Product Lifecycle Management deployments are often championed by product-engineering departments, with the direction typically shaped by engineering without the inclusion of downstream users, such as supply chain, manufacturing, quality and marketing.
Once under way, most organizations will research a few software packages online that appear to meet their product-design needs, then call a sales rep to arrange a demonstration. After deciding on a PLM package, a purchase order is cut and software arrives. But then what?
At that point significant funds have been spent on software, hardware and/or training that provides information on “how” to configure the software. But has the PLM team really thought through the business processes driving “what” to configure? How can the entire organization benefit from the PLM implementation?
To avoid this common mistake, we recommend taking several steps back before considering steps forward to focus on “Process” before technology.
Once the need for a Product Lifecycle Management system has been identified, the project champion must consider the total project landscape, including its impact on upstream/downstream business processes required for supply chain, manufacturing, quality and marketing, as well as technical publications, portfolio planning and service. The organization must commit capable resources to define these business processes ahead of any system development in the chosen technology.
An enterprise-wide “vision” for the PLM project must be established by the primary stakeholders from each of the functional areas, in coordination with senior management, to obtain the high-level support required to fund the project, offer support and provide organizational leverage to drive the implementation, as well as addressing the cultural-change needs. Once the “vision” is established, upper management should start communicating to the organization through regular company channels, as well as by establishing a cross-functional project governance board to help manage resistance and provide clear cross-functional participation and priorities to the initiative.
After the PLM Vision has been formed and communicated, a disciplined approach of project on-boarding is used to establish end-to-end business processes through a series of workshops before unveiling technology. This approach is flexible and scalable and can be applied on different-sized projects, processes, and companies, integration with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) initiatives and other system deployments.
Tier One workshops include gathering executive expectations in terms of shortcomings, areas for improvement and expectations for the future state. Understanding the goals and expectations of upper-management early in the program establishes the project as a business initiative the company can support.
Tier Two uses information gathered during Tier One as input, which involves bringing together cross-functional subject matter experts (SME) to establish an agreed-upon future state with agreed-upon measurable metrics. This provides an opportunity for the business to focus on processes and customer needs instead of technology “features” and perceived “benefits.”
Once cross-functional processes are established, PLM software can be objectively evaluated against the requirements/processes.
Tier Three activities map the cross-functional processes defined during Tier Two against the chosen enabling PLM technology. Data sources, reporting requirements and system architecture needs are reviewed and a technical plan is developed to support the technology implementation.
At this point, spending or technology purchase, software/hardware installation occurs, and the application(s) are configured according to the agreed-upon business processes. It is also recommended to define the internal and/or external ongoing administrative support required by the chosen process implemented, which will help establish a plan around growing a support team.
It is also suggested to keep key business users from each facility/function impacted by the project involved in system testing activities to ensure the future-state processes were configured correctly in the chosen PLM technology. These events called User Acceptance Tests (UAT) are a critical milestone to the system development and should be treated with the same importance as customer-driven quality sign-offs.
At each major step along the way, upper-level stakeholders are kept informed on project progress, road blocks and other relevant issues through Project Governance Meetings. The PLM team needs to establish project progress metrics early on and to use these key indicators throughout the implementation.
Our team has used this proven approach successfully in many organizations including aerospace, consumer goods, and heavy equipment. Aligning all levels of the organization early on, then establishing business processes ahead of technology is critical in keeping an implementation progressing efficiently and providing the desired outcome.
Most service providers tend to focus on technology. Our differing approach concentrates on understanding your process as a must for success. A process-centric approach requires businesses to review and question existing work streams to understand ‘why’, ‘what’, and ‘how’ work should be done to establish efficient cross-functional work flows that are consistent, repeatable, and scalable for growth. Cross-functional participation during process development is essential to providing effective solutions that enable technology to streamline work, rather than create wasted effort.
We also offer a unique perspective for helping organizations that are considering a Product Lifecycle Management implementation because we view PLM from a manufacturing business user’s vantage point since we live and breathe it daily.
Because we work in a dynamic, global product development environment that supports a world-wide manufacturing footprint, it uniquely provides us with a user’s perspective that helps to drive results and realize improvements. In addition to Certified Black Belts, many of our experts hold Green Belt Certifications. Several of our experts have also been deeply involved with our ISO 9000 certification effort, as well as configuration management, and document management practices.
Further, our role is to provide PLM guidance, not sell software. We look forward to the opportunity to understand each client’s current PLM environment and point them toward potential process-centric solutions and enabling technologies that help realize substantial business returns.