PLM workflows and agile design

PLM workflows and agile design



Workflow is one of the most fundamental elements of PLM systems today. Implementations of workflow technology might be different from vendor to vendor, but the basics are the same. Workflow is processes through which a piece of work passes from initiation to completion. This is how workflow works in many systems and this is how workflow processes are implemented in all PLM systems.

Although, there is nothing wrong with this approach, for the last few years, one of the problems I’ve seen in many workflow implementations is related to flexibility and orchestrations of tasks happening in a real time. I shared some of my thoughts here – Why is it hard to implement PLM workflows? The disconnect between “formal” workflow and real tasks in a company creates many problems in PLM implementations trying to mock company business processes into workflow framework.

Engineering and manufacturing environment is changing. These days companies want more speed and innovation in their business processes, engineering and manufacturing environment. Onshape blog brings the topic of Agile design process. Read the article and draw your opinion.

The idea of Agile Development has already been widely adopted with great success in the software world. Favoring “responding to change over following a plan,” the approach breaks down software development into short review cycles or “sprints,” with incremental product improvements being delivered at the end. Agile Software Development is a collaborative process, using customer feedback to determine the next set of tasks.


Onshape article made me think about workflow implementations. Most of them will remind you waterfall process. In a real life, these workflows are struggling from a disconnect between real activities and “formal process recipe” defined in a workflow. Check out my earlier blog – Why PLM should revise NPI process? 

The following 3 elements of new agile process paradigm can change existing PLM workflow implementations:

1. Instant data access for all team members. Business process is heavily relies on the ability of the application to present variety of data element to users. Data sharing and simultaneous data access can speed up decision process. Literally, people should be “on the same page” to work together.

2. Data driven business logic. Workflow process is a fundamental element of existing process implementations. The challenge of many workflow processes is to implement dynamic response based on changing data conditions. The new paradigm of processes should take workflow inside out and define data elements first. Process will be a reflection of data and not necessarily workflow diagram.

3. Real time analytics. Emails and reports are too old for agile product development. The real time information about engineering changes, schedule, cost impact and many other product development characteristics should be available to everyone all the time.

What is my conclusion? I can see a potential conflict between new agile design principles and current PLM workflows. The speed of the process, interaction between people and data access might be incompatible. While manufacturing companies are looking how to speed up processes, it is a good time for PLM architects to think about new paradigm to replace old PLM workflows. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Want to learn more about PLM? Check out my new PLM Book website.

Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of openBoM developing cloud based bill of materials and inventory management tool for manufacturing companies, hardware startups and supply chain. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.


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