PLM: How to Fix Technologies and Stop Fixing People?

During the last week at COFES, I had a chance to listen to John Gage keynote –But Can It Slice a Pineapple? Gage talked about innovation, computers, changes, language and culture. One of his phrases resonated – “Technology is easy. People are hard“. It made me think about PLM concepts, technologies and implementations.

PLM and Product Development Process

In my view, product lifecycle management is about products development processes first. It originally started as PDM, it was very focused on data management. CAD models, Drawings, Revisions, Parts, Bill of Materials. It took almost 15 years to produce a reliable data management system that can handle all these things. However, the problem happened in between. Organizations became very complex. Many additional systems grew up to solve other business and development problems. Significant presence of ECAD and later software development introduce a new set of problems. So, product development process becomes more and more complicated. PLM companies eventually reflected the complexity in the taxonomies of their data and processes.

PLM Methodology

The question people often ask me – “what is the right PLM methodology?” It isn’t a new one. Since the complexity introduced in product developmnet continues to grow, PDM and PLM companies are trying to solve it by using various methods. One of them is to come with a clear methodology of work and system implementations. It started as “best practices” and then moved to the different colors and flavors of “how to” be related to PLM implementations. The biggest problem I have with this approach is that it actually requires a significant non-software influence in an organization. Which goes back to “people”.

PLM Technology

I think the question what is PLM technology is actually very confusing one. Nevertheless, I clarify it as a technology to manage data, processes and collaborate in a scope of product data development. So, what happens on this side? I don’t see any revolutionary changes since early 2000s. The massive amount acquisitions put vendors on a pathway of integrating acquisitions and converging technologies. The latest spark of PDM/PLM technologies happened in the last 1990s and early 2000s. Back that time, the concept of a flexible data model was invented. Finally, companies could create configurable applications. However, the outcome was an increased amount of service implementations and lots of methodology developments.

What is my conclusion? People are hard. I agree completely. To change them is near to impossible. By creating products that dependent on change of how people work, we are exposed to very long adoption cycle, expensive marketing and complicated implementations. Is it PLM fault? Yes, partially. People were exposed to a complicated stuff. However, fixing some technological issues can be a good idea to make products more friendly to people. I see a problem when PLM implementations are focused on how to change people’s work habits. The challenge is how to bring intelligent products that can handle the change for people. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

4 Responses to PLM: How to Fix Technologies and Stop Fixing People?

  1. Sudarshan Shubakar says:

    Hi Oleg,
    Great post! You are right. People would naturally resist adopting something that they are not familiar with. PLM should be a natural extension of whatever system people in the organization are used to. It of course still needs to have an underlying data model, reconfigurability, etc. Kind of like an invisible system that the user accesses from software that he already uses. For instance, if I am used to Excel for editing BOM data, I would prefer to have a few more buttons in the Excel UI to push/pull data to/from PLM. Rather than spend time learning, understanding and getting used to another system to achieve the same end.

  2. Sudarshan, Thanks for your comment and insight! Yes, I imagine many people will be interested to have “few more Excel buttons” to get a job done. This is one of the future trends in engineering and manufacturing software- to make it happen. Just my thoughts… Best, Oleg

  3. Lars Taxén says:

    Good points! I strongly believe that the next revolutionary change (if there is to be one!) will be about considering technology and people jointly; as an indivisible whole. Today, people issues and technology issues are treated as separate and distinct, as in the statement “Technology is easy, people are hard”. I do not think that people are “hard”; it is just that we have not taken people issues seriously. Instead of regarding people as being reluctant to change, we must understand better what is going on when, for example, a new PLM system introduced in an organization. Such a system is virtually useless until people have “enacted” it (a good term introduced by Weick and Orlikowski), that is, wrestled with it, learnt what can be done with it, and developed their own capabilities to use it. This is a process that cannot be separated into two neat boxes; it must be seen as a joint one which is flavored both from the human side and the technology side. If we insist on seeing people and technology as distinct areas of investigation, I’m pretty sure that genuine progress is impossible.
    – Lars

  4. Lars, thanks for your insight! In the past, companies making business software, often said that business software is “for business” and therefore can be potentially complicated. Not anymore, in my view. This is a revolutionary change that happens even in companies like SAP (and similar to them:)). Best, Oleg

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