PLM: How to Fix Technologies and Stop Fixing People?

PLM: How to Fix Technologies and Stop Fixing People?

During the last week at COFES, I had a chance to listen to John Gage keynote – But Can It Slice a Pineapple? Gage talked about innovation, computers, changes, language and culture. One of his phrases resonated – “Technology is easy. People are hard“. It made me think about PLM concepts, technologies and implementations.

PLM and Product Development Process

In my view, product lifecycle management is about products development processes first. It originally started as PDM, it was very focused on data management. CAD models, Drawings, Revisions, Parts, Bill of Materials. It took almost 15 years to produce a reliable data management system that can handle all these things. However, the problem happened in between. Organizations became very complex. Many additional systems grew up to solve other business and development problems. Significant presence of ECAD and later software development introduce a new set of problems. So, product development process becomes more and more complicated. PLM companies eventually reflected the complexity in the taxonomies of their data and processes.

PLM Methodology

The question people often ask me – “what is the right PLM methodology?” It isn’t a new one. Since the complexity introduced in product developmnet continues to grow, PDM and PLM companies are trying to solve it by using various methods. One of them is to come with a clear methodology of work and system implementations. It started as “best practices” and then moved to the different colors and flavors of “how to” be related to PLM implementations. The biggest problem I have with this approach is that it actually requires a significant non-software influence in an organization. Which goes back to “people”.

PLM Technology

I think the question what is PLM technology is actually very confusing one. Nevertheless, I clarify it as a technology to manage data, processes and collaborate in a scope of product data development. So, what happens on this side? I don’t see any revolutionary changes since early 2000s. The massive amount acquisitions put vendors on a pathway of integrating acquisitions and converging technologies. The latest spark of PDM/PLM technologies happened in the last 1990s and early 2000s. Back that time, the concept of a flexible data model was invented. Finally, companies could create configurable applications. However, the outcome was an increased amount of service implementations and lots of methodology developments.

What is my conclusion? People are hard. I agree completely. To change them is near to impossible. By creating products that dependent on change of how people work, we are exposed to very long adoption cycle, expensive marketing and complicated implementations. Is it PLM fault? Yes, partially. People were exposed to a complicated stuff. However, fixing some technological issues can be a good idea to make products more friendly to people. I see a problem when PLM implementations are focused on how to change people’s work habits. The challenge is how to bring intelligent products that can handle the change for people. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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  • Steve Ammann

    Hi Oleg – excellent topic here- thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think the services methodology coupled with a PLM technology that is easily configurable so that everything does not have to be done upfront, leads to a digestable system for people. For example, putting all the requirements for a release process in place for the most complicated product line seems admirable, how about starting with a simpler product line thus a simpler release process, so that people can adopt to the system, build trust and get efficiencies on a smaller scale, and then add complexity. It seems to me that unfortunately, the services providers of the large PLM tools want to engage in one big implementation to get all the consulting dollars they can, and deploy the bodies required all at once, so they can finish the whole job sooner and go on to another opportunity. Customers will get the ultimate PLM solution, but no one will be able to use it. A phased implementation approach with a series of services engagements over time, goes a long way to real value for the users and the organization. Of course it has to be profitable for the service companies and it can be, if managed well in partnership with the organization buying the PLM vision. – Thanks again for your informative and insightful postings.-

  • Francois Guillaumin

    I fully agree with Steve. His comment apply to PLM apps vendors, but sometimes as well to IT organisations at their customers. And it is not limited to PLM, it is the same thing for CAD, ERP or any IT system applied to business domains.
    My view is that the people maturity as to match the application complexity. If people are mature on managing data, then you can implement a system that manage the revisions of the data. If people are mature to manage revisions of data, you can implement a system that manage the change process of the data. And so on.

    The system the company implements should have 5 minutes of advanced maturity compared to people maturity. Not 5 years.

    The right question now is: how to assess the people maturity? And how to deal with mergers of companies having different level of maturity? Old questions, the old answers may not be valid for the present times.

  • Mike Barber

    Hi Oleg, this is definitely a complex issue with people. As they say software is dumb as it is only as good as the program. People are the deciding factor. I agree with Steve on his comment about PLM companies trying to maximize their profit but we lose sight of what PLM is supposed to do – maximize the profit of the client. In order to do that the people and the organization need to grow in their maturity of best practices to use their new PLM system to maximize their ROI. Whenever there is a new implementation, there is usually a training period that tells people how to push the buttons to do their job but most companies don’t want to spend the money to manage the real change to the organization and take advantage of the soft skills within a PLM system, i.e. collaboration, effectively capturing IP, reuse of parts, recipes, formulas, and all the other competencies that PLM offers. The premise is that people shouldn’t have to change with software that the software only needs to comply with their business processes. I submit there needs to be a meld of change to increase maturity of use and maximize profits.

  • Jim Cooke

    Hi Oleg, personally I believe that by and large it is much easier for technology to change people behaviors than it would be without adding technology. Take for example, from hand writing to the typewriter and computer, from drafting to CAD, from paper to online, from written to video & visually annotated, from phone to smart phone, from mail to social media and so on. Some technology adoptions have many fringe benefits, beneficial to you and/or others, like tracking change history, call history, GPS history, dissemination, keyword correlations, memory and much more. Much of this is transparent to the user. For instance what cell phone companies know about you, how your contributions aid advertising. But all that backend complexity is hidden and downplayed to get the adoption, yet still have very high value to “some”. I think there is an analogy with PDM/PLM and some lessons yet to be learned.

