Over the many years of building enterprise systems, I have come to appreciate that building software product that is defined and differentiated by its simplicity is very hard. It takes time, knowledge, talent and a lot of work to create simplicity. I want to come back and talk about simplicity in PLM. I recalled one of my very old blogs – How to make PLM less complicated and more user friendly? I was wrong…
I think, PLM products are better these days than 6 years ago. But, here is the thing – although vendors put a lot of effort to improve user interface (or how we say today user experience), we are missing the goal. And the key thing is here – we are trying to make it more user friendly. Instead of that, we need to think how to eliminate products or specific functionalities.
I was doing some user design work over the weekend. My attention was caught by the Smashing magazine article – Nobody Wants To Use Your Product. The article speaks about building for result – product design trend that eliminating specific functions from users’ horizons. Few examples to demonstrate what does it mean – Nest thermostat, which takes care to learn how to adjust temperature; Dropbox, which just syncing your files; Google search results, which is extracting information from other sites for you; Amazon dash button, which simplify ordering of products online; App store updates, which doesn’t require users to perform updates.
Here is my favorite passage explaining that:
This difference in approach — building for features versus building for result — can be seen in numerous products today, both digital and physical. The main reason why some products are great is that they take the load off of users and assist them in making decisions. If you observed these products from the outside, you’d think that their manufacturers do not want people to use them; on closer inspection, people do use them but in a seamless manner, still reaping all of their benefits.
So, what does it mean for CAD, PDM, PLM and other engineering and manufacturing software. There are 3 directions I’d like to point out as a way to realize the vision of “build to result”.
1- Improve software performance. Think about any process – design, visualization, analysis. The speed helps and makes product easier. Instantaneous search results, visualization, simulation, etc. When it happens, it eliminate “waiting” function in all products.
2- Remove “management” tasks. There are many of these. My best example is PDM check-in/ check-out functions. In many ways, this function was created to move files from centralized vault location to local working work spaces. Is it really needed? I don’t think so. It is hard to eliminate, but new cloud CAD products are eliminating it and making design process more intuitive.
3- Eliminate the need to configure and setup systems. The implementation phase of PLM system is painful and hard. It creates huge barrier to PLM adoption. In the past, engineers had to write software code to configure databases and PLM systems. It is better now, but still – lot of controls, forms, data entry, learning, etc. These are steps that needs to be eliminated from PLM systems to make it easier to use.
What is conclusion? Simplicity was a dominant product management theme everywhere for the last few years. At the same time, PLM vendors are still building more capabilities, more functions, more, more, more… At the same time, looking back, winners tend to be incredible skilled at keeping things very simple. The focus should not be on features and attractiveness, but on simplicity. Just my thoughts…
Picture credit Nest