Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)

Ten Tips for PLM Success

22 May, 2012 By: Michael Lieberman

If fear of failure is delaying your adoption of product lifecycle management, take heart; this fundamental advice might be just what you need to get off the fence.

Despite its potential to streamline the manufacturing process, product lifecycle management (PLM) is a term that can make many business managers shudder. And for good reason: Historically speaking, many traditional PLM solutions have gained a reputation for being costly, complex, and difficult to integrate with existing processes.

Why do these solutions, which should be making things easier, often do just the opposite? The reasons are many — but they can be overcome. Following are 10 tips to help you avoid some common pitfalls and increase your chances of PLM success.

Tip #1: Invest adequate time, infrastructure, and funds. Any successful technology implementation requires an investment in three equally important areas: people, process, and technology.

Companies that want to ensure PLM success must pay attention to the people involved, as well as analyze and update processes, so that both the people and the processes can collectively take full advantage of the new technology. If you don’t properly address all three factors, the implementation will have a lesser chance of success.

Tip #2: Devote executive support to on-going management. A multimillion-dollar PLM solution is typically sold from the top down; it is up to C-level executives to sell their vision to the rest of the organization. Often, however, PLM implementations encounter resistance from various levels of the organization, particularly from users who interact with the solution daily. Without a continual drumbeat of executive support, user adoption can lag, raising the likelihood of failure.

Tip #3: Invest in the expertise of service providers or software vendors to assist with implementation. Ever try to tackle a home-improvement project on your own because you thought you could save a few dollars? At a certain point, you concede defeat and bring in a professional — who has to redo everything. The project winds up taking twice as long and costing twice as much, and you realize that you should have called an expert in the first place.

PLM is no different. You need very specific expertise for these types of deployments, and many companies — out of a desire to save money and reduce the initial investment — think they can manage it internally with their IT team. Without the right level of knowledge on hand, however, deployments can take a lot longer and have a lower chance of success.

Tip #4: Plan for the long term. For all of the effort and planning that go into implementing a PLM solution, surprisingly few companies put any thought into long-term use. The “Now what?” question hangs in the air once the technology has been implemented. As a result, the PLM deployment is like a bright, shiny new car that nobody drives: You spent a lot of money on it, but now it's just gathering dust in the garage.

Tip #5: Give all necessary departments access to the PLM solution. Some believe that product data management (PDM) and PLM are essentially the same thing and, therefore, the engineering department should be owner and guardian of the PLM system. That is a mistaken approach. If you’ve spent an enterprise-sized amount of money on a PLM solution but aren’t using it enterprisewide, then you’re not tapping its full potential — and it becomes difficult to justify the investment.

Tip #6: Adapt the PLM solution to your existing manufacturing structure and processes — not the other way around. Certainly, companies have to be willing to adjust existing processes to best take advantage of available technology. But in some cases, organizations already have processes that are ideal for their needs. If the PLM solution is unable to accommodate these existing processes, it will not be viewed favorably. There’s nothing worse than having to fit a square peg into a round hole!

Tip #7: Budget appropriately. The gap is widening between available budget and the investment required to achieve PLM goals. Like any large enterprise undertaking, a traditional PLM deployment is very difficult to budget. PLM is a “time and materials”–type of engagement where requirements can change, unforeseen circumstances can arise, and total cost can balloon. Although these types of risks aren’t specific to product lifecycle management, they are particularly frequent among PLM deployments, and many implementations are viewed skeptically before they’re even complete.

Tip #8: Don’t allow security concerns to impede proper PLM functionality. Much of the benefit of PLM comes from extending it across the organization to different divisions, and even outside of the organization to partners, suppliers, and contractors. This facilitates collaboration and data repurposing, creating a continuous digital workflow. Unfortunately, securing a traditional PLM environment is easier said than done. Rather than tackle these security complexities, some companies simply deny access to outside parties — thereby breaking the digital chain and defeating much of the purpose of having a PLM system in the first place.

Tip #9: Ensure technology compatibility. With complex enterprise deployments, a company must manage a multitude of components in the technology stack: servers, firewalls, operating systems, databases, middleware, and various PLM software modules. Additionally, your external partners might have technology standards or platform requirements that prevent them from connecting with your PLM system altogether. Technology incompatibilities and complexities among any of these elements can mar a PLM implementation.

Tip #10: Audit existing manufacturing and supply-chain practices to identify opportunities for collaborative software improvement. One key objective of PLM should be “trimming the fat” — that is, taking a close look at your processes and identifying ways to streamline and improve them. If you simply install new technology without looking at the underlying processes and identifying how technology can improve them, then you’re not really solving a problem; you’re just giving people a different way to perform the same inefficient processes.

PLM implementations are often fraught with potential pitfalls — but they don’t have to be. Understand the potential obstacles and how to avoid them, and commit to finding a solution that is affordable, easy to use, and easy to deploy. The benefits of PLM — including more efficient product development, improved profitability, and higher product quality — are simply too important to lose to any uncertainty you might have about risks, costs, and hurdles of traditional PLM deployments.

About the Author: Michael Lieberman

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