PLM has deep roots into process and workflows. You can find pieces of process implementation everywhere – starting from CAD file lifecycle workflows and ending with complex business processes between engineering and manufacturing.
I share some of my thoughts about complexity of workflow earlier – Why is hard to implement PLM workflows and PLM workflows – balance between value and complexity.
Workflow is a reflection of the real process. The ideal workflow is a good starting point, but you need to get your hands dirty with workflow details. This is a reality and a problem of analog PLM paradigm – your tools are as good as the process and customization you do. Workflows are easy to start. Especially using graphic diagramming tools. But you can quickly run into complexity of the implementation and the reality of your organization.
My attention was caught by Stephen Porter’s blog – The PLM state the cart before the horse using PLM to design business process. It speaks about the same problem of complexity in business process implementations using PLM tools. Here is an interesting passage:
trying to build a process from scratch would be somewhat overwhelming without architecture to build on. He also felt that since ultimately this process would reside in the PLM, why not start out that way instead of designing a process and then trying to make it work inside the PLM. All of this seemed to make sense to the client but it got me thinking about PLM as a whole and our past experiences trying to integrate companies’ processes into PLM. Certainly process should be altered to leverage PLM capabilities, but can PLM be used as a tool to actually develop process? Is it more efficient to use PLM to design process or develop process independently of PLM?
The idea to use PLM tools to design business and product development process isn’t new. Many companies are trying to do it. PLM vendors are encouraging companies to transform their business using PLM tools by explaining how flexible and resilient PLM tools and architecture. I agree – this is really important. But then rubber hits the road – business transformation.
Unfortunately, a process of business transformation hit the wall of education and maturity in a company itself. It is not a surprise that PLM consulting a preaching PLM training and education as one of the first steps in PLM implementations.
The reality of what happens during PLM implementation is described in Antti Saaksvouri’s book – Product Lifecycle Management. I found the following passage from that book in Zerowait-State blog.
“Companies seldom recognize the fact that the PLM maturity of the company is too low to launch a large scale PLM system project for the first time. There simply is not enough understanding of PLM and its possibilities, but also its impacts to current way (sic) of doing things. Usually the case also is that the processes and practices of a company are not mature enough to be utilized in PLM context.” So, to further clarify, he is saying that in many cases companies’ current processes are not compatible with a PLM system.
It made me think about correlation between maturity of companies and complexity of PLM market and sales. It reminded me a description of a complex market by Marc Andreessen. Read more about it in article – Product Market Fit for startups. Interesting enough Marc mentioned “workflow software” as one of the bad market examples.
Here is my favorite passage:
….in a terrible market, you can have the best product in the world and an absolutely killer team, and it doesn’t matter — you’re going to fail. You’ll break your pick for years trying to find customers who don’t exist for your marvelous product, and your wonderful team will eventually get demoralized and quit, and your startup will die. This is the story of videoconferencing, and workflow software, and micro-payments.
In my view, workflow and business process software is a very complex product to sell. Many companies tried to do it for the last 10-15 years and failed. I found an old eBizq article Why workflow sucks? The article comes with the same conclusion – the problem of workflows is related to people and not to technologies.
So why does workflow suck? It sucks because it made the fatal assumption that a business process was simply modeled as “a to b to c” – but business, as we all know, doesn’t quite work like that. BPM succeeds because of the heritage these products have in the workflow world – but BPM sucks as well because it ignores the requirement to include people.
What is my conclusion? To sell PLM business transformation is hard. In an ideal market and sales situation, you want customers to pull product forward. Unfortunately, it is not what happens with PLM software. Complex process management implementations are slowing down PLM sales because of heavy dependency on business process transformation and human factor. Just my thoughts…
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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.