Make Lifecycle the Star That Guides Your PLM Vision

lighthouse north star

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.

product lifecycle management elements

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?
PLM questions

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.

CAD PDM ERP

 “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.

Cloud-Hosted Vs Cloud-Based: Beginners Guide To Cloud PLM

clouds

NOT ALL CLOUDS ARE CREATED EQUAL

Who doesn’t use some cloud applications nowadays? Gmail, Slack, Salesforce, … according to a recent CIMdata survey, almost 80% of manufacturers already use cloud-based services. Although ERP and CRM are the most common cloud enterprise solutions, cloud PLM is starting to become more prevalent.

Today, most PLM vendors have jumped on the bandwagon and are offering a cloud PLM. They have all recognized the undeniable advantages of cloud-based solutions—the lower cost, scalability, simplified implementation, cost savings by removing IT expenses, and a faster path to ROI.

So if you are considering adopting a cloud PLM solution, you should be aware of the different types of cloud terminologies that are out there.

Why is this important? Well, although all “cloud” solutions are available on the internet and offer a subscription model, there are important differences between them. Understanding what they are can help you make the best purchasing decision based on your business’s needs and budget.

There are two main differences in the cloud PLM landscape you need to understand: cloud-based PLM versus cloud-hosted PLM.

What is a cloud-hosted PLM?

Basically, a cloud-hosted PLM is a pre-existing software application that is hosted in a cloud data centre, managed by the vendor on behalf of the customer. The vendor provides its infrastructure as a service (IaaS).

This model of cloud follows a single tenancy architecture. This means that a single instance of the software and supporting infrastructure serves a single client. Each client has his or her own independent database and instance of the software.

What is a cloud-based PLM?

A cloud-based solution means that the vendors have built the PLM application directly in the cloud, starting from scratch, using a Software as a Service (SaaS) approach.  Models, servers, databases and code that are part of the software are also managed and hosted by the software vendors.

As per the cloud-hosted model, servers, databases and code that are part of the software are hosted by the software vendors. In this model, each client shares the software application, a single database and the servers. However, the data of each client is isolated and kept invisible to other clients.

An analogy often used to explain the difference between single-tenant and multi-tenant architecture is that of renting your own house on a street that is shared by other private houses versus renting an apartment in a building where other apartments are rented by other people. In the latter, tenants can share maintenance cost, which makes it more affordable.

If you want to know more about the single-tenant versus multi-tenant difference, you can check this article.

single-tenant-multi-tenant plm

So what does it all mean for your company? In the table below, we summarize how choosing one model over the other will impact your organization.

cloud plm cloud based vs hosted

What’s important to you?

There are benefits and drawbacks to both single-tenant and multi-tenant systems. Ultimately, your company must decide what is most important to their business and what can be sacrificed.

Choosing your ideal solution will depend on a variety of factors: Is cost the primary driver? Is security critical for the type of data you are storing? Does your PLM solution need a lot of customization? Are you happy with using a one-size-fits-all system? Does your industry or country have unique regulatory constraints?

If you want to know which cloud PLM solution has a single-tenant or multi-tenant architecture, stay tuned. We’ll soon publish an article to dive into cloud PLM solutions.

How to Define Your Own PLM Bible & IT Documentation

In my previous blog post, I shared with you why I believe that successful PLM implementations start with a PLM Bible. This is a blueprint that explains what PLM means to them and how they work with their products, data and IT documentation.

If you’re in the same boat, let’s get down to brass tacks and talk about how to define your PLM Bible.

1. Define your learning customers

Getting a handle on who your learners or customers are is the first thing you need to do when you start working on your company’s PLM Bible.

Learning for a techy PLM system administrator isn’t quite the same as it is for an IT executive. Everybody processes information differently. An insightful presentation that captivates the executive’s attention might be confusing or utterly boring for the system administrator, even if the information is equally relevant to both of them.

Having a comprehensive understanding of your customers allows you to:

  • Keep focused on your customers’ learning needs
  • Connect with their motivations and behaviours
  • Enrich the impact of your content
  • Personalize and tailor your training content
  • Look at (and solve) problems from your customers’ perspective

To identify your customers, think about the people who need to learn PLM in your organization. Now go one step further and try to classify them in groups.

To show you what I mean, let’s pretend you’re a Cloud PLM software provider. Some of your potential customers – your leads – have never tried your application. They need to understand what they’d get if they purchased it. Your paying customers have already subscribed to your product. They need to help their users get up and running with the new system. And they also need to train their system administrators, the ones configuring and managing the application behind the scenes.

In this case, you can break your learning customers down into 3 groups:

PLM learning customers users

By considering your learning customers, you’ll then be able to determine how to structure your PLM Bible and what content and IT documentation you need to create to keep your learners interested.

2. Detail your PLM learning categories

We’ll use learning categories to create our learning structure and to organize, sort and filter the learning content. If we tag every piece of content with categories such as roles, process, system, etc., we’ll later be able to locate all the relevant content easily.

To detail your learning categories, get your team together and brainstorm. Think about at least 4 categories to tag your content. For example, we could look at the information from a role perspective: R&D Engineers, Product Managers, Sales Managers, etc. We could also define processes as categories. How about using PLM capabilities as a way to categorize our content? Another idea would be to tag our content according to the corporate systems involved.

