PLM Best Practices and Henry Ford Mass Production System

April 6, 2014


If you are in PLM business, I’m sure you are familiar with term called "best practices". The term is widely used to explain how PLM system can be deployed, how to manage data and how to organize and optimize product development processes. So, where are roots of PLM best practices and why PLM vendors like them so much? Remember, the original PLM (and even PDM) systems started as a glorified data management toolkit with elements of CAD and ERP integrations. To get such system in product was very expensive and it required lot of time and implementation services. The reason is simple – every manufacturing company is different. It takes time for service provider to understand company landscape, processes, data requirements, legacy systems and suggest a solution. Put heavy price tag next to this activity. You can think about this process as something similar to organizing mass production assembly line. It is costly and complicated. Once you’ve get it done, your objective will be simple – run it to the largest possible quantity without re-configuration (which will cost you money, again). The same happened with first large PLM implementations.

The invention of "best practices" helped to figure out how to move from heavy and complicated PLM assembly line to more configurable and flexible mechanisms of PLM deployment. Technologically, toolkit approach was a underline product foundation. PLM companies and especially service providers and PLM consultants liked the approach. To create OOTB (out-of-the-box) pre-configured environments was relatively easy based on the practices gathered from existing large customers. However, to get it to the field and implement wasn’t so simple. Marketing and sales used OOTB environments to demonstrate and make sales. However, implementations and fine tuning was failing to apply it after that. The implementation devil was in details and service teams were required to bring to production. Similar to manufacturing mass production environment, customizing and services was a straightforward answer to solve the problem of product and requirement diversity.

As we know from the history of manufacturing, mass customization won and left mass production system in a dust. What was clear innovation 100 years ago was replaced by new forms of manufacturing, customization and flexible manufacturing units. I believe this is still very hot topic in the industry and every manufacturing company. The diversity of product requirements is skyrocketing, product lifecycle is getting even shorter. To produce PLM system that will fit this type of environment is probably one of the most important innovation that might happen in engineering and manufacturing software technologies these days.

What is my conclusion? I think software companies can learn something from the history of manufacturing companies. The move from from mass product to mass customization is one of them. PLM software made a turn from from complicated preconfigured assembly lines to expensive data management toolkits that require services. Manufacturing is getting different these days. Next step can be hardly achieved by pure technology or process organization. My hunch it is going to be a hybrid of new data management technologies empowered by crowdsourcing and customer innovation. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Photo source.

Total PLMification and Paper vs. Software Thoughts

June 20, 2013

"Hardware is what it is. Software is what it does". I’ve got this brilliant quote from Dick Morley at COFES Russia last month. It made me think about frustration people have sometimes working with Product Lifecycle Management systems. From my personal experience, the biggest lesson PLM industry must learn is the negative impact of brutal marketing and overselling. It is not unusual to see sales and marketing promoting PLM values to support every process in every organization – to improve performance, reduce cost, innovate, revolutionize collaboration, streamline processes, optimize supply chain, etc. Sounds familiar? If you are with PLM industry at least for few years, you’ve heard a lot of these… With my historical past, it reminds me some Soviet plans from previous century. One of them, almost 100 years old, plan GOELRO.

GOELRO plan (Russian: план ГОЭЛРО) was the first-ever Soviet plan for national economic recovery and development. It became the prototype for subsequent Five-Year Plans drafted by Gosplan. GOELRO is the transliteration of the Russian abbreviation for "State Commission for Electrification of Russia". Lenin’s belief in the central importance of electrificaton to the achievement of communism is represented by his statement that Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country.—Vladimir Lenin, [1]

While I certainly believe electrical power was an important factor to drive a progress and economic development of Soviet Union back 100 years ago, it overemphasizes the ability of technology to change social organization. Getting back to PLM, I can see how very often PLM propaganda trying to prove that PLM control and processes will automatically improve your organization. It is certainly not true. One size doesn’t fit all.

I’ve been reading an interesting article – Productivity tip: When and How to use paper vs. software. Navigate to this link and read the article. It is worthwhile reading. Simple summary – right tool for a right job. This message is not new. However, the examples author brings in the article comparing use cases for software and computers vs. old fashion paper are interesting. This is my favorite passage:

When it comes to notes and creating tasks, it all depends on how much you have to share with others and your own personal style. If you are building a spaceship, you’re probably going to need some pretty complex project management tools, and paper will likely reduce your efficiency. If you juggle a couple of things a day, it’s really satisfying to whip out a sheet of paper or note card and start crossing off tasks through the day.

PLM is a lot about task management processes and related data. The situation when total PLMification happens in a company can make engineers and other people in organization hate PLM. You need to decide how to get things done in an efficient way. Don’t overkill companies with complicated PLM technologies.

What is my conclusion? Software is what it does. Remember it and pickup the right one for a job. Don’t overkill 5 people team with complicated PLM technologies. At the same time, PLM vendors need to think about how to hide the complexity. Cloud PLM solves problem of installation and IT management. I believe PLM vendors should focus on new technologies and products that will make PLM transparent in many situations. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

How to streamline PLM?

December 10, 2011

One of the biggest problem I can see in all PDM / PLM tools is a high level of the complexity. I’ve been thinking about it many times. After observing this industry for quite some time, I started to come to conclusion that solutions are becoming more complicated without becoming more functional. I’ve been reading the article The case for stripped-down enterprise 2.0 tools on by Moly Bernhart Walker. He was quoting Tim Young of Socialcast. Here is my favorite passage:

"Simple tools are incredibly powerful," said Young Nov. 15, during a keynote at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Santa Clara, Calif. It’s very difficult to solve a complex problem with a complex tool, he added. What we’ve been doing with customers is actually moving away, stripping away functionality and making it very, very simple by just focusing on one or two activity screens. And we’ve actually begun to see the value in this," said Young.

I decided to pull few old pictures of EDM and PDM tools and take a look on them from the angle of PLM 2012.

How to strip-down PLM?

I think, we’ve been obsessed by the power of computer, higher screen resolution and interest to push additional functionality in the PLM software. It is a time to stop and think. Here is the slide from last presentation I’ve made during Autodesk University 2011.

PLM software is bloody complicated. To find a right strip-down option will be an appropriate way to think about the next PLM solution.

What is my conclusion? PLM was born many years to solve the problem of product development in complex defense and aerospace companies. Since that time, software vendors passed a long way developing new functionality. However, I don’t think it made solutions better. It is very hard to remove functionality for existing software. At the same time, I don’t see any alternative to that in the future. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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