Home Editorial Think, Plan, Do, Act! Guidelines for PLM initiatives

Think, Plan, Do, Act! Guidelines for PLM initiatives


In his first article for WhichPLM, Sjors Bos presents a comprehensive guide to preparing for, implementing, and benefitting from a PLM implementation.  

With decades’ worth of experience under his belt (including work for some of the world’s best-known brands), Sjors’s informative piece advocates a proactive and process-led approach that emphasises the importance of change management and clear methods of measuring return on investment.

Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)

Product Lifecycle Management covers the end-to-end process of a product lifecycle; it starts at the idea stage, through design and manufacturing and finishes in consumer consumption or disposal to recycling for re-use.

Figure: simplified product relay cycle

Product Lifecycle Management if often referred to as a system solution and not as a strategy, which is a one-dimensional view of this complex process.  PLM is a process of integration, alignment and optimization of all disciplines with in an organisation and business: people, process, data, resources and systems. If we look at the process areas from idea generation through to product realisation we see the following components in the product lifecycle management process.

Figure: PLM architecture – idea generation through to product realisation

Post product realisation we see the cycle moving from creation and realisation to operational and commercialisation covering the areas of planning, buying, manufacturing, selling, distribution, consumer purchase and ending with the disposal or recycling of the product.

Figure: full end-to-end product lifecycle

In this article we are looking at the deployment and implementation of PLM solutions for the stages: idea generation through to product realisation.  This article is a high-level directive and structure to support people and businesses at the start of the process or who have endeavoured down the path of change and need some guidance.  For more detailed guidance, direction and/or help please contact the Future Forward Consulting team to start dialoguing.

Process First!

In the past we have seen many product lifecycle management initiatives being initiated through a systems approach. In many of these cases this resulted in long-winded costly projects, which in the mid to long term did not work out.  Product lifecycle management is process led and underpinned by methodology and driven by the business philosophy.

Figure: process leads, people aligns to process and systems support

Most of the challenges in a product creation and realisation organisation stems from unclear processes, lack of clarity in roles & responsibilities or unbalanced organisation structure and often amplified by poor or lack of functional systems.  A successful PLM initiative starts with describing today’s situation or as it is called the “As Is”. This is critical in the development of a future roadmap and vision; there is a need to understand the current base in determining the gap to the future desired state.

Figure: process definition cycle

There are various approaches to the “As Is” definition; you can work it through a step-by-step approach with all the functional areas and create a micro level map of the process.  If you have an workforce that is pessimistic or negative about change than you can take the approach of identifying all elements that do not work to allow the participants to work through their current frustrations.

Both of these methodologies can bring you to the “As Is” definition. The level of detail differs case by case; this is depending on the organisational maturity and the availability of either strategy/project management or business intelligence management/IT resources within an organisation.

The next step is to define the future “To Be” definition. The aim is to identify the gaps between the “As Is” and the future requirements that are needed to deliver the business strategic goals and support the desired and defined business operation models.  As a large part of the “To Be” will be future focused one has to ensure that there is enough visionary insight in the process definition. Workforce needs to stay involved, but they are normally very engaged in the here and now and might not be fully exposed to the future roadmap of the business.

The best “To Be” methodology is to identify the future business requirement that differs from todays situation, take the elements that are broken or not working in todays environment and if available some blue sky thinking supporting the vision and mission of the business.  Remember you do not want to go through an initiative like this regularly from scratch. Creating a good solid base allows an organisation to focus on refinement from that point onwards, this is “value add” focused and can be a positive enforcement of all the work done in the future.

During both the “As Is” and the “To Be” one has to look beyond the boundaries of the traditional product creation and realisation. The information generated is the base of the total business and will feed all downstream processes within the business. The principle of single process, single data and no duplication should be applied at all times during this stage of the initiative.

Figure: influence of downstream processes

Once the “As Is” and “To Be” defined than the gap(s) will become clear. Of course the gap is process driven, but often this also will point out the organisational gaps structurally and/or underdeveloped capability sets.

Now it’s time to breakdown the initiative into people and systems streams.

The people stream should focus on immediate quick wins within the current status and drive these through the organisation to generate direct impact of the initiative. Another task of the people stream is to prioritise the future requirements and defined gaps in order of importance; this will support the system selection process.

The systems stream should follow the next step and turn the processes into a requirements document. There are pre-defined formats (RFI/RFP) available for many industries on the web. These formats are quite elaborative and lengthy and they do not always add value to the process.

A hybrid solution is to define a high level document with the requirements coming from the process definitions, the business directive and a good definition of what are the must have’s, nice to have’s and future scoped requirements.

System Selection

Figure: macro level overview of system components within a multi channel business

The system stream is responsible for the system selection. As highlighted earlier PLM is the start of a business process and integrally connected to many other downstream processes. This becomes even clearer during the systems selection phase.  Next to the process definitions and requirements there is a need for a system definition and requirements to accompany the system(s) tender. This document should describe the current and future system architecture, system integration requirements, data flow requirements and the operating model. This document should also have a clear brief on reporting and information requirements.

Figure: solution selection cycle

The tender should initially be aimed at a list of 5 to 10 vendors, who in their turn will either express an interest in the tender and provide an answer to the requirements highlighted in the tender.  If the first round has passed, work the list down to a short list of 3 to 5 vendors who you invite for a formal meeting and product demonstration.  During this meeting you want them to demonstrate their capabilities based on the requirements set in the tender.