PLM learning categories

If you want to come up with rich learning categories, make sure you get a diverse group of people involved in the discussion. If your team members work on the same projects together, go to team meetings together, and sit next to each other in the office, it’s needless to say that the categories will likely start to get pretty homogenous.

3. Build your learning structure

Now that you’ve pinned down your categories, it’s time to start thinking about the learning structure.

A typical learning structure starts with a learning path. A learning path is a group of courses that allows us to master a topic in small steps. Courses are made of several lessons, and the content often can be reused in several learning paths.

Learning paths work well for PLM, because they help people absorb a lot of information while providing flow and structure.

If you want to get inspired, head over to DropboxLynda, or Asana. It’s helpful to see a few examples of learning structures in action, and these companies all do a great job of it.

defining PLM learning structure

Using the learning categories you’ve previously identified, you’ll define the learning paths. The first step is to select a main category. We’ll focus on one main category first, because we want to keep things simple.

For example, we could select “Roles” as the main category to come up with our learning paths. In this case, we’ll have paths such as “Becoming a Product Manager,” “A day in the life of a Sales Manager” or “Customer Support Foundations.”

defining PLM roles

Alternatively, we could select “Process” as the main category. In this case, we’ll have learning paths such as “Product Development Fundamentals,” “Understanding the delivery process” or “A day in the life of Support.”

defining your PLM IT documentation structure

When working on your PLM learning structure, simplicity is a design principle worth following. While you want to deliver a highly personalized learning experience to your customers, having too many learning paths or courses leads to indecision, confusion, and lower satisfaction. That’s why I recommend that you keep your learning paths lean and focused.

4. Analyse and map learning content and IT documentation

Now that you’ve got your learning paths in place, it’s time to go one step further and define your courses. At this stage, you’ll take the learning paths and think of the courses needed to achieve the customer learning goals.

First of all, make an inventory of the existing documentation. Take each of the learning paths you’ve come up with and think about the courses you’ll need to achieve the learning goals you’ve set.

Content mapping can be tricky, because you have to work backwards.

Start by determining the logical pathway a learning customer would take when navigating through the path. What process do they follow? Which functionality will they use? In what order? Do they need any previous knowledge?

To give you an idea of how this works, let’s look at Outotec’s Equipment PLM Learning path:

PLM learning online library

In the picture, you can see a series of use cases following the process (on the left) that walk the user through product development to product delivery and services.

Behind each of the use cases, you’ll find the learning content required to complete each step.

At this point, your task is to define those use cases and think about the type of learning content you need for them. The content can be in video format, eLearning, PowerPoint presentations, manuals or even teacher-led trainings. And you don’t need to use the same content type for each path. I encourage you to mix up different content types to match your learners’ needs.

Great learning content must:

  • Combine theory and practice
  • Be interdisciplinary
  • Provide business context
  • Be practical

For inspiration, check out some examples from the engaging eLearning courses we’ve created for our customers Konecranes, Aqseptance or Upchain. Nowadays the possibilities for eLearning are countless, and you can break down and present complex concepts (like the ones involved in PLM) in a very interactive and engaging way.

5. Getting a handle on what’s important

Now that you’ve analysed the content you need to create, it’s time to prioritize what’s most important.

Start by determining which type of learning customer makes up the largest portion of your learners. If most of your learners are novice, for example, you might decide not to work on the intermediate and expert learning paths just yet.

However, if you have roughly an equal number of learners from each group, you should consider what content is most relevant to them. Maybe some courses will be common for all your customers, or perhaps there’s a deployment coming up for a specific role that should take priority.

Sometimes it helps to survey a random sample of customers and ask them some questions to shape your plan. For example, if you’re working on a PLM course for novice learners, you might want to ask your experienced users:

  • What are the 5 things a new PLM user absolutely needs to know to see value?
  • What are the top 5 things you wanted to do when you first logged into the new PLM system?

You could then use the results to decide which content to prioritize.

6. Create a plan

Once you’re clear on what content matters most, go ahead and create an action plan.

Think of this plan as your PLM Bible’s Northern Star. It will keep your sights set in the right direction and guide you as you move things forward.

Using a template or spreadsheet, determine which content you’ll work on, either on a weekly or monthly basis. Rather than working on an overly long-term plan, break those long-term goals down and focus on multiple short-term “waves” to reach the goal.

learning path IT documentation plan

The plan for these shorter-term waves lays out a clear course of action to review, create and test the learning content you need. This way, you’ll gain greater clarity on how long the work will actually take versus how long you thought it would take.

And what’s more, you’ll be able to celebrate small successes, learn from the experience, and get buy-in.

7. Listen to your customers

Finally, for your PLM Bible to really stay relevant, you need to talk to your customers. Whether it’s in person, online, or through surveys, take the time to check in with your customers and stay on top of what matters most to them. Customer feedback is one of the most powerful tools you can use to make your PLM Bible meaningful and relevant – and ultimately help your customers stick around to become PLM evangelists.

Over to You

I know this is a lot of information, but the work has just begun! It takes time, organization, and creativity to create a successful PLM Bible.

But, as the book of Proverbs says, “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.“ If you value education, PLM will bring a lot of value to you!

