How NOT to Proceed with PLM

March 19, 2007

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While some organizations think Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) isn't worth the time to spell it, others live and succeed by it. Looking at someone else's mistakes provides us with knowledge of the traps to avoid and thus helps us shorten our own time and costs to achieve success.

Demand for new products drives some industries faster than others. Companies that want to think about Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) likely have time to think about long-term challenges as opposed to short-term needs. Some industries have to think about the long term.

It may seem strange to focus on how not to do something, yet if you look at it as learning from someone else's mistakes, then learning the traps to avoid can help shorten your own time and cost to achieve success.

The first problem to avoid is failing to ensure top management, especially, the CEO, isn't fully aware of need for PLM, but does support it with enough people hours, including his or her own, funds and technology. Linking PLM with production speeds and quality in the mind of top managers is crucial. Also, a connection between production speed and quality with fewer recalls, customer support and cost, and, in turn, with revenue and profitability help top managers own and promote integrating PLM into a corporate or company "culture."

In "Top 10 PLM Pitfalls," independent management and technology consultant John Stark discusses the importance of a two-step warning: 1) define the critical factors, and 2) communicate them. For identifying these, the test for entry has to be naming the factors in which "things must go right for the business to flourish."

Some examples of factors to consider:

• Consistent engineering change processes globally and among suppliers; • Smooth release to manufacturing through effective design and manufacturing collaboration; • Well-coordinated business and supply chain; and • Reduced product costs through increased component, part and assembly reuse in new designs.

Other cautionary steps to avoid:

• Not measuring PLM successes; • Not promoting PLM successes; • Proceeding before everyone is educated and agrees; and • Thinking PLM is only an engineering enterprise.

In Stark's view, PLM involves controlling and optimizing corporate assets so it's much more than managing engineering data.

To succeed with PLM, Stark notes you have to expect rejection but to plan to overcome resistance. This involves scheming how to make PLM work despite the opponents' efforts.

It's a mistake to fail to create a detailed plan and ROI analysis for executives. Put in other words, if you're going to promote PLM, you need to know what's really happening in the company and how much, if any, new technology will be forthcoming.

According to Stark not considering risk avoidance as a key factor for PLM should be avoided. PLM is all about risk management. It's about have a plan to follow when any of eight different difficulties arise and challenge the product's life cycle.

Finally, procrastinating on starting PLM can put a company at a competitive disadvantage, reports Stark. There are several reasons a person could present to delay beginning to use PLM but using them may lead to reactive strategies rather than well-thought-out strategies. Think of PLM as a set of contingency plans ready to put into place when you play chess and compare how you would do if you didn't think ahead a few plays.

If all this too theoretical, the results of one company's effort to use data more intelligently and use PLM may help clarify. Consider UGS, whose results are recounted at the company's Web site by Steve McClure, vice president, UGS Velocity Series. McClure refers to a company that makes machines for beverage manufacturers. His conclusion:

By establishing a basic platform built on existing parts, the company shortened design time and increased quality, freeing up precious resources for more research and development. Since adopting the new product data management standard, the company has achieved a 50 percent reduction in engineering change orders and productivity is 20 to 50 percent higher in many cases.

By basic platform, he's referring to assembling data in an organized way, permitting streamlining and better decision making.

Without doubt, deploying PLM software alone will not guarantee breakthrough product innovation any more than simply rolling out an ERP suite will guarantee smooth-flowing, end-to-end back office business processes. Both require process change, which is hard, especially in the PLM space where engineering and other organizations responsible for creating new products have gotten used to operating largely independently from other functions such as manufacturing or marketing.

And of course, while some manufacturers live and succeed by PLM, others think it isn't worth the time to spell it.

For example, Carl Bass, CEO of CAD software powerhouse Autodesk Inc., recently told Managing Automation's Jeff Moad that manufacturers simply don't have a problem for which PLM would be a solution. According to Bass, there are only three organizations with a PLM problem: PTC, Dassault and UGS. "PLM is a marketing slogan to satisfy the financial community … PLM, he said, is a bizarre creation that won't stand the test of time."

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