New PLM tech, old habits and agile innovation

New PLM tech, old habits and agile innovation

Message on twitter from Jos Voskuil caught me by surprise earlier today.  Jos commented on my OpenBOM blog about Onshape, OpenBOM and drawing BOM (full transparency – I co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing cloud-based Bill of Materials management service).

I found Jos’ comment fascinating. It made me think about innovation and examples of how new technology development clashed with existing processes and tools. Innovation is a hard balance between new technologies and old habits. After many years, I found that supporting old habits can be a good way to enable and support innovation. However, it is not an obvious thing. So, let me explain it.

Old habits die hard. It is hard to stop doing things that one has been doing for a long time. Manufacturing companies spent ages and tons of money to buy technologies, products and establishing working processes and practices. Some of these habits have long history. Think about more than 200 years of Technical drawings as an example.

Modern engineering drawing, with its precise conventions of orthographic projection and scale, arose in France at a time when the Industrial Revolution was in its infancy. L. T. C. Rolt’s biography of Isambard Kingdom Brunel[9] says of his father, Marc Isambard Brunel, that “It seems fairly certain that Marc’s drawings of his block-making machinery [in 1799] made a contribution to British engineering technique much greater than the machines they represented. For it is safe to assume that he had mastered the art of presenting three-dimensional objects in a two-dimensional plane which we now call mechanical drawing. It had been evolved by Gaspard Monge of Mezieres in 1765 but had remained a military secret until 1794 and was therefore unknown in England.

In a current form, 2D drawings are 55 years old going back to Sketchpad written by Ivan Sutherland. Since that time, generation of CAD systems supported 2D drawings and they have been used everywhere.

Spreadsheets is another old paradigm going back to the first version of VisiCalc in 1979 and then widely adopted by everyone in early 1980s. It is hard to imaging a place today in any manufacturing company without spreadsheets.

Some time ago, I wrote an article – Why engineering technology has 10 years adoption cycle. Businesses and customers are looking how to improve productivity, reduce cost and optimize for new business realities. However, you need to be aware about adoption cycle and be prepared for long and hard change process. History has many examples  of good products that died because they came too early.

In my view, many PLM innovations are looking for “total adoption” by an organization. Single version of truth, one database, business transformation, etc. These days, the discussion about model-based approach sounds like the same “total PLM” innovation.

Meantime, companies have hard time to adopt changes. The resistance is hard. So, if you can see a process that includes passing 2D drawing, the temptation can be hard to change it. The same about Excels spreadsheet reports. People are sending them on regular basis. To eliminate both can bring lot of efficiency, but will demand change. The last one is hard and might not be justified by organizations. But, supporting old methods can give you an opportunity to introduce new technologies to people that actually receptive to the change. Think about it as an agile process of innovation.

What is my conclusion? Old habits, work methods and tools are dying hard. Innovation needs time and can be introduced gradually and supported by old habits. It can be tempting to change old methods and tech, but you can face organizational resistance. To find a weak block in an organizational process chain is one of the hardest elements of innovation and change management. To bring a new technology matching old habits can be a way to innovate and eliminate resistance of people and organizations. So, my friends, if you can translate it to engineering and manufacturing organizations, you can be future PLM kings. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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.


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