8 Things We’ve Learned From Working Remotely

woman working remotely on laptop

Working remotely can pose a challenge for any organization. Even more so if (as in our case) the business was originally started this way, with no prior experience of the traditional working environment. Every member of our team lives and works in a different city, and any new staff receive their initial training online. Working remotely is a challenge, but there’s no doubt that if you can get it to work correctly, your productivity can go through the roof.

So how have we managed to turn an apparent stumbling block into an advantage?

In this blog post, we will explain how we work remotely in our organization and how this situation has enabled us to create a clearly-defined working model.

The Era of Remote Work

In our hyperconnected world of today, more and more businesses are beginning to recognize the benefits of integrating a remote working model into their workforce. This fact is even more relevant if you work in the PLM sector, where finding talent is a daily challenge. Occasionally you find the perfect profile only to discover that they live thousands of kilometres away from your office. In this case working remotely is the only option. Likewise, it is common practice to outsource developer services to countries such as India or Eastern Europe or work with clients and software providers that are far from our borders. These issues make the option of remote work a much closer reality in our sector compared to others.

By following this route, we are faced with the usual dilemma. The comfort of working from home comes with the inconvenience of not having all the usual office tools on hand. Not to mention the perception that still exists in many companies that if they allow their staff to work from home, it will lead to reduced production output. Businesses often fear that this concession of workforce freedom will result in a loss of efficiency and therefore money. However, the reality is very different. It’s a proven fact that working remotely not only positively affects the human resources of a company but also its accounts.

Why work remotely?

Working from home is not just sitting in your pyjamas and answering emails. Nor is it just being able to manage your rest breaks in the way that best suits your lifestyle while binging on your favourite snacks before going to pick up your Amazon packages. It’s much more than that! Working remotely transforms people’s lives and makes them the masters of their own time. In our case, there is total flexibility when it comes to allocating work hours, as long as they add up to 40 hours a week. If for example, you’re an early bird then just get up early. If you feel more inspired working in the middle of the night, you can. Of course, we must always respect our team meeting schedules, without which none of the above would be possible.

Besides, working remotely gives you something money can’t buy: You can work from wherever you like! As long as you meet your daily hour commitment in a responsible manner, it doesn’t matter if you do it from your flat in Frankfurt, a cabin in Bali or the base camp of Everest.

The availability of this freedom of time and workspace leads to a vastly improved work-life balance, which in turn results in a happier and more motivated workforce.

The Keys to Remote Work

So, if there are only advantages to be had, then why are there still many companies that are suspicious of telecommuting and remain stuck in a rut of their old “mind numbing” 9 am to 5 pm work routine? The answer is simple: they don’t know how to do it. To change to this type of work, the correct transition strategy must be implemented. Let’s say instead of your usual work routine you suddenly decide that your employees are going to work from home. It may be harder than you think.

However, if you familiarize yourself with how it works in other companies and prepare yourself for these changes, then it will end up being the best decision for your business that you have ever made. Your employees will be happier and more involved, productivity will increase, and on top of that, you will save money.

8 effective tips for working remotely

Below we will outline the 8 things that you must adopt, no matter what, if you want remote working to be a success for your organization.

1. Planning your day

Planning your day is a vital element that is equally important whether you work from home or from an office. Sorting your tasks in order of most to least important and prioritizing them accordingly is key. We work with 3 types of tasks: Must, Intend and Like. Every day, each team member is given a Must task, an Intend task and a Like task. The Must task is the most important task of the day. Failure to complete it will signify that your day has been unproductive. If you finish your Must task, you move onto your Intend task in order of priority, and only by completing that can you move onto Like, the least important of all.

working remotely checklist

2. Task management tools

Personally, we use Asana as a fundamental part of our day-to-day activity. Asana is a software that facilitates the planning, management and monitoring of the tasks of each team member. Thanks to this, we can access each other’s task calendars, add or remove tasks and classify them by projects. Another key feature is its ability to assign deadlines to the tasks, which makes overall organization much easier. It’s also aesthetically pleasing and is simple to use. Without a doubt, it’s an essential tool if you work remotely.

Asana online tool

3. Activity records

This step is essential when you have no physical office, and all the work is carried out remotely. The most important work activities of each individual’s daily duties must be meticulously recorded. This way we can facilitate both new additions to the team and allow the rest of our colleagues to be able to help out in any of our tasks. All of this information must be freely available on an intranet system that all staff members can access and search. For example, if an employee takes a holiday and someone else has to take over their role, they can simply access the intranet to find out exactly how the task should be carried out.

4. Fluid communication

When you work from home and carry out projects in conjunction with others, a key element to success is the fluidity of communication that exists between the parties. To ensure communication runs smoothly, there are tools such as Slack where you can create user groups that each team member can access and interact with one another as if they were in the same office. Slack allows you to start conversations, ask questions and resolve any doubts. Also, it can be synchronised with Asana so that specific tasks can be assigned to relevant conversations. Communicating by email is a popular choice for the majority of people, but it is far from the most effective way to communicate when it comes to working remotely. Running Asana and Slack together in tandem allows total uninterrupted communication with your team, and your office building will never be missed.

