PLM – The Glass Bead Game Dilemma?

PLM – The Glass Bead Game Dilemma?

The LinkedIn post about upcoming roundtable and discussion with an interesting topic –Creating a Profession for PLM Practitioners triggered some interesting debates online. It brought me back to almost forgotten discussions about PLM definitions and, at the same time, reminded me my old article –How many people in the world can speak PLMish? Back in 2018 it was a conversation started by Jos Voskuil about what name will replace PLM. I touched the same topic in my article – Killing PLM acronym..

Jos found 7500 PLM consultants in LinkedIn back in 2018. This is the number of people that actively speak PLMish and understand PLM terminology. If I can compare it to UNESCO list, PLMish would be long way down to endangered languages.

According to LinkedIn, there are over a 7500 PLM consultants in my network.  It is quite an elite group of people as I have over 100.000 CEOs in my network according to LinkedIn. Being a CEO is a commodity. PLM consultants share a common definition, the words Product Lifecycle Management. However, what we all mean by PLM is one of the topics that has evolved over the past 19 years in a significant way.

There is no optimism in Jos’ articles, since he cannot identify a new name for PLM… However, I captured a new candidate in his conclusion – Product Innovation Diamond.

Creating and maintaining unique products and experiences for their customers is the primary target of almost every company. However, no easy acronym that frames these aspects to value at the board level. Perhaps PID – the Product Innovation Diamond approach will be noticed? Your say ….

The conflicts in PLM definitions and debates about PLM profession made me think about one of my favorite books is The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse. If you never heard about the book, it worth your weekend, for sure. Check it here – The Glass Bead Game. I found some people like it very much while some others cannot connect to it. The book won the Nobel Prize in Literature. in 1946.In honoring him in its Award Ceremony Speech, the Swedish Academy said that the novel “occupies a special position” in Hesse’s work. In 2019, the novel was nominated for the 1944 Retrospective Hugo Award for Best Novel.

In my blog I want to share my thoughts about what are the challenges of PLM professional growth and what role PLM can take in the future of digital transformation and role of the data in decision making for engineering and manufacturing.

Single User, Team Work or Business Organization?

When it comes to a business, the first question you would like is your ICP (Ideal Customer Profile) and targeted person. It is very important to understand if the solution can be done by a single person, group of people or an entire business. The same can be said about the activity. Does PLM make sense for a single customer, department or entire company.

For the years, I’ve been focusing on solving problems of engineering and manufacturing companies using data management software, I found that companies have mixed opinion about PLM terminology. Some people and companies like it and some others feel a complete rejection.

At the same time, as much as the term PLM triggers mixed opinion depends on the group of people you will be talking to, when it comes to problems PLM is solving the interest of people is heating up. Because the problems PLM software and business strategy is solving are hard and painful.

Current PLM discipline (as we know it) is usually successful with a strong leadership and requires company level coordination and commitment. It is rarely a “solo” job and cannot help much to a single engineer or someone else in a company.

Profession, Business Strategy or Spiritual Belief?

Speaking to many people about PLM software, strategy and implementations I often can see the triangle between professional knowledge, business goals and very often belief in how big PLM vision can change the world of manufacturing and solve all problems.

Here is my take. While PLM refers to the process of managing the entire lifecycle of a product from its inception, through engineering design and manufacturing, to service and disposal it is first of all a business strategy. It integrates people, processes, business systems, and information. PLM is used by companies to manage product information and processes to ensure the effective development, production, and disposal of products. From a strategic standpoint, it helps companies to make informative decisions using data.

It is certainly a domain of knowledge, although it combines so many different domains that it is very diverse and hard to grasp a single discipline. It is neither a profession in itself (though professionals within many fields may specialize in PLM) nor a spiritual belief. However, I can see how people can believe in some PLM principles and follow them religiously for many years.

PLM – The Glass Bead Game?

Getting back to Hermann Hesse novel…

The novel explores themes of intellectualism, the nature of education, and eventually comes to the search for meaning in life. The story is set in a fictional province of the future, Castalia, where the intellectual elite are dedicated to the study and play of the Glass Bead Game—a complex, symbolic game that synthesizes all areas of human knowledge. At its heart, Hesse’s work is an exploration of the tension between the reflective life of the mind and the active life of worldly engagement. The narrative follows the life of Joseph Knecht, who rises through the hierarchical society to become the Magister Ludi (Master of the Game) who became , only to grow disillusioned with its insular world and its lack of connection to human passions and the concerns of the larger world. The main point is a criticism of the limitation of purely intellectual pursuits, but also acknowledgement of how much it can add to a human experience. Here are some interesting parallels between PLM and Hesse novel:

  1. Integration of Disciplines: Just as the Glass Bead Game integrates various fields of knowledge into a holistic framework, PLM attempts to bring together different aspects of product development (like design, engineering, and manufacturing) to create a unified approach.
  2. Pursuit of Perfection: Castalians in the novel are dedicated to achieving perfection in their game, much like businesses aim for perfection in product development, seeking to create the best possible product with the least amount of waste.
  3. Tension between Theory and Practice: The novel touches upon the divide between pure intellectual pursuits (the game) and real-world applications or experiences. Similarly, in PLM, there’s always a tension between the theoretical models of a product and the practical aspects of manufacturing, selling, and servicing it.
  4. Evolution and Iteration: Just as the Glass Bead Game evolves over time in Hesse’s novel, products in the real world undergo multiple iterations throughout their lifecycle, evolving based on feedback, technological advancements, and market demands.

I think, in many ways PLM domain, profession and experience is actually very much repeating the conflict between complex abstract knowledge and programmatic results demanded by engineers and other people in manufacturing organizations.

What is my conclusion?

I think, the conversation about PLM profession is a good and important one. Product lifecycle management stands in the important intersection of product data management and product development process. It is touching critical disciplines of business processes, product lifecycle, supply chain management, enterprise resource planning, manufacturing process, and customer feedback. It aggregates many disciplines such as computer aided design (CAD) process management document management, data quality and overall designing and building products, so it is becoming a central place to define company business. Product life cycle is becoming critical to build sustainable products. I know many people working in PLM people – they are passionate about what they do and an impact PLM can make on the future of our planet.

Digital transformation takes a central stage in everything manufacturing companies do now. PLM stands for data and how processes can be transformed by a smart usage of data. It requires knowledge and high level of complex professional skills – technological, manufacturing, and people to make it work.

Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing a digital thread platform including PDM/PLM and ERP capabilities that manages product data and connects manufacturers, construction companies, and their supply chain networksMy opinion can be unintentionally biased.


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