Future PLM: Process is Not a Workflow and People Aren’t Robots

Future PLM: Process is Not a Workflow and People Aren’t Robots

Talk to many people about PLM and they tell you that process management is one of the key elements in PLM implementations. I have a mixed opinion about this statement. It is hard to argue about importance of processes. But here is the thing… what is the process? For some people, it is a collection of practices that allow to company to conduct business. Companies and businesses are run by people. Depends on the level of technological development business process can be run using fax machine, email, ERP software or anything else. The challenge of PLM business is that it was for very long period positioned in the engineering and outside of revenue stream. Which created huge problem for PLM. But I digressed… Let’s get back to business process.

My attention was caught by Share PLM article – Why Succesful Companies Manage Their Business Processes . It starts from the definition of business process.

A business process enables a company to describe who does what and in which order. A process is a series of tasks performed in sequence with clearly defined inputs, intended to deliver an output. The output can be a service, a product, or some other organizational goal. By combining all the company’s business processes, we can describe how it operates.

Later on, it continues with lot of charts and workflows describing how process can be described, management, organized and optimized. By the way, I’m not sure about the last, because article ends with deployment and monitoring. Optimization is only mentioned in the context of business modeling :

During this phase, we create an improved model for the processes the company wants to optimize. A model serves as a common framework for discussion and communication. It helps people understand how the process will work and where the optimizations come from. The following example represents the optimized sales process of a small company, after remodelling.

And the business model is continuously presented as a workflow. And this is where I see a problem. I wrote few articles about complexity of PLM workflow implementation – Why is it hard to implement PLM workflow; The end of old PLM workflows as we know it and PLM workflows and agile design.

Traditional workflow chart is good to present linear processes with well defined structure. I cannot say the same about many engineering and manufacturing processes. Many of them are repeating, circular and agile these days. In the past the weak point in organizing PLM workflows was rigidity and complexity. You need long time to prepare and make it work and then on the 2nd day you need to alter and modify them again.Agile development is another reason why linear PLM workflows have a problem in mixed engineering and manufacturing environment.

What is my conclusion? Modern engineering and manufacturing environment is circular., collaborative and agile. I doubt modern manufacturing processes can be organized as a linear or circular workflows. It is too simple and inefficient. I believe, we need need workflows to define some of the processes, but workflows is not how I see future of engineering and manufacturing processes using future PLM tools. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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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  • Beppe UG Grimaldi

    Hello Oleg
    I completely agree with you.
    Since I read and assimilate the Scrum methods, I completely discarded the Workflow state of mind….
    Workflow and flowchart are just for manager that think old and need to be assured.

    Best,
    Beppe
    (UGoverALL for friends. Disclaimer… I’m part of the Siemens PLM PRESALES)

  • beyondplm

    @beppeuggrimaldi:disqus Thank you! Love this one — Workflow and flowchart are just for manager that think old and need to be assured.

  • Aleksey Sinev

    Hello Oleg.
    Thank you for this article, and for your blog at all.
    In my opinion there is no single solution for all kind of products. Things that work for software doesn’t fit at 100% for mechanical and electronical development. At least we should consider that production time for PCBs and some mechanical parts may be as high as six months! It means that two or four week planing is not enough, and by the way the price for your design mistakes is really high.
    In this case the workflow helps companies to decrease the risks of mistake by making work processies more determined and less hectic.

    Best,
    Aleksey

  • beyondplm

    Aleksey, thanks for sharing your perspective. Yes, it is hard for multi-disciplinary team to agree. The work is different. But workflows are so much painful. I wish something will replace them. You’re right companies are using them as a management tool to decrease mistakes. And that’s the reason why engineers in general don’t like them :)… I guess.. Best, Oleg