Slack tool

5. Weekly meetings.

Naturally, this is key to maintaining contact with all the members of the organization. In these meetings, the rest of the team is updated regarding the status of their assigned tasks. In addition, future strategies are discussed, and any important issues are shared. At Share PLM we have meetings like these every Tuesday and Friday.

remote team meeting on Google Meet

6. Time tracking

When you work in an office, and you know you have to keep to a strict time schedule, you’re never really aware of the exact time required to finish a specific task. You can only picture the end of your working day so you can go home. When you work from home with total flexibility this changes. It is often important when planning our work day to know exactly how many hours it takes us to perform certain tasks. That’s why we use Toggl, a time tracker that is downloaded directly onto the browser bar and like Slack, can be synced with Asana. Before starting any task, simply click on the button to start the time tracker. Once completed, click the timer again to finish. Toggl allows us to quickly assess which tasks we need to spend more time on and which ones will take less time.

Toggl time management tool

7. Virtual café

As a company with extensive experience in telecommuting, one of the most difficult aspects for us is having our workmates so far away, not only for work-related reasons, but for personal ones too. Sometimes working alone at home for long hours can be hard and we miss the little things like our Monday morning chats or coffee breaks where we catch up on the weekend. Those are moments when we get to socialize and forget about work for a minute. To bridge this gap between us, we have a daily meeting that we call “virtual café” and whose attendance is optional. It is always held first thing in the morning, and we chat for about 15 minutes about anything other than work. It’s a great opportunity to get to know the team a little better when you have no daily physical contact.

8. Meeting in person

If possible, organizing a meeting where all the team members can get together in person is a fantastic idea. In our case we generally get to see each other 3 times a year, each time in a different place (usually where one of the team members lives). The team gets to spend 2 or 3 days together sharing our viewpoints and amusing stories from our daily lives while developing a business strategy to follow. The result is always very positive, and it allows us to form deeper bonds with our workmates, especially when the beers come out at the end of the day!

Share PLM team meeting

What about you? Are you working remotely?

Please share with us what you and your team usually do to make your work easier!

Giving PLM Definition: Why You Need a PLM Bible

plm definition

Last week, we lost one client. The company’s management got tired of user complaints and slow progress and decided to halt their PLM Program. They had no PLM definition laid out in their plan.

The company had invested a lot of money in a customized PDM system and integrated all its CAD applications in an attempt to boost, reuse and accelerate their product deliveries.

However, users found themselves unable to work with the new system. They found the PDM system slow and very complex. They didn’t understand why they had to rebuild their CAD models to fit in a design library. They were annoyed that it now took 10 minutes longer to save a model in CAD than it used to. They didn’t understand the big picture.

Eventually, the PLM program was in dire straits, and management made the decision to “press pause.” The company lost tons of euros along the way, not to mention the goodwill of both employees and management.

Why do PLM implementations often fail?

PLM implementations often fail.

Where is the problem? Why do so many companies struggle to extract value from their PLM programs?

Is it because not all PDM systems are implemented flawlessly? Or is because PLM is too complex?

Last week, after digesting the bad news, I asked my customer: “If you were given another chance, what would you do differently?”

After a moment’s silence, he said: “I would start with a PLM Bible.”

What’s a PLM Bible?

A PLM Bible—that made a lot of sense to me.

In my experience, savvy PLM implementations have one thing in common: they ALL have consistent ways of doing things. They have a blueprint that shows users how they work with their products and data.

It’s their PLM Bible.

Here’s an example of one of our client’s PLM Bibles: the company Outotec. In their PLM Bible, they define what PLM means to them and explain how to get support and who is involved in the PLM process. They publish release information in their bible, have a glossary of terms, and an information flow that represents how systems are connected to each other.

PLM learning library

Then, diving deep into each of their product categories, they define a detailed process that ties together theory and practice and makes PLM a bit easier to navigate. Outotec’s PLM Learning cloud is flexible and immediately accessible, and it enables their employees to pick up skills in the context in which they must work. Plus they can learn at their own pace, and in ways that match the problems they face on the job.

This framework helps users achieve flow and make sense of the multiple clicks in different, apparently unconnected systems.

PLM process library

Once you have a PLM Bible, everything becomes clear.

Every support request becomes easier to handle. Every decision is easier to make. Every user has a clear overview of how to work with their product data. All training is easier to plan and execute.

I agree with the client we just lost. You can’t be successful at product lifecycle management without PLM definition, without a bible.

8 Key Benefits of Defining a PLM Bible

1. Understand what PLM means to you

A good PLM Bible starts with PLM definition and what it means for your organization. When you start talking about PLM in detail, you need to be specific in your terminology.

For example, several years ago I attended a management meeting where one executive announced that his company would be focusing on streamlining PLM in the coming year. During the meeting, everyone there nodded in agreement. Afterwards, though, my colleagues discussed what PLM actually meant. Some thought we should focus on streamlining the product process, some thought we should improve the PDM system, and some were convinced we should productize our products more.

PLM. Though we often use these three letters, its meaning is usually unclear.

Don’t let PLM become a placeholder word that people use to gloss over concepts your people don’t fully understand. PLM is too good to become a dummy buzzword.

2. Connect the “why,” “how” and “what”

Most people believe that PLM problems are all about technology.

But PLM systems are only the tip of the iceberg.

The truth is, most PLM implementations fail because employees don’t have a true understanding of the “why” and the “how” of the transformation.

PLM is NOT something you just buy and plug into your organization.

Most companies tweak their PDM systems to mirror their business processes, so they don’t simply resemble the application they purchased. The problem is, after many years of unchecked customization, PLM systems become too nebulous.

