PLM Best Practices and Henry Ford Mass Production System

PLM Best Practices and Henry Ford Mass Production System


If you are in PLM business, I’m sure you are familiar with term called “best practices”. The term is widely used to explain how PLM system can be deployed, how to manage data and how to organize and optimize product development processes. So, where are roots of PLM best practices and why PLM vendors like them so much? Remember, the original PLM (and even PDM) systems started as a glorified data management toolkit with elements of CAD and ERP integrations. To get such system in product was very expensive and it required lot of time and implementation services. The reason is simple – every manufacturing company is different. It takes time for service provider to understand company landscape, processes, data requirements, legacy systems and suggest a solution. Put heavy price tag next to this activity. You can think about this process as something similar to organizing mass production assembly line. It is costly and complicated. Once you’ve get it done, your objective will be simple – run it to the largest possible quantity without re-configuration (which will cost you money, again). The same happened with first large PLM implementations.

The invention of “best practices” helped to figure out how to move from heavy and complicated PLM assembly line to more configurable and flexible mechanisms of PLM deployment. Technologically, toolkit approach was a underline product foundation. PLM companies and especially service providers and PLM consultants liked the approach. To create OOTB (out-of-the-box) pre-configured environments was relatively easy based on the practices gathered from existing large customers. However, to get it to the field and implement wasn’t so simple. Marketing and sales used OOTB environments to demonstrate and make sales. However, implementations and fine tuning was failing to apply it after that. The implementation devil was in details and service teams were required to bring to production. Similar to manufacturing mass production environment, customizing and services was a straightforward answer to solve the problem of product and requirement diversity.

As we know from the history of manufacturing, mass customization won and left mass production system in a dust. What was clear innovation 100 years ago was replaced by new forms of manufacturing, customization and flexible manufacturing units. I believe this is still very hot topic in the industry and every manufacturing company. The diversity of product requirements is skyrocketing, product lifecycle is getting even shorter. To produce PLM system that will fit this type of environment is probably one of the most important innovation that might happen in engineering and manufacturing software technologies these days.

What is my conclusion? I think software companies can learn something from the history of manufacturing companies. The move from from mass product to mass customization is one of them. PLM software made a turn from from complicated preconfigured assembly lines to expensive data management toolkits that require services. Manufacturing is getting different these days. Next step can be hardly achieved by pure technology or process organization. My hunch it is going to be a hybrid of new data management technologies empowered by crowdsourcing and customer innovation. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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  • Laurent Alt

    Oleg, this is really a hot topic. The limit between standard and customization is always hard to find. And it is key, because this tells you whether you make money or not. If your product is too hard to customize, you end up with heavy customization. As a software vendor, your margin drops. As a customer, you end up with costly version upgrades.

    Personally, I do not know which technology will win, I rather try to find what kind of management approach can help make the right choice.

    The history of PLM is interesting. As far as I know, PLM started with a few service implementations from IBM and EDS around large CAD installed bases, then it somewhat standardized and became a real discipline. So there has been – and there still is – a flow from customers requests to software editors that brought PLM to life. Specifics keep being specifics, but what several customers want ends up in the standard. You are right when you make the analogy with manufacturing.

    However, I would rather put a picture of Toyota rathen than Ford, because this is much closer to Lean than fordism.

    Best regards,


  • Great article Oleg and a good comparison. Do you think it is possible to skip the standardization step, what you call “best practice” before going into mass customization? I think mass customization requires standards, but I agree it is time to utilize the available standards for the next step.
    I can see that new technologies will help, but crowed-sourcing?

  • I think you have it right. The key is making all the mass customization both easily achievable and sustainable. It needs to be the software equivalent of LEGOs – no small feat to accomplish.

  • beyondplm

    Ed, yes, yes, and yes! These days mass customization is a key and the money is in the supply chain between companies and individuals…

  • beyondplm

    Klaus, thanks for your comments! I don’t think standardization is needed. Actually it depends… IMHO, I see opposite problems – sometimes we have too many standards. The problem is the how we implement the software and use it. This is kind of “bullwhip effect” for product development and customization.

  • beyondplm

    Laurent, thanks for your comment and insight! Yes, Toyota became the symbol of lean and mass customization. However ,the reason for Ford picture is simple – I believe PLM is still in Ford-era in everything that related to customization. PLM best practices (in many cases) are similar to Ford production line. Each time you step aside, you need to start to tune it from the beginning. That’s why it is so costly…