I was reading #ACECON19 tweets a couple weeks ago and saw one that asked the question “is a PLM implementation ever done?” On one hand, if the answer is no, that’s pretty scary from a project and ROI perspective. On the other hand, if you implement PLM and “complete” your implementation does that mean that you have reached complete efficiently and that your business and operation is stable and will not change?

Are we ever really done?

My opinion on the answer to this question came to me as I thought about other large business initiatives and asked the question “are those initiatives ever done?” Let’s take for example the project of shop-floor modernization. At our imaginary widget manufacturing company, they have a number of machines, drill presses, band saws, jigs, etc. that they use to create a complex shaped metal part for their widget assembly. They want to create more complex widgets, more accurate widgets and do this in less time. They decide to invest in a laser cutting machine. This machine will replace several other older fabrication machines and will allow our company to produce the same parts faster and with higher quality.

Once the laser cutting machine is installed, operators are trained and parts are rolling off the machine would you say that shop-floor modernization is complete? Probably not. You would, however, say that phase or that aspect of shop-floor modernization is complete. You would expect to be able to measure ROI and see improvements in your process and/or product. However, you would expect management to keep an eye open for future opportunities to further modernize the shop floor. The shop floor modernization project may be a multi-year project broken down into smaller more manageable sub-projects or phases. Sometime in the future, after that multi-year project is done, there will likely be other, similar modernization projects – it doesn’t stop. The company is always growing and looking for ways to change and be more efficient.

It’s an Ongoing Process

I think this is a good way to illustrate a PLM deployment. I don’t believe a PLM deployment is ever done – or at least it should not be. That is not to say you don’t have phases, those phases have defined objectives and that you should not see short-term gains during a long term, multi-year PLM project.  

Much like the widget manufacture example, you should be able to see positive changes at each step of the way in your PLM deployment and these positive changes (i.e. ROI) are the fuel for future changes. Just like you might say “we spent a lot of time and money choosing and installing that laser cutting machine but it was worth it! There is a positive, measurable difference in the efficiency of our operation.” This positive outcome will lead you to say “it is worth further investment in modern manufacturing machines. Now let’s look at robotic welding machines.”

I think this is how a PLM deployment should be looked at. Phase I might be a 3-month effort to automate the engineering change process. At the end of that phase, you should be able to measure the improvements, see the ROI and then start talking about what is the next thing that PLM could do to help improve your processes.

Unfortunately, not everyone takes this approach. They look to PLM to solve a very specific issue (or small set of issues), expect the project to be complete and then the PLM system to be static for a long period of time. While there should certainly be periods of stability and no-change, and every phase of a PLM project should not be disruptive, shouldn’t you always be looking for new and better ways to do things related to your product development processes? Shouldn’t you always try to modernize your “engineering floor” just like you do your shop floor?

A Roadmap is Needed

The key to this? A clear roadmap. Just like the shop floor modernization example, that project has some sort of mission statement and roadmap. The PLM deployment should also have some sort of a mission statement and roadmap. If your goal of implementing a PLM system is only to fix an inefficient engineering change process, I suppose that is OK but are you really doing right by your company? Shouldn’t the goal be to improve your engineering processes (engineering change being one of them and maybe the first)?  Razorleaf’s recommendation is, when you begin investigating a PLM project take the time to build your roadmap. There will be some obvious things that the PLM system should do and those will be easy to place on the roadmap. But long term? What is it you want strategically (not tactically) for the long-term efficiency of product design?

Call us to Develop a PLM Roadmap

We offer Roadmapping services to help you plan out your PLM investment. Often times, we find our customers a