A PLM learning structure can help you explain how your company does PLM and can become your PLM Bible. With your bible, you can tie together theory and practice and make PLM a bit easier to navigate.

8 benefits of defining PLM

3. Know what you don’t know

When you work on your PLM definition for your bible, you’re likely to discover unexpected gaps in your PLM concept.

Maybe you still don’t have a good solution to keep Service Bills of Materials up to date, or perhaps your concept to keep track of different MBOMs for the same EBOM is not yet crystal clear.

Recognizing your PLM gaps is essential to coming up with a successful PLM environment.

Working towards a PLM Bible can help you discover the things that don’t work well today and craft a roadmap to make them work tomorrow.

4. Know what your users don’t know, and explain it!

Identifying your users’ knowledge gaps is key to winning at PLM. Ask them to explain difficult concepts, even if you think everyone understands them. This will not only help you build your PLM Bible from a real-life perspective—it will also reveal explanations of concepts that your colleagues don’t fully understand.

Your PLM Bible’s critical task is to create a clear path to value, no matter how complex your PLM environment is. Make sure your users receive clear, timely guidance every time they encounter a difficult concept or need to follow a complex process. Define a seamless system “flow” and explain the benefits of each part of the system’s integration in clear, concise terms.

5. Understand the big picture

It’s easy as a PLM user to get overwhelmed by complexity. One of the biggest hurdles to winning at PLM is that product data is spread across multiple systems (PDM, ERP, CRM, MRO…).

Documentation is spread across several teams and sources. Each guide focuses on one specific system or process, this makes it hard for users to understand the “big picture.” As a result, they can’t easily achieve flow, and they get side-tracked by multiple clicks in different, apparently unconnected systems.

Your users have better things to do than spend all day browsing through unconnected documents and manuals. That’s why a PLM Bible is one of the most important and useful resources in a successful PLM implementation.

6. Prepare your PLM team for outsourcing

Troubleshooting, system configuration, end-user support or training are tasks you might consider outsourcing as your PLM implementation becomes more mature. Maybe you’ll decide to externalize certain tasks and will need to make sure the methodology you’ve designed can scale. A PLM Bible helps ensure that everyone on your team follows the right processes, even when you’re not watching. It will make your process repeatable for new hires, trainers and consultants.

7. Build a scalable training framework

It’s time to stop viewing product lifecycle management training as nice to have, and start treating it as the foundation of a healthy, successful PLM environment.

Instead of cobbling together a rough-and-ready user manual, you need to fixate on creating standout digital training.

Instead of viewing training as a one-time problem, you need to provide a learning experience throughout the entire user lifecycle—one that helps new users and seasoned users alike get more out of PLM.

With a digital PLM Bible, you can present technical content in a practical and user-friendly way with the help of eLearning. eLearning can help you cut costs and scale: you can train employees efficiently and fast, all at a much lower cost than traditional classroom training.

And it’s not just about cost. It’s about quality, too. Content in eLearning is well organized and standardized, which increases training quality and democratizes knowledge.

8. Streamline the Product Lifecycle Management processes

When you work on a new implementation, you tend to see many broken processes and many workarounds. That’s because the old ways of working suddenly don’t make sense anymore. Re-evaluating your business processes and confirming that they’re still valid is part of the implementation.

You have to challenge yourself and ask: “Do we need to be taking this extra step? Do we need this in the PDM system?

As your PLM implementation becomes mature, a PLM Bible can help you continually collect feedback and create a systematic framework for improving PLM adoption.

Challenge the status quo and simplify complexity

Stop complaining about PLM technology. Stop finger-pointing and look in the mirror.

It’s the way your system’s been set up. It’s the way it’s been implemented. It’s the way it’s managed.

Wake up! If you want your PLM program to succeed, start with a PLM Bible!

5 Simple Tips To Make PLM Simpler

plm cloud

Two weeks ago, my blogging peer Jos Voskuil published a blog entitled “Why PLM will never be simple. He’s right. Product lifecycle management and PLM cloud software is nothing easy.

If users want quick, easy, and painless—that is, if users want “simple”—why shouldn’t PLM also be simple?

We’d all love to make PLM simpler, but how? Jos’ post inspired me to share how I think we all can make PLM simpler.

1) It all starts with a simple vision

Much like a company’s vision, a PLM initiative should have a consistent, clear vision that is easy for everyone to understand and rally around. And it all starts by formulating this vision in a statement that clearly expresses what your PLM initiative aims to achieve.

Think of the PLM vision statement as a 30-second pitch that sums up the initiative’s purpose and critical targets. Drop the corporate-speak, and choose a down-to-earth message.

Here are some good examples of guiding visions statements for sound PLM initiatives:

To enable full lifecycle traceability for the factory of the future, making sure we know the origin of parts and ensuring they remain traceable.“ – Renault

To provide business & people with 3DEXPERIENCE universes to imagine sustainable innovations capable of harmonizing products, nature and life” – Dassault Systems

To make End to End data accessible for realistic car visualization, ensuring that the complete visualization data with geometry, material definition, equipment, appearance and variation is centrally available for all downstream processes” – Mercedes Benz Cars

With a clear vision, it is much easier to brand your initiative, communicate what needs to be done across your organization, and find the right technology solutions to support the vision.

