ONE WORD for your PLM Vision: Lifecycle
Last week, I went to observe a start-up pitch competition. During the event, start-ups get to pitch to multiple investors in order to attract potential investors, partnerships, or exposure.
- What’s your one word?
That’s the first question the panel asked each participant. The challenge was simple: lose your product’s long list of features and benefits, and instead pick ONE WORD.
Most participants couldn’t come up with their one word quickly. Their single words didn’t capture the essence of their products.
The few start-ups that could pitch their one-word confidently were the ones that won.
Creating a one-word vision helps you drill down to what’s most important. It helps people learn and remember your core message.
So let me ask you the same question: If you had to boil down your PLM vision into one word, what would it be?
If you’re like most companies, your answer will contain a list full of business jargon.
Unfortunately, most business jargon is vague in meaning, not everyone understands what you’re talking about, and it tends not to work as effective communication.
Make LIFECYCLE your ONE-WORD
Look at the vision board of winning PLM programs, and chances are you’ll see the same ONE WORD: “LIFECYCLE.”
The commitment to focus on lifecycle value runs deep throughout the most successful PLM implementations I’ve seen.
Lifecycle-centric PLM has huge advantages. PLM isn’t only for engineering anymore—the onus is on every team member in the entire company to capture the product’s lifecycle value. From product to sales, engineering, purchasing and service, everyone needs to think about how to design, make, ship, install, operate and maintain the product. There’s a long lifecycle, with lots of monetization possibilities to exploit including spare parts, upgrades, maintenance and smart connected services, among others.
By paying attention to and valuing LIFECYCLE, you can create a digital thread that keeps you continuously informed about business opportunities, and you can improve our products using the feedback from the site.
Let’s take a look at five essential steps to shift your PLM vision toward lifecycle.
1) Let people build on the vision
Spoon-feeding people with facts about the benefits of a lifecycle mindset won’t get people to care about it. Rather than force-feeding facts, elicit interest by inviting them to pose questions:
“What questions would you be able to answer if you had access to your product’s digital thread?”
For example, for an industrial equipment company, the main teams could come up with these questions:
- Product Management: What is our standard product? How is our product structured and designed? What components are available to build the product? What are the customer requirements for the product?
- Sales: What variants and options are available? What is our offered variant for this customer? What are the customer-specific requirements? What services can we offer?
- Delivery: What products will we deliver to the customer? What variants should we use? What do we need to manufacture, and what do we need to buy? What components can we use for this customer?
- Services: What spare and wear parts should we offer? What services do we need to deliver to the customer? What is the installed base of this customer? What feedback are we getting on the product?
You need ways to help people test the vision for themselves. Thinking about the end result is an invaluable resource for building a lifecycle-centric PLM vision. Without realizing it, people will be pointing out things they could know, but don’t know currently with the current information they have at hand.
2) Clarify the end-to-end process
How do you make your end-to-end process clear? You must explain it in terms of human actions. This is where so many process documentation initiatives go awry. Boring process charts and endless swim lanes are certainly useful, but they are often too abstract to the point of being meaningless.
We are wired to feel things about people, not for abstractions. With that in mind, gather every team working with one of your products in a single room and organize a PLM process walkthrough. The idea of a process walkthrough is to break down the process to give every team a basic idea of how it all works together.
From keeping people in the loop on what’s happening, to building relationships with various stakeholders, to negotiating the terms of collaboration—product teams can benefit greatly from a process walkthrough.
After the walkthrough, people in your company will understand what, exactly, their coworkers’ jobs are and why they matter. Not only do process walkthroughs clarify the overall process, they also create an understanding of what works, what’s missing, and what should change.
I’ve always found process walkthroughs incredibly valuable to opening the door for collaboration between and among teams. It turns out that when people see the work that’s being done by other teams, they start valuing it more.
3) Reduce clumsy handoffs between teams
The actions taken by each team at your company affects each of the other teams. Your product definition affects how quickly prospects move through your sales process. Your sales teams affect how easy it will be for engineering to deliver your products on time. And of course, your support and service activities impact whether your customers become promoters—people who recommend you to their peers—or warn their networks to stay away.
Listening to other teams’ needs in real words is an important reminder that there are people on the other side of the wall. Understanding what other teams need is the first step toward providing the information you need to answer these questions, not because “it’s your job,” but because their efforts will end up creating more lifecycle value in the end.
To put lifecycle at the heart of your business, you need to invest in transparent, easy-to-understand and actionable handovers.
Start by mapping the deliverables each team expects from the others. Ensure that every team understands what they need from their coworkers, who they’ll be handing things off to, and how they can provide further assistance even after the handoff has occurred.
Removing friction from your internal handovers means you can free up your product lifecycle, and create value faster.
4) Focus on information flow
There are various reasons why wrong information can creep into your product lifecycle: unclear instruction flows, cranky integrations, unreliable data, lack of collaboration among team members—and the list goes on.
Product data is spread across multiple systems and teams throughout the lifecycle. It’s often difficult to know where it comes from, where it’ll be sent to, or who owns it. It’s often complex to visualize how things are connected and understand the big picture.
To make matters worse, each team’s work probably happens within more than one system that names things differently—that is, the same information is stored in more than one system, but with different attributes.
“What does this attribute mean?” “Why is it named differently in the CAD system?” “What system is the owner of the information?” “Why can’t I modify this information?” “Where do these values come from?” “Why is this numbering code different?”
What can you do about this?
Start by giving people an actual window into the company’s information flows. A visual representation of your company’s key product information flows can help people gain both high-level and granular visibility of how information flows between your core systems. It can help teams understand exactly what information is important for the downstream processes.
An information flow map serves as a guide that helps people visualize how relevant data flows through core systems and how the attributes that carry that information are named in each system.
Documenting information flows is only the first step towards making information flow more fluent. It’s a laborious task, and you’ll probably spot several places where information just “doesn’t flow” and others where lots of manual work is needed.
5) Lifecycle ownership and accountability
The commitment to focus on lifecycle value must run deep throughout the entire fabric of your organization. When all of your teams are aligned around the product lifecycle, you can provide a more holistic and delightful experience to anyone who interacts with your company’s products.
Transparency in the workflow will enable people to be aware of each other’s roles and responsibilities and how they complement their own.
Instill a sense of accountability all around, and people will carry it with them during their day-to-day work.
There are no shortcuts to a lifecycle mindset
There are no shortcuts to attaining a lifecycle-centric culture. Working out a bold lifecycle-centric vision and getting every team to talk to each other is the first step. Integrated workflows and a free flow of information give everyone a better appreciation of how other teams and departments are affected by their actions. The better your teams can communicate with one another, the easier it will be for them to share ownership of the lifecycle value.
The goal should be for all members of your organization to consider themselves “guardians of the lifecycle value” in one way or another. That is, all teams should be laser-focused on doing their part to ensure that your company’s products have a well-defined digital thread.
A lifecycle mindset isn’t a box to be checked off. It’s a core value that requires a company-wide commitment to lifecycle value in order to get it right. If you want to win at PLM, make lifecycle the star that guides your company culture.