How to improve PLM processes before PLM system using BPMN.


How to improve PLM processes before PLM system using BPMN.

In many situations when I talked with customers they raised issue of process improvement. In context of PLM it sounds very reasonable and significant portion of PLM is about how to improve process related to product development in organization. There are several startegies that can be used to do so – use current PLM or PDM software you have in organization, steping into IT project and intoroduce Business Process Management Suite, check available IT assets to see if existing system ERP (in the case of big ERPs) or IT platform can do process job, look after Workflow Management System and finally check some open source or even modern SaaS offerings.

 But looking after many customers and use cases idea I want to discuss is about to introduce BPMN in organization before actually decision to use any of systems I mentioned above. BPMN (Business Process Management Notation) is initiative that emerged as very popular graphical notation to process modeling. Ability of BPMN to express organization aspect is very powerful and not required intoduction of complex IT systems. There are many tools supports BPMN notation – BPMN Stencil for MS Visio (you can download free BPMN stencil from Orbussoftware) or use Altova products that supports BPMN. You can take a look on brief introduction of BPMN usage with Altova. 

Now when you have free tool, create team of people that will analyse most significant and important processes in your organizations. If we talk about PLM related processes it can be custom product order to shipment or engineering change process. You can set organizational priorities and clearly present objective to management with diagrams explaining processes, problems and bottlenecks. 

Bellow you can see sample BPMN based diagram created in Altova –

 Now, after you have successfully intorudced BPMN and have your organizational process mapped and you even discovered some organizational obstacles, you can come with realistic questions to your vedors (PLM, ERP, BPM or any other) with question how their system can support processes in your organization.

 Finally you can check to see what vendors supports BPMN notation today. I see BPMN support trend is growing and you can find multiple vendors supporting BPMN in their product offerings.


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  • Oleg,

    you are absolutely right about working om processes before moving into systems.
    What you suggest though is to take a tool and go and model your processes. I think there is something flawed in that.

    The real problem is that a lot of companies do not know where to start and have problems getting everybody involved on the same level. I mean there are very experienced engineers and people fresh out of college involved. People with vision and people who do not want to change.

    Another problem is that is seams there is no General Accepted Accounting Principles for Product Development as there is for financial accounting. So everybody has to start from scratch to model…

    Is there not a general applicable model?? Well, in my opinion there is. It is called CMII, developed by the Institute of Configuration Management based in Arizona. ( The CMII model is a robust model how to manage Product Change and Product Information. ICM (and partners in Europe) provide extensive training and certification on this model.

    The best approach then becomes to first train the key personell in the CMII model. Then develop a vision for the new situation before moving into process modelling. I’ve used this approach at a number of my clients with great succes.. It really speeds up the process of modelling when everybody has the same vision where to go to..

    I think it also time that vendors (and I think you are with one of them) to start looking at CMII and incorporate it in their products. It would really help your clients to inmplement your systems in a reasonable time and get an ROI.

    Happy to discuss this further with you…

  • DaveMcG

    Hi Oleg-

    I’d like to let your readers know that a free fully-functional trial of Altova UModel, the tool illustrated above, is available at:


  • Hello Dick,

    I see your point and familiar with CMII concepts, but never got their training. You can see that some PLM vendors claimed compatibility with CMII and this is was even published on CMII web site. I think if company feel CMII model fit their needs they can use it as blueprint for their PLM implementation.

    I got impression that not all companies believes in such best practices possible to developed by ISVs as well as even see benefit in unique justification of product development process on their own. You can see my blog comments on


  • Oleg,

    CMII is tool independent so companies can adopt it to their own needs. However there are so much good and sound practices in the CMII model that it is a very good starting point and basis. See my comparison to rules for bookkeeping. No financial system (like ERP systems) can ignore those. And so no PLM system should ignore the CMII rules.
    CMII certification of tools makes sense. Selecting such a tool combined with proper training can speed up implementations a lot, in my opinion.
    But speed of implementation is another topic to discuss.

    Dick Terleth

  • Dick, you just step into field I really wanted to discuss – how possible for ISV to create best practices that all companies can adopt. I discussed it with many people and, so far, there is no consensus. Some people says – I want best practices as is, others saying – business processes is our IP and we better know how to organize our company. What is your view? – Oleg

  • Dick Terleth


    Who is discussing bookkeeping and consider it an IP? Financial systems are based on these general rules. I mean the real IP is not the way we keep track of product information but in how we generate new ideas and innovate products.
    Of course the way of executing these processes is specific for a company but the basis might be the same for many, again just like bookkeeping…This basis (and not more than that) is provided by CMII. Companies need to figure out how they apply it. But do not re-invent the wheel (many people already have done that…)


    Dick Terleth

  • Dick, Good point… I don’t see IP in bookkeeping. But if you run engineering to manufacturing process or ETO all data that you track is actually IP… isn’t it? – Oleg

  • Dick Terleth

    Off course the data is IP…
    The way you structure information, handle information and manage information is not.

    Lots of companies have difficulty distinguishing the process and the data..

    Dick Terleth

  • Dick, I think there is no common accepted way today to handle information in PLM systems. This is one of the biggest problems, since all vendors doing their own way. For examples in BIM (Building Information Model), which I see as sort of similarity to PLM in AEC, there is industry agreed vendor neutral specification called “Industry Foundation Classes” used as common data model. – Oleg

  • Bill

    Why can’t the PLM system incorporate BPMN as there workflow engine?

  • Bill, Thanks for your comment! This is possible option in my view. Regards – Oleg

  • Prashant Dhonde


    Their are 2 parts one is having benefits due to improved processes other is having benefits by implemting PLM at basic level.Process improvement do comes in picture many times from user community when they start getting familiar with PLM.
    However well design the process looks before implementing PLM-many times it doesn’t work after actualy implementing PLM
    Managing processes which are optimised itself is a very big project.

    Their are many PLM benefits which come without going for process optimisation.One of the above discussions it has been pointed that customers do not know where to start? The real problem is the way in which selling is done to customer.Clearly the customer needs to have a road map where initial phase can be just usage of basic PLM functinalities.Over a period core team can interact with users of what improvements they wan’t as they are now aware of PLM tool capabilities.Asking what improvement you wan’t before implementing PLM is like asking customer to imagine the process without even knowing the PLM tool properly.

    Do we really need to improve all the processes through BPEM before we go for PLM? Considering the duration and cost of BPM projects – is it really feasible?

  • Hello Prashant, You are raising interesting point. BPM is complex and long project. Actually PLM is also not simple on average. So, these two normally have very competitive way to organization. This is why, I think, we can rarely see them in the organization. Exceptions are very big organizations or organizations where BPM and PLM have separate ownership, budgets, but… , in this case, also, objectives… At the same time, I think BPMN is something that clearly consolidating BPM industry. In my view, BPMN can also influence PLM process-related implementations. Thanks for your contribution to discussion on plmtwine!… Regards, Oleg