But letting a vision guide your team requires a lot of communication. Painting a clear picture of what you want to achieve, explaining why it’s important, and building a movement around it spurs people to action.

how to make plm simpler

2) A bit of marketing

Yes, a bit of marketing can help PLM as well. Building a brand that connects with people on an emotional level for your PLM initiative is actually an excellent idea. People who feel emotionally connected to your initiative’s brand will have a better experience using your PDM system, because they’ll be more willing to forgive small usability hiccups.

It’s important to encourage people to change by making the outlook of the results of that change tangible and realistic. Sharing case studies from other departments, companies or clients that have achieved something similar is a great way to make it real. Sometimes an actual, real-world inside story about the aspired-for state of the business can also lead people to visualize the change.

Whether you’d like people to actually use the PDM system, follow the product development process or get excited about the renewed document-management functionality, a PLM internal marketing strategy can help you build awareness and thrive. When done well, a marketing strategy can spell the difference between resistance and success.

3) A less-complex PLM cloud system architecture

The rise of cloud computing and open APIs is changing the game for traditional PLM architecture. Even if traditional PLM vendors have historically shied away from flexible open architectures, we’re seeing a positive change towards more flexible applications that can cope with the connected world we live in.

Monolithic PLM systems are incapable of managing today’s product collaboration. These locked-in legacy systems don’t integrate well with each other, and they often become a barrier to the fast and smooth information flow that modern businesses demand.

A platform approach—using open standards, APIs and microservices to streamline integrations between the systems that manage product data—is the way to go.

Often complexity is a side effect of not making decisions. Too often, companies engaging in mergers and acquisitions end up having a bunch of systems doing the same thing. They are unable to “kill” any of them and, over the years, things get complex. I’m working with several SMEs that have six different mCADs, and multiple environments for the same mCAD. Imagine how many distinct integrations they need to consolidate their product data!

A slow or poorly-handled system integration between merging companies can greatly complicate your PLM system landscape. To keep your PLM architecture simple, you need to be brave and make the tough decisions.

4) A well-designed user experience

Boring light-blue screens from the ’80s, thousands of new windows opening with every click, cryptic error messages, slow performance and sudden application crashes are day-to-day realities in the PLM world.

UX stands for User Experience. User experience design focuses on the optimization of an application to make it easy to use, effective and enjoyable. User Interface (UI) design refers to the look and feel of an application. Both elements are crucial to an application and work closely together.

User experience design isn’t just about how the application looks, but rather about how it works. It’s not just about picking colours and designing beautiful graphics, but rather about making it easy for the user to do their job.

A well-designed user interface is a very powerful way to make a PDM system simple, clear, bright and user-centered, and thus improve user experience.

plm system

Most PLM vendors try to keep their solutions generic, and don’t provide specific out-of-the-box solutions for different industries. Vendors try to take into account so many use cases that simplifying the main structure of the PDM application itself seems impossible.

The result is an overwhelming number of choices and options. Specialization sidesteps complexity by providing industry-specific workflows, terminology and data models.

Some companies start to patch the UX holes with their own development on top of the out-of-the-box systems, and often end up making it worse by trying to make it better.

However, I believe things are changing for the better. Several PLM vendors are working on developing modern user interfaces, and PLM cloud providers are taking steps toward nimbler and industry-specific PLM.

If your company is still stuck in legacy PDM systems and you want to improve your UX, you might consider working on a modern web portal that consolidates product data, provides visibility into your product’s lifecycle and facilitates information searches. Web portals are a great way to improve the user experience, generate engagement, and deliver on the PLM value promise.

5) Better training and support

Regardless of how well defined your PLM methodology is, someone is always going to need help.

There’s no way around this. People get lost even when the concepts are clear and the applications to manage data are well designed. Not having a way for your users to reach out and get help creates frustration and helplessness. Having a support team working together to help users can actually make all the difference and create an amazing user experience.

Being close to your people will also help you realize where the issues are. When you see users get stuck, think of it as an opportunity to improve your concepts, processes and applications.

It’s easy to blame technologybut in the end, the key to success is people.

Most PLM initiatives fail because people don’t understand the project’s “why” or the “how.” That’s why one of the first things you should do when planning your PLM initiative is to define a learning strategy. Every PLM implementation is different, so the concepts and processes always need to be defined and structured in a way that’s easy to grasp.

The lack of common vocabulary is often a key obstacle to empowering that understanding. MBSE, MBE, Digital twin… we get confused about those terms, too! If you’ve been in the PLM world for a while, you already know this issue affects us all. Make sure you compile a glossary and work on educating the people involved in your initiative to use only the words you’ve defined in your glossary.

people working on training together

Making PLM feel simpler

George Bernard Shaw once said, “I’m sorry this letter is so long. I didn’t have time to make it shorter.”

Simple is good. But simple isn’t easy!

Still, there are some great examples of businesses that managed to make it “feel simple”.

Think of Google. If I want to find out why PLM isn’t easy, I go to Google, type in my question, click search and boom! I get lots of ideas.

Think of Amazon. After choosing which credit card and address you want to use, you can click a single button, then sit back and wait for your stuff to show up at your door.

Amazon and Google cut through the clutter with a simple and enjoyable user experience. That doesn’t mean those businesses aren’t complex under the hood, but they’ve managed to make it feel simple for the customer.

Making things seem simple involves being brave, making decisions and having difficult conversations.