  • Jack Napoli

    I see a simple theme here:

    Simple Steps lead to Complex Behaviors.

    Most IT related implementations are are over Budget and off schedule.

    As Steve points out the projects are way to Complex.

    People & Change are the Two biggest issues.

    It comes down to this:

    Who likes Change?

    In my experience – no one ever likes change.

    Robert Kriegal said it best:

    The only person who likes Change is a Baby with a Wet Diaper.
    Once Humans get that POrocess down they avoid change like the plague.

    Think Big, Start Small and Scale later.

    Jack Napoli

  • Vimal Mohindra

    Hi Oleg,
    I always enjoy reading your insightful and thought provoking posts. I am interested in your remark that from the late 1990s and early 2000s ‘flexible data models’ were invented. What technologies are you specifically referring to? If all vendors adopt a flexible (and visible) data model, then maybe we have a pathway to universal cross platform sharing of information and ultimately cheaper and simpler solutions to people’s needs? As Jim rightly says, technology adoption is much easier when the data and processes are transparent to the user. I also entirely agree with Steve that vendors’ trying to maximise their profits through large mega-dollar implementations is both inefficient and counter productive for the customer’s interests because (for one thing) it also induces huge reactive forces within the organisation. Phased, gradual change using flexible data models and visible data, processes and project goals is the better way to go. I doubt that it’ll happen soon, though!

  • beyondplm

    Steve, thanks for your insight! The staging approach – start small and then improve is not very new. The precise definition of these steps is the key, in my view. Service providers are trying to implement it. However, the problem I observe is that an initial step is too big. Furthermore, it requires a significant change in working habits for the company. Just my thoughts… Best, Oleg

  • Steve Ammann

    Hi Oleg- Here is an interesting real story on the first step- A recent PDM installation I was invloved in – so we are talking PDM not even PLM, started with this release process – two life cycle states – done and not done- The people at the company, and this was a company with about 30 Mechanical Engineers, could only absorb – done and not done at first- So to your point about too big a first step – maybe people should start looking at “baby” steps.


  • beyondplm

    Francois, thanks for commenting! From last week John Gage presentation at COFES – technology is simple – people are hard. I think it applies to PLM/ERP and other enterprise apps. We need to make technology work for people and not opposite. Just my thoughts… Best, Oleg

  • beyondplm

    Mike, thanks for your comments and insight! To implement changes is a tough job. I think, many companies in the space of enterprise software have learned that to educate people is not simple. Talking about PLM specifically – this is what prevent PLM systems from a mainstream deployment. In addition, people’s demands are different these days. After Apple and Google, people think how to make a software that not required (or minimize) educational needs. Nobody wants to read user manuals these days… Just my opinion. Best, Oleg

  • beyondplm


    I think you nailed it down. Technology needs to be hidden. New technologies can introduce alternative ways to interact – smart phones, GPS, touch interfaces, etc. This is only a short list. However, all of them need to be focused on how to hide the complexity.

    However, there is another aspect. I’m talking about business processes in organizations. It is hard to people to change their working habits. PLM needs to find a way to apply improvement in the organization without introducing changes as a first step. Many PLM implementations are stacking just because people are discussing their business processes and working habits.

    Just my thoughts… Best, Oleg

  • beyondplm

    Jack, thanks for the comments and insight. Actually, I believe innovation around “baby diapers” solved that problem too :). I think you nailed it down. Nobody likes changes. So, to introduce the change w/o change seems to be a challenge for future PLM technologies… Best, Oleg

  • beyondplm

    Vimal, Thanks for your insight! There are few PDM/PLM systems that were implemented in the late 1999, early 2000 – Windchill, MatrixOne, SmarTeam, Aras. All these systems have administration tools that allow to modify data models and by doing so make data/business processes customizable. However, the associated deployment/implementation cost was too high. Best, Oleg

  • beyondplm

    Steve, thanks for sharing this example! I like your definition of “baby steps”. I think, steps need to be agreed with a customer and fit their business value prop… Just my opinion. Best, Oleg

  • Oleg,

    Share-A-space has fixed data model (STEP/PLCS).
    In order to be agile you have to have a stable foundation somewhere – flexibility everywhere is more than people and business can handle. Even more so with requirements for full traceability over a life cycle of decades.

    People come to us because they have customized their PDM/PLM environments to the extent that they now depend on consultants. And they can’t upgrade their COTS system. So big failure.

    By introducing stability somewhere in the system – a standards based collaboration hub/backbone – we can allow systems and processes on each side to remain as they are. No changes required. However, when changes should be done because they are good and makes sense the collaboration hub/backbone allows for changes by evolution.

    Team data work flow environments are needed close to the authoring tools – CAD, CAE, Requirements capture, Tech Docs, Product Support etc. Best of breed should be allowed for.

    Long term stability comes with standards – a good architecture will combine these.

  • beyondplm

    Hakan, Thanks for sharing your insight! I can see a value of stable standards and platform that can work with these standards. However, the choice of an appropriated standard is a big challenge. Especially when it comes to the business applications. Every manufacturing facility and companies are different. The ability put standards/stability on one side together with diversity of business cases is a big challenge. Just my opinion. Best, oleg