What Does PLM Really Mean for Me Anyway?
Michelle Boucher posted on July 31, 2013 | 14976 views

In an age when acronyms are as common as dirt, sometimes the attempt to make things simple by using an acronym, just adds confusion. PLM or product lifecycle management is an interesting example. Sometimes it is not even clear if a reference to PLM means a process or a software solution. This confusion really hit home for me with a recent Aberdeen Group survey on product development. One-fifth of the survey respondents who had not implemented a PLM solution said it was because they did not understand what PLM is. Consider the numerous activities involved in the lifecycle of a product from cradle to grave, including the multiple departments across the company. It would be impossible for a single solution to do it all! Plus the solutions available calling themselves PLM range from simple data management solutions to full enterprise solutions. No wonder there is confusion! To help develop a consensus around what people mean when they refer to a PLM solution, we asked survey respondents which capabilities should be part of an integrated product lifecycle management solution. Table 1 shows the top five.

The consensus is that a PLM solution must manage the data and key processes involved with developing new products. All of the CAD, product design data, documentation, and BOMs should be managed within the PLM solution. The governance of the development process should be  provided through integrated project / program management and change management. This means that when people refer to PLM, generally they mean the upfront part of the product lifecycle. This view makes sense as together, these capabilities centralize product data and manage related workflows. Centralized access to product data makes it easier to collaborate and manage changes. It also provides a single source of product information, reducing the risk of errors. The result is an improved ability to manage BOMs and ensure that the right information is getting to the right person, at the right time. 

This sounds great in theory, but where do you start? Where do you see the most value?  To answer this, we took a look at what Best-in-Class companies are doing. Best-in-Class companies were defined as those who do the best job managing their business and meeting their targets. As a group, they achieved these results:

  • 86% of product launch dates met
  • 84% of product revenue targets met
  • 85% of product cost targets met
  • 86% of product quality targets met
  • 22% reduction in development time

Study participants ranked how the use of PLM has affected various aspects of product development processes, with 5 being extremely satisfied. A score of more than 3.0 indicates that use of PLM software has exceeded expectations (Table 2). 

As seen in the table, Best-in-Class approaches to the use and support of PLM allowed them to realize even more value from their PLM solution than their peers. The Best-in-Class take a holistic view when implementing a PLM solution. They have processes defined to support their development process.  They consider the organizational needs and responsibilities. They ensure they are capturing and managing the knowledge within the organization about their products. Finally, they capture performance measurements to establish a baseline and assess progress to continually improve.

More details on the approaches the Best-in-Class take can be found in Product Development Single Source of Truth and Responding to Growing Product Complexity: Improving BOM Management. However, it is also useful to look at what they value most in a PLM solution. Table 3 lists the selection criteria the Best-in-Class ranks as most important to their choice of a PLM solution, with 5 most important.

The central theme here is ensuring that PLM be efficiently and effectively incorporated into the business as a whole. To this end, the Best-in-Class focus on finding a solution that is easy to adopt, works with their existing business processes, and makes engineering and product development information more readily available to the rest of the enterprise. When looking at a PLM solution, or seeking to realize more value from the one you have, these are the things you should keep in mind. If not, you may find yourself disappointed.


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