PLM transparency graphic

And simplicity involves transparency. This, in my opinion, is the main reason why PLM can feel so complex.

How many of your companies have well-defined products with prices on the website? To my consultant peers: how many of you are open about what you offer and how much it costs? To the vendors: where can I find a single PLM solution provider who’s open about their pricing?

This is a mental shift, but we all should strive for transparency. This is where the world is going. Everything feels much simpler when we’re transparent.

By being transparent and simplifying the user experience side of PLM, we can make it feel simple. Even when things under the hood are complex. When concepts and processes are clear and applications and PLM Cloud systems are well designed, sharing and supporting one another gets much easier and the barriers to collaboration start to crumble.

Design Sprint in PLM Design: Where Creativity Meets Capability

plm design

Let’s face it, working remotely is great. It’s especially great because of everything it allows: flexibility of schedule and work method, total freedom to decide where you want to live, a better family and home life. This structure is perfect for an Ed Tech company like ours since we teach PLM training, planning and design through ecourses. However, those of us who have been transforming our home into our office for some time, know that as with everything in life, nothing is perfect.

One of the things we miss most about our daily routine is probably the direct contact with our workmates. Though it’s true that every day there are more tools that bring us closer to our team (video conferences, chat, email, etc.), there’s nothing that beats daily physical contact. Therefore, at Share PLM we do our best to get together at least once every three months. We choose a city (usually where someone from the team lives) and spend a few days taking part in co-working, team building activities and of course, have a beer or two! These days are always successful and we go back home with our batteries recharged and our heads full of new ideas.

On this occasion, our team meeting took place at the end of January in the city of Frankfurt, with Helena hosting. We dedicated the first day of co-working completely to the team. First, we spent some time taking part in a few ice-breaking activities, which always help us to let go and make the environment more relaxed. Then we had the opportunity to talk about our most important daily tasks and their future evolution. And finally, we shared anecdotes of our routine that helped us understand each other’s daily realities. The result? It was a very useful and productive day!

Share PLM team sprint

Helena and Bea had warned us that the second day of the team meeting would be a surprise, so we had no idea what we would be doing. We made lots of bets with each other and were truly eager to find out what they had prepared for us. The truth is that as a team we are forward planners and like to know the details of what we are going to do together in advance. However, this time it was different. What could they have prepared for us?

The Design Sprint experience

When we arrived at the co-working session they told us that we would be dedicating the day to a Design Sprint, I have to admit that I had no idea what they were talking about. It was the first time in my life I had heard those words and of course I didn’t know what the methodology consisted of. There was no time to waste so we immediately got to work to discover exactly what a Design Sprint was and what we could get out of it.

It’s true that we didn’t have the 3-day minimum that they recommend to carry out the process (ideally 5 days), and we had to condense everything into one VERY intense day. However, this time was enough to give us a tangible idea of the power of this tool. Want to know what a Design Sprint is? Let’s get to it!


What are we talking about when we talk about Design Sprint?

Firstly we should make one thing clear. The Design Sprint is a methodology developed by Google Ventures and made popular by Jake Knapp, author of the book ‘Sprint’. In it he explains the method for resolving problems and testing new ideas in just 5 days.

What does it consist of?

Basically in 5 days (or less) we need to be able to come up with an idea, design it and implement it. In order to do this, we help ourselves out by following a strict time schedule as well as methods based on Design Thinking.

The final objective of the Design Sprint is to generate innovative solutions that add real value to existing problems or needs. To be more specific, I will give the practical case that we faced as an example.

The sector of e-Learning training and PLM design in which our activity is framed is continuously evolving. The rapid advance of new technologies makes it essential to maintain an open-minded attitude to all the demands of the market. And not only that, it is our obligation to study and understand those demands and then transform them into extraordinary services that solve real problems.

With this in mind, we have recently detected what could be a future need of our customers: the adaptation of Virtual Reality to our packages or PLM training courses. The sense of interacting in a real way with a system will probably accelerate the learning processes, making them more easily memorable. That’s why in our Design Sprint we experimented with a fundamental initial component: VR glasses.

person us VR goggles

In our case, the whole process was developed based on the idea of using Virtual Reality to train PLM design and therefore, our goal was the launch of a product that would integrate this technology and be easily sellable.

Phases of the Design Sprint

design sprint structure PLM

1. Map Day

The first stage encompasses the first day of the process. In it, the main objective is to gain context and define the real problem. To do this it is very important to identify the consumer and ensure that all stakeholders are aligned to the same objective and have the same information. In short, it is about generating the map to follow during the rest of the days.

In our particular case, the first stage helped us identify our target audience and what their experience with virtual reality was. To reach our conclusion we used techniques in which through empathy, we put ourselves in our clients’ shoes. Specifically, we realised the importance of good listening when we have a conversation. In the following exercise, each person had to adapt a role (client or salesperson) and carry out the following instructions:

PLM sprint

What conclusions did we arrive at?

Many times in the past, we were losing focus of what our client was telling us because we were too worried about the sale. We do not realise that our business potential is precisely in the words of our clients.

In the second part of the exercise we could see how, in many cases, there was a big loss of information between what the client said, and what the salesperson took in.

