Experience is a new mantra in our world. Software vendors are taking it sometimes to extremes by starting to offer experience instead of software and services. While there is nothing wrong about “experience marketing”, the slickness of PLM videos and presentations is often on a much higher level than software itself. PLM software made a long way for the last 20 years converging from multiple platforms, products, applications and marketing names. If you long time in PLM industry, you should remember all packages, out-of-the-box, smart, start, centrals, portals, workbenches and other marketware PLM companies sold. Actually they still do. But here is a thing – the new one is coming with a simple user experience. Really?
PLM vendors like to speak about “experience”. Product development organizations are very much experience oriented these days. But unfortunately, most of these projects are some sort of “lipstick on a pig” thing. Read more here. The PLM experience didn’t change PLM much for the last five years. We have now nicer user interfaces, pretty colors and superficial marketing demos. The nuts and bolts of PLM system and software experience didn’t change much. Most of systems are clunky and complex. Most of UX work that was done is yet another layer of software applied on top of existing platforms, data models, workflows and… technological limitations. So, it is still a UX lipstick on PLM pig for the lack of better worlds.
So, the question many PLM UX designers are asking is how to make a change in a complex world of PLM software. I’ve been asked about it so many times for the last few years. But first let’s acknowledge – it is not a simple task and the first thing you need to do is to drop word “simple”… Because there is no such thing “simple experience”. You just cannot measure it. Over the weekend, I had a chance to read the following book – Experience Required: How to become a UX leader regardless of your role. If you’re interested in experience, read the book. I really liked it. My favorite part was a passage about key terms and logic class.
The major factor in screaming matches between people can happen because lack of shared definition. Think about terms such as expensive, clean and simple. The first two can be measured in some terms – dollars, degrees, etc. Some people have their definition of what is expensive and what is not. You can compare things. Then there is a word “simple”. Two individuals can have very different understanding what is that. Engineers and IT professionals clearly can have a different definition of that. Many sales people and PLM executives like to say “simple”, they mean to describe something incredible easy to use. And they reference to relative complexity of things comparing to other systems or solutions. I understand, it sounds like a semantic debates. But, in my view, it is an important one.
So, how to solve the problem of “simple PLM user experience”? Here are some of recommendations I collected for the last years of working with different PLM systems as well as designing new interfaces. Although, this is not a silver bullet by any means, it can help you to move from “simple” to “measurable” user experience.
1. Create a minimal number of tasks in a single flow of actions. Most of existing systems are combining tasks together making it hard to perform. Multi-clicking PLM flows are terrible to understand and impossible to memorize.
2. Use descriptive heading and labels. In many systems, I’ve been working with, labels are often created by people having deep understanding what systems does. It is nice, but doesn’t help to users not familiar with deep nuances of technology or product features.
3. Visual representation flow. Screen real estate is expensive, but please try to avoid some visual crumble of buttons, edit boxes, popups and check-boxes.
4. Use default settings, values and operations. Always give to user a default path in your system experience. Something that doesn’t require to think or decide, but just to click on a button and move to the next step. Believe me, 80% of users will prefer this option.
5. Finally… do less. Each new button, feature, option will introduce new level of complexity. While options are good in general, it creates a terrible experience and headache for most of users. Just think for them and avoid offering options to users unless it is absolutely important.
What is my conclusion? Simple is not an easy thing. The new PLM user experience will start from taking a deep breath and looking at what users need rather on what you have. Most of engineering solutions are designed as a change to something that already exists. It is probably right and easy for engineers, but very hard for users. Re-think differently. Next generation of PLM systems can only happen from rethinking fundamentals elements of PLM software – data management, design, bill of materials, processes, etc. Just my thoughts…
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.