assist with the common best practices of PLM, independent of the software.

The same for the comments on PLM Research – see the LinkedIn post in case you are group member – The Trouble with PLM Research .

An interesting discussion as also these PLM research organizations work with a certain state of mind – there is no single PLM definition according to the PLM suppliers – and each of the PLM research companies have to deal with their understanding of what these supplier can do, meanwhile keeping their business also alive.

Which means in order to have good relationships with the PLM supplier, they need to be in a good relation and due that relation they sometimes write some biased reports about a single PLM supplier who sponsored the white paper. Nothing wrong with this approach as long as you understand the context of this information.

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