by Rob Ferrone, QR_ founding director
If you are reading this, then I'm assuming you are already on board with the concept of PLM. Or at least think there is some value to be had in grasping – and harnessing – product data and lifecycle management. Perhaps you are interested in establishing a digital twin or connecting the digital thread? Maybe you are working on a digital transformation? Or you just want to fix your organisation’s day-to-day information management challenges.
However you refer to it (we call it ‘digital plumbing’), there seems to be unanimous agreement that people play an important role in the success and effectiveness of PLM work. In fact, Joe Brouwer says that you only need people.
"People are part of the system" - Dr. W. E. Deming
So, who are some of the people operating in this space?
There are typically three types of PLM consultants:
1. High-level generalist individuals. While they often bring vast experience, they can be ‘old fashioned’, close to retirement and potentially too distant from the work at hand, often heavily theoretical with no skin in the game.
2. System-specific guns for hire. These consultants bring excellent hands-on experience with the drawback of it being related to a certain system, usually limiting their value to things they have done and achieved previously.
3. Large, established consultancies. Think of businesses like McKinsey and Unity, those that can help with vendor selection and with access to large organisations. The drawback here is that they are heavily theoretical, with limited skin in the game when it comes to actual implementation (aside from hefty fees for their service).
PLM trainers & educators
One important example and thought leader within the field is the ‘Virtual Dutchman’, otherwise known as Jos Voskuil, a PLM coach, consultant and advocate with a large following within the PLM industry. There is also Beyond PLM, a blog and information resource curated by Oleg Shilovitsky, another important thought leader from within the PLM industry.
While, fundamentally, the software is not required to embrace or achieve some level of PLM success, the complexity of modern businesses and the sheer rate of change make it a critical enabler. PLM software packages like those offered by QA Wolf, Oracle Agile, Siemens Teamcenter, Bamboo Rose, Aras PLM and others offer different capabilities and are designed for different businesses and purposes, from engineered products to scaling SaaS businesses.
PLM system integrators are often software developers integrating PLM systems (including PDM, CAD, CAE & CAM) with ERP, office and CRM systems. Often, they are not focused or well informed regarding product lifecycle and may not fully understand ‘on the ground’ requirements or how best to meet them.
In-house process, methods, tools & teams
One of the most important positives of in-house PLM is that there is an intricate knowledge of the organisation and its users. This can be hugely beneficial in developing bespoke solutions to meet exact requirements but often falls down in the long run, usually due to the insular nature of in-house development and the constraints of internal politics.
Very helpful in understanding the IT landscaping and how it integrates and can be utilised within PLM but, ultimately, limited by a sole focus on IT and that perspective.
Some organisations are lucky enough to have a permanent employee that loves data and feels ownership over making the digital plumbing work. They've carved out a niche for themselves by knowing how to get stuff through the systems. If you want your BoM fixed, or some information out of the system, you go to them. While invaluable, dependency can be an issue as they become part of the operational architecture and entirely irreplaceable.
The talented intern
A sharp mind, fresh energy and quite literally next-gen levels of tech literacy that builds an incredibly useful tool, widely appreciated by all. They then leave the business and said useful tool becomes entirely inoperable within a month and nobody knows how to fix it.
There are, of course, other players, like the admin ("computer says no"), the chaser ("have you done it yet?"), project management ("so can I change this cell to green?") and so on… You get the picture.
"But hold on, you've neglected to mention the users” I hear you say!
First, I would argue that PLM is more than a system. We could talk about the recipient of a report used to make a resource decision, for example, or a supplier who is requesting a change quotation. Secondly, this segues nicely to my next point…
They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, I say it takes a whole business to make PLM work. That is not to say everyone will ‘get it’ and love making it work. Even if the systems were as intuitive as an iPhone, not everyone loves using an iPhone. At the same time, helping to make it work doesn’t mean making it their focus – you want your greatest value creators to be deeply focused on their niche value creation. The best answer is to have a few PLM-minded people in all departments to:
• Champion data quality
• Find ways to derive value from the connected enterprise
• Support and coach the local team
• Facilitate communication and alignment between departments
• Enable information flow around the business
• Be thinking about the bigger picture
• Drive continuous improvement
It is important to emphasise that these people are passionate, dedicated professionals. People who will bring your PLM vision to life and unlock the efficiencies. Some companies refer to them as ‘champions’ or ‘coaches’, highlighting their role in educating, encouraging and inspiring. Depending on the size of your business, you might have dedicated individuals or portions of their time. Either way, it’s important for them to not become a new separate team or detached from the department's day job; success comes from the fact that they are a core part of their department and deeply understand the associated work and value of that department. This is key. See them as value farmers or gardeners. Neglect this strategy at your own peril, it is a key component of making your PLM strategy a success. Therefore, don't fail to budget for this as part of your strategic business case and get them involved early.
So, how do you find these PLM ‘value gardeners’ and ‘digital plumbers’? There are, essentially, three routes. You don’t have to pick just one, either, it can be a blend:
You recruit people. The primary advantage is that their interests align with yours and you have oversight and control. They may have seen where others have tried and failed before succeeding and bring that knowledge to your business. The downside is that recruiting a dedicated PLM professional can be expensive, particularly for a smaller firm. They may also lack the internal influence to drive change, particularly as a newcomer.
You create the capability within. Training is used to enhance the capabilities of existing personnel and make PLM part of their role. The advantage of this approach is that they already know the company and any relevant situations or challenges. The issue is that this process could take quite a long time, with the potential for wrong turns that are difficult to unwind, particularly if expensive licenses are involved.
Bring an expert in. The primary benefit here is that they are masters in the field, having seen and worked with a great many businesses and PLM systems. They (should) know best practices and have a good idea of how to implement or improve PLM within your organisation. On the flip side, they may over-promise and under-deliver, trying to apply a generic solution to a specific circumstance.
So, is there an optimal solution? Why not all three!
As you can probably imagine, QR_ work with a diverse array of businesses at varying stages of the PLM journey. In this example, we worked across all three areas to provide the best possible solution for the customer – one that was quick to implement but sustainable long-term, managing the transition completely.
1. Contract in: Initially, we were contracted in to provide some rapid PLM solutions using our extensive experience and expertise.
2. Hire in: We then helped them hire the right people, some dedicated PLM personnel to help manage the systems moving forward and free the majority of the ‘burden’ from existing staff.
3. Develop: In parallel with the above, we helped them develop their team’s understanding and appreciation of PLM and its benefits, enhancing the new hires as well as the wider organisation to truly optimise the long-term solutions.
So, as you can see, all three methods can be effectively blended to suit a particular organisation or situation. PLM is all about having the right people and systems in the right place at the right time. Perhaps more importantly, it depends entirely on the requirements and objectives of the project, programme or organisation. What has worked for one business may not directly transfer to another, and what worked five years ago may now be obsolete or inefficient. At the end of the day, PLM can deliver incredible results for businesses willing to invest the time and resources. It all comes down to implementation and finding those ‘champions’.