Don’t crash PLM vision into reality of organizations

Don’t crash PLM vision into reality of organizations

Workflow is an easy to get paradigm. You draw the chart. It is logical and shows you how things are supposed to work. You present this chart in a meeting – everyone can understand it and you’re happy. Then what? You start to implement it and you are stuck… Because the reality is far more complex than workflow chart you originally made. Then your workflow chart looks like that…


Workflow vision is easy. Implementation is hard.

My publication last week PLM workflows: balance between value and complexity can give you an idea bout complexity of workflows and how things can get messy when you try to implement it without initial preparation. The idea of workflow that seems to be simple and well understood is not easy for implementation. The most common comments and recommendation – try to map organization and its processes upfront before workflow implementation. Easy to say, but hard to implement.

PLM demand is to support cross functional business process

I found an article written by well known PLM consultant and analyst John Stark of John Stark Associates. Read the article – From Org Chart to PLM grid.

According to the article, the Org Chart and organization hierarchy leads to complexity of relationships, objectives and activities. Each department consider themselves as the center of the world. According to John, the vision of PLM Grid is supposed to solve that complexity. I found the following passage the most interesting.

...PLM Grid shows cross-functional business processes such as New Product Development, Engineering Change Management, Portfolio Management, Phase-Out, Risk Management, etc. These business processes define the product-related activities that have to be carried out, and who carries them out. Doesn’t that make more sense than each department organizing its own activities independently of the others? The PLM Grid shows a single product data management system across the product lifecycle. Doesn’t that make more sense than each department creating its own databases independently of the others?

I captured the following picture from John’s article.


Organization is complex. You cannot change it with PLM vision only.

The vision is always great thing to have. PLM vision was around for the last two decades leading PLM software vendors and implementation services towards to the goal of cross functional business process implementations. But, it was a very complex journey for many companies. Actually, it is still a very complex journey for every manufacturing company going through the process of PLM implementation.

PLM paradigm is hitting a wall of complexity. In a nutshell to draw cross functional workflow is an easy job. To make it the implementation is hard and sometimes impossible. So you can ask me – what is a practical advise that prevent you from crashing PLM implementation into a wall of organizations complexity?

Here is my take on 3 main steps to avoid a collision between PLM vision and an organization.

1- Find data to share in the organization

Organizational data is very siloed. Each department is developing their own system of information. Sometimes, departments are using separate systems for that purpose. Shadow IT is not uncommon practice too. Don’t try to break it – it is hard. Find few pieces of practical and useful product information that departments can give away control of and share this information between departments. It is your implementation starting point. It can be BoM data, change orders, inventory information.

2- Focus on department process improvement first

It is easier to agree on a specific process implementation inside of any department. Focus on that first. Show practical results. It can be change management process, quality, communication with suppliers, contract manufacturing RFQ.

3- Identify cross department KPIs and make them visible.

After all, departments are dependent on the result of organization. And this is about how to manufacture products and provide service to customers. Find some KPIs that can reflect the progress or success of organizational mission to everybody. It can be quality, information about product services, defects, impact of last product release, etc.  Work around these KPIs will help you to find right cross organizational business processes.

What is my conclusion? PLM vision is great. But even the greatest vision cannot change the reality of every manufacturing organization – department, silos and multiple system. Such change can be painful and often impossible. I’m sure organizations can be bended towards better processes, but the immediate change is hard. Most of PLM tools are providing little support to organize such a process of organization bending towards better processes. Developing of tools to support future agile PLM implementations can be a good place to start for PLM visionaries, architects and implementation practitioners. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Picture credit The customer friendly system and Jonh Stark


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