PLM: Balancing Between Deep Domain Insight and Professional Status

PLM: Balancing Between Deep Domain Insight and Professional Status

In the dynamic landscape of modern manufacturing industry, Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) has carved out a significant niche. For years working in PLM and product data management business, I found the opinion about product lifecycle PLM can be quite different starting from a full rejections and blames of failure to full approval and sometimes even kind of religion or small circle of people only understanding special PLM language. While PLM continues to evolve and to expand its influence on product development process a pressing question emerges: Will PLM eventually ascend to the status of a recognized profession?

My attention was caught by LinkedIn post speaking about coming workshop on the topic of Creation of profession for product lifecycle management practitioners. It generated a healthy amount of comments, which is usually an indication of high interest. Check this out and draw your opinion. I also had a chance to talk to Roger Tempest at PLM Interest Group (PLM IG), who is behind the initiative of turning PLM into a professional status. I also recall an early post about the same topic from John Stark – Should PLM become a profession?

I can see multiple opinions about turning PLM into a profession. It made me think about how a specific field of knowledge (or specific domain) such as product development can, at some point in its evolution to become a formal profession. I understand that process of transition from a domain of knowledge to a recognized profession brings forth numerous advantages and challenges.

In this blog, I will explore and share my thoughts about what it takes to transform a domain into a profession, the inherent benefits, how to determine if a domain is ready for this leap, and finally, I will try to address a pressing question discussed in the article – Is Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) a profession. So, let’s talk about?

Problems Solved by Professionalization

When it comes to any type of discussion, the first question to ask – What problem does it solve? Thinking about product data management, supply chain management, product lifecycle I understand the burning questions companies have to support them in their time to market development and benefits of product lifecycle control. I can see the interest of educational institutions to teach product data management PDM as well PLM. I can see how some people would like to be a “certification body”. I see some very useful standardization activities in both product’s lifecycle, PLM software and management of product information. However, what problem (in PLM) can be solved by turning it into a profession? This is the real question I want to answer.

Here is a list of possible problems, PLM profession can solve:

  • Quality Assurance: By standardizing practices, the variability in quality is reduced.
  • Public Safety and Trust: Regulatory bodies can ensure that practitioners work ethically and competently, safeguarding public interests.
  • Consistency and Accountability: A standardized code of conduct and practices ensures consistent delivery and a mechanism for accountability.
  • Economic Stability: Recognized professions can often offer more stable employment and economic benefits to practitioners.

This is a quick list of issues that can solved by establishing of “PLM professional” status with all possible benefits of the activities like standards and beyond.

The Blueprint for Professionalization

So, what does it truly take to turn a domain of knowledge into a recognized profession? I collected a few criteria that can help you to think about a “profession” and some thoughts about how PLM does fit each of them.

  • Specialized Knowledge: A domain should possess unique and distinct knowledge that sets it apart from others. While PLM certainly requires deep knowledge, in production process, business strategy, development products and services, document management, computer aided design and other, I can see it a big intersection of multiple domain focused on product development, engineering, manufacturing and others.
  • Formal Education and Training: Establish recognized institutions or courses to deliver standardized knowledge. Recently I started to hear that universities are introducing engineers to PLM course to help them understand what is behind. But I’m not aware about “PLM” education track in any college.
  • Professional Association: An overseeing body that represents, standardizes, and often certifies practitioners. I can see how PLM IG might want to become one. But this is complex.
  • Code of Ethics: To ensure practitioners act with integrity and in the interest of clients or the public. This is really interesting one. Especially when it comes to PLM vendor competition.
  • Licensure and Public Trust: A process to verify and maintain the competency of practitioners. There are a few companies that provides PLM education, but they are consulting or analytical companies and not educational institution.

Deciding on Professionalization

So, how to decide about PLM professional level of PLM and who can help to make this decision and create a foundational body for PLM profession?

I’d start from the demand. Is there enough demand to make PLM a profession? I can see how companies are making progress with PLM implementation, but at the same time, I can feel some new trends taking the leadership and mindshare from formal “PLM” book. The things like Digital Thread or Digital Twin are very popular while companies are moving towards their future technological development.

Let’s talk about harm. How badly things can go if your PLM activity is not formalized, people are not educated and business is impacted by the abcense of PLM. Can wrong PLM practices harm people health or business processes?

Public opinion is important. How does public perceive the domain. Is there a set of people that historically focused on PLM and they will disappear because new systems don’t use PLM terminology?

The last thin is legal. What is possible legal requirement? Is it required to be a certified PLM practicioner to accept the PLM job.

PLM: A Profession or a Discipline?

I’m deeply involved into PLM development, customer work, consulting and business practice related to PLM. Nevertheless I don’t see it grown up to the level of profession. It is more an integrated domain. Product Lifecycle Management, or PLM, is integral to modern businesses, but at the same time is not a standalone profession like law or medicine. Here is how I see it:

  • PLM is an approach to organize and manage information and processing relatd to product development and manufacturing. It is a lot and it covers an entire lifecycle of a product, encompassing processes, methods, and tools.
  • PLM has some very well defined dedicated roles like PLM Managers, Application Engineer, Analysts. It is important and needed for the companies.
  • PLM requires specialized knowledge, and there are courses, certifications, blogs, articles and tools dedicated to it.

At the same time, I found that PLM as a specialized discipline (or domain) rather than a profession. PLM has sometimes blurred borders. It lives in the space of within broader fields like engineering, data management or business consulting.

What is my conclusion?

Professionalization is a nuanced process, offering domains the chance to ensure quality, consistency, and public trust. While not every domain needs to undergo this transition, understanding the path to professionalization helps in making informed decisions. As for PLM, while it holds a pivotal place in product development and management, I can see it more as a domain of knowledge rather than a profession. But together with a process of digital transformation, PLM can evolve and become a profession. I look forward to that. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing a digital-thread platform with cloud-native PDM & PLM capabilities to manage product data lifecycle and connect manufacturers, construction companies, and their supply chain networks. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.


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