The base position should be that you would like to operate with an out of the box solution with minimal customisation. Utilisation of industry best practices, proven technology in the industry is key and a future roadmap and continuous enhancement of the solution is must have requirement.  At this point you also want to get an inside in the cost structures. What is the model: licensed software, one of costs, maintenance, upgrades, training, support, implementation, configuration, integration, customisation and more important what do they expect from your organisation.

During the shortlist review do not hesitate to ask for benchmark client(s) referrals or contacts. Getting input from active users and their organisations can provide valuable insights for your final selection.  We can strongly advice to make use of a scoring matrix during the vendor selection process. This matrix should cover: process coverage, systems platform, service model, implementation, configuration, future roadmap, costs, customisation, speed, benchmarks, documentation & manuals and last but not least partner cultural fit.

Please do remember that PLM is a process driven initiative driven by people and the systems are supportive. This is true before, during and after the implementation of any solution and your resources are the key to success. If the partner is the best technically, but if they are not able to connect with your talent than you have a bottleneck.

People, change management and training

Processes are only as good as the people who are using and executing them. This is definitely true for the product lifecycle management arena.  Starting an initiative like this will generate a lot of questions; nervousness and can even lead to uncertainty with in the workforce. This is why the workforce needs to have involvement from the start of the initiative.

Of course the involvement is very clear in the “As Is” stage, but less clear in the “To Be” phase. Most likely the workforce is already occupied by the day-to-day operations and has limited capacity to be involved on a large scale. This creates the requirement of communication on a regular base to inform the workforce and guide them through the initiative and make them feel connected.  It’s better to have the workforce engaged in more frequent smaller sessions to limit the impact on their workload, than have no involvement and run the initiative through MIS/IT or outsource resources. You will need ambassadors in every element of the organisation before, during and after the implementation to create ownership, acceptation and adaptation of the changes.

One of the models we have been successful is the creation of walk in sessions during the cycle of the initiative. This gives the workforce the opportunity to be curious, vent their frustrations, provide feedback and engage with out being pushed or “volunteered”.  Integration of the initiative in goal setting documents and appraisals is another great tool for creating focus across the organisation. The goals and deliverables need to be integrated on all levels of the workforce and clearly be underwritten by the business drivers and strategies.

Another key to success is training, this is at go live, but more importantly on-going past go live. Train the core skill set for go live and provide an on-going training cycle that is following the learning curves of the workforce. Also provide regular refreshers for new starters and staff who would like to refresh their knowledge.

Project / initiative structure and pace

An initiative as this requires a well-defined project structure with an executive sponsor in the senior management/board level of the organisation. The senior management of all departments involved should be part of the steering committee to ensure and provide clear signals to the organisation of the importance of the initiative for the business.

Below the steering committee there is a need for a project team who are in charge of the deliverables. Dependent on the resource pool and organisation capabilities, this team can be supported by external subject matter experts and consultants.

Figure: Initiative project organisation model
Figure: phased model

This structure is also responsible to make sure that the pace of the initiative and the organisational capacity for change is balanced with the workload and critical path of the business.  We recommend to breakdown the initiative into multiple phases and allow the organisation to learn and adopt in stages.  This will enable the organisation and workforce to provide refinement and adjustments during and in between each phase.  This process creates a continuous improvement environment, which will be beneficiary to the business and get the best out of the processes and systems in the long term.

What are the benefits?

The benefits of a PLM initiative are both qualitative and quantitative of nature. Of course the measurements and the impact will depend on the starting position of the initiative and the state of the current business processes.  Here is a list of the most common benefits found in PLM initiatives:

  • Business integration (product creation & realisation)
  • Simplification product development
  • Support multiple go-to-market models
  • Cycle time reduction, faster speed to market
  • Increased design to market adoption rates, less wastage
  • Samples cost reduction
  • Advanced product lifecycle management
  • Reduction in quality defects, through better supplier management & communication
  • Increased efficiency & effectiveness across the business beyond product creation and realisation
  • Supply base integration
  • Costs reductions
  • Margin enhancements
  • Materials and components consolidation
  • Workload reduction, more capacity within current workforce

Finally, do not start without an ROI projection

Not all initiatives and projects are clearly definable into a direct return of investment (ROI).  Product lifecycle management initiatives are quantifiable and should always have an ROI attached to the initiative or project.

  • Lead time reduction impacts stock holding, cash flow, missed sales and reduces risk within the business
  • Materials and components consolidation leads to bigger economies of scale, which in turn should drive down costs and drive margins up
  • Cycle time reduction leads to better range management, which in turn results in less wastage in the product creation process and better efficiency of the collection. This results in cost savings and economies of scale in manufacturing leading to better cost prices
  • Simplification, integration, workload reduction and advanced process management can lead to overhead reductions or it enables the business to do more with the same workforce base resulting in higher returns based on the same/flat cost base
  • Reduction in quality defects will reduce inventory holding costs and eliminate losses through clearance or destruction
Lydia Mageean Lydia Mageean has been part of the WhichPLM team for eight years now. She has a creative and media background, and is responsible for maintaining and updating our website content, liaising with advertisers, working on special projects like our PLM Project Pack, or our Annual Publications, and more.Joining mid-2013 as our Online Editor, she has since become WhichPLM’s Editor. In addition to taking on writing and interviewing responsibilities, Lydia has also become the primary point of contact for news, events, features and other aspects of our ever-growing online content library and tools.