My SmarTeam colleague and long time blogging buddy Jos Voskuil challenged readers with an unusual PLM dilemma. You should pick between usability and business benefits. Ouch… painful choice, right? Navigate to the following post How to measure collaboration? to read more.
The challenge proposed by Jos was the outcome of our PLM vs. Excel discussion. You might be interested to look few other posts related to the topic: PLM – Need for Speed and PLM vs Excel: Bullfight and Prohibition.
Jos brings all these “SAP-like” value proposition reasons for enterprise system. Jos is actually confirming enterprise systems are guilty to build bad user experience and brining SAP as an example. He acknowledges that it worked well for financial systems, but sort of failed in engineering domain. Here is my favorite passage (a bit long one) explaining about ERP and PLM selling points and how is that related to usability:
ERP systems have never been sold to the users for their usability. It is more that the management is looking for guarantees that the execution process is under control. Minimize the potential for errors and try to automate all activities as much as possible. As the production process is directly linked to finance, it is crucial to have it under control. Goodbye usability, safety first.
Why is this approach not accepted for PLM? Why do we talk about usability? First of all, the roots for PLM come from the engineering department (PDM) and, therefore, their primary data management system was not considered an enterprise system. And when you implement a system for a department, discussions will be at the user level. So user acceptance became necessary for PDM and PLM.
But this is not the main reason. Innovation, Product Development, Sales Engineering, Engineering are all iterative activities. In contrary to ERP, there is no linear process defined how to develop the ultimate product the first time right. Although this believe existed in the nineties by an ERP country manager that I met that time. He told me: Engineers are resources that do not want to be managed, but we will get them. An absurd statement I hope you agree. However, the thoughts behind this statement are correct. How do you make sure product development is done in the most efficient manner?
I like how Jos brings the idea of efficiency. This is where it come back to reasons why people mistakenly prefer Excel over complicated and well structured enterprise systems. It gives them a very brutal feeling of efficiency and ownership. This is why I love my PLM Excel spreadsheets. But this feeling of efficiency is wrong. There are many reasons for that – it gets complex within time, it is hard to manage, etc. I outlined all of them in my six years old blog – PLM Excel Spreadsheet: from odes to woes.
The real problem is related to complexity of enterprise systems. It goes to the point you are afraid of these enterprise beasts. You are afraid to do something wrong. In some situations, you want only highly trained people to do something, because you are afraid of making a mistake that will cost time and money. On the other side, engineering and manufacturing process is very iterative by nature. So, how to bring a flexibility of spreadsheet and protection of enterprise system?
There is an old saying of product development that it can sound something like this – “Fast, Good or Cheap. Pick two”. This is a translation Project Management Triangle where you actually balancing between scope, schedule and cost. Fast is a translation of time; good is a translation of quality and cost is a translation of resources needed to make it happen. The three properties are interrelated and it is not possible to optimize all three of them.
Here is my translation of project management triangle in the context of PLM – “Functionality, Usability, Cost. Pick any two”. Obviously, the enterprise thinking is prioritizing functional requirements. One of the most typical PLM selection process is to fill in blanks of RFP for PLM implementation with a very long list of functional requirements. Guess what happens if you have missed functions… You lose the deal. Usability requires lot of work. It is very hard (almost impossible) to make it usable for the first time. You need to increase your budget to get it done or to increase a development timeline. Which was a challenge for most of PLM vendors until now.
What is my conclusion? Unfortunately, for enterprise PLM, the decision to pick any two ended up with functionality and cost. Therefore we have gigantic complex creatures called Enterprise PLM systems with a long list of supported functions and questionable usability. And for the reason not to make costly mistakes people are forced to use them. Is it going to change? I guess it will change as enterprise UX paradigm shifts. Less is more in a new world of enterprise transformation. It doesn’t mean we will accept mistakes or make it less secure. Actually, the brutal efficiency with less functions will win the future. Just my thoughts..
picture credit Wikipedia article