COFES 2010, Maieutic Parataxis and PLM Excels

I hope you know about my “love and hate” relationships with Excel. I posted many times about how deep Excel integrated into current CAD/PDM/PLM software life. Think about that, for the moment. You are getting Bill of Materials and Design Tables in CAD using Excel, lots of reports, catalogs and other data. There are lots of other reasons too. Just as an example you can take a look on one of my old “Excel” posts – Why Do I like My PLM Excel Spreadsheets?

About few months ago, I found an interesting Microsoft Live Lab product called “Pivot“. I posted about that. You can see my original post via this link. My initial thoughts were about how to try this pivot functionality on the real PLM data to see what is possible to achieve. Fortunately, this blog post got into attention of Simon Floyd from Microsoft, and he made this experiment. Last week at COFES 2010 during Maieutic Parataxis session, Simon presented his experiments. Full presentation from Maieutic Parataxis session will be available later this link. However, you can see some of the slides below.

I think, Pivot concept is an interesting experiment. Excel paradigm is very popular. At the same time, customer demands towards simple and clean user interfaces in PDM/PLM systems are very strong. Pivot can put lights on some potential in more deep exploration of Excel capabilities. Some of the visual representations in Pivot are similar to existing PLM products. Filtering and pivoting functionality is strong and interesting. To get information into Pivot can be challenging in my view.

What is my conclusion? PLM Pivot experiment requires attentions. Usability in PLM systems is a hard problem.Despite all claims mainstream customers are dissatisfied.  I’m very interesting to hear what do you think about this example? As usual, I’m looking forward to your comments.

Best, Oleg



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  • Nawal

    Oleg, PLM usability has to be addressed by PLM themselves. Any external tool like Excel or what ever next comes in will have the challenge of integration.

    It would help customers a lot, if PLM vendors stopped designing the UI around the PLM data model. Most current user interfaces are really exposure to underneath data model or variations there off. We need to think of user interface has something which uses data model to store the data but the use cases should not be modify the data in datamodel. In my experience, users get frustrated at that. Since, they need to do the transaltion from their real world use-case to data model modification use-case offered PLM.

    This is where I wish there is move towards more industry specific user interface – not just a cosmetic changes from one industry to next.

  • Cam Bickel

    A big factor is working with known items one at a time vs. working in bulk. If you know the part number or some number in the structure you can locate the item and do what you need to do. This PLM UI works very well in this case. However, if you want to manage items or blocks of items in bulk you need to get the data out into a spreadsheet and then push it back. This is very tedious and error prone – the longer you spend massaging the data in Excel the more you wonder if you really had the whole table selected when you did that last sort, or if you deleted a line you wanted to keep, etc. A solution would be a really good bulk edit mode directly in PLM.

    Another problem is searching and navigating through data where you aren’t really sure what you need to locate. I find screen shots of thumbnail views to be less than compelling as I know that a lot of parts are going to look the same at that level. You would need to somehow turn the metadata into visual clues. And a good filtering system would help.

  • Nawal, I agree with you, usability is important. However, devil is in details… I’d be very interested to hear what do you mean by “industry specific user interfaces”. Can you elaborate on that? Thanks for your comments! Best, Oleg

  • Cam, Thanks for your comment! I actually very much agree on your view of an ability to “massage” data looking on the one-big-excel. I’ve seen examples of such implementation on a customer side. However, all these examples are 100% customization. That’s why people love Excel… You can search it too. Best, Oleg

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