PLM design sprint

Another exercise that gave us great perspective to generate the map was the use of fictitious interviews. In this case we repeated the roles of client-salesperson, but this time it was the salesperson who had to carry out a very thorough questionnaire on the client to analyse their needs. The rest of the team would act as listeners to later give feedback to their peers.

PLM roles

2. Sketch Day

Once the problem is identified and our target audience recognised, it is time to discover how to solve it. The sketch phase is the most creative of all, and basically consists of exploring the multiple ways of solving the problem. In this stage, there is total freedom to be creative and no idea is discounted as bad⁠—everything goes.

To make our Sketch phase more fun, we took a large sheet of paper and each member of our team had to draw 8 ideas that they thought of to solve our problem (all in record time!). The result was a lot of creative ideas, and in some cases some crazy ones, but none were received with indifference. Thanks to this exercise we were able to later develop the idea that seemed most appropriate in Phase 3.

In the following video you can see our colleague Jeni explaining her ideas to the rest of the team:

Video Jeny design sprint

3. Decision Day

In this phase the objective is very clear: to decide which of the ideas discussed on the sketch day is the best and which ones we ought to abandon. For this, it is necessary to follow a process in which we can assess the viability of our ideas one by one and why we should or shouldn’t continue with them.

4. Prototype Day

Probably the hardest day of the whole process is Day 4 when action needs to be taken. It is time to get down to work with the creation of a prototype that can be tested by the target we have defined in Phase 1. We must remember that the main objective of this phase is not for another one to be tested, therefore it is essential that we build something based on this condition.

Something that is very useful for generating the prototype quickly is to divide the team and assign specific tasks. In addition to having this ready, on this day the interview that we are going to do with the users the next day has to be worked on.

Share PLM team training

5. Test Day

During the fifth and final stage we have to validate our idea and discover any errors in the concept design. To carry this out we need to do tests with real users that are framed in our target. Subsequently, we must interview them to learn from their experience of use and expectations.

At the end of the day, the team will meet again to reflect on what has been the main learning process and thus determine the next steps to follow. In our case, in having to concentrate 5 intense days into just 8 hours, the stages of the prototype and the test were merely theoretical. Even so, this introduction to Design Spring opened the doors to a very powerful tool that we gained great knowledge from. We hope to expand this knowledge even more during the next team meeting.

What about you? Have you already tried this methodology? Tell us your opinions in the comments.

See you soon!

PLM: The Backbone of the Fashion Industry

backbone plm

When we mention the fashion industry—who automatically springs to mind? Fast fashion vertical retailers such as H&M, ZARA or C&A? Although these are giants in the industry, they aren’t the only ones in the market. There are many other smaller companies, such as S. Oliver or Tom Tailor, who are trying to compete. Others are also entering into niche markets in an attempt to differentiate themselves because not everyone needs such levels of product freshness. In this post we’re going to take a look at the “backbone” of this industry: PLM.

During recent years collection cycles have been getting shorter due to increased demand, there are commonly 12 collections a year, or even more—if we consider the vertical retailers.

Product Development Lifecycle (PLM), The Backbone in the Fashion Industry

But did you ever stop to think about how this complete fashion cycle works? How is it possible that you can buy the latest fashion at a reasonable price in just 6 to 8 weeks from it appearing on the runways?

PLM fashion industry cycle

This complete process is based on Information Technology and would not be possible without Excel files—so here’s where PLM comes into the fashion game! This article is written to give you a holistic understanding and visualization about the backbone of a fashion company and its product lifecycle combined with the importance of the PLM system.

Getting started with the product development

The creation of the new collection reports of top selling items are pulled out of the PLM system from the previous month/season.

In addition, the product manager will provide the briefing of the new trends and themes from the latest runways in the so called “kick-off meeting.”

According to the target group, the collection will be developed.

PLM in the fashion industry graphic

The structural set-up of one department will be ideally divided by their product group.

One team consists of at least 3 people: the designer, product developer and buyer. Then the designer starts with the scribbling and sketching. For every item, a new article is generated in the PDM. This way, the data will be collected throughout the development cycle.

PLM fashion industry structure

The product definition in the fashion industry

In the fashion industry a product will be defined by these four main attributes:

  • Size Range
  • Colour
  • Fabric
  • Product Group

These key attributes broadly define the article. However, many companies add additional information to the article key to complete the product definition—such as seasongender or department.

Managing the product data through the collection’s lifecycle

Most of the product development process data is managed in the PDM system. It’s an agile design process, and the product description in the PDM gives designers, developers and buyers a common understanding of what the article looks like.

Images are usually created in a Computer Aided Design (CAD) program and published to the PDM system. This way, everyone has access to the designs, and there’s less room for confusion. The collaboration is in real time, and everyone on the team can work at the same time—which helps save time!

Based on the designs, the product developer defines the technical specification of the product. Specifying a product involves modifying the basic pattern, grading and fitting it for different sizes. Apart from the insurance of the wash care instructions, the product developer—also called the technician—is in charge of the complete sampling process: until the item is ready for production and its follow up.

Using the information in the PDM system the buyer purchases the fabric, dyes, and orders accessories like zippers, labels etc. The buyer is also involved in planning and coordinating the process, from sampling to production.

Keeping track of the product development

There are several milestones and meetings where the collection will be reviewed. Everyone on the team—and of course, the product manager—must approve the final production. The development process and part of the buying process are managed within the PDM system. Most companies use a different system to track all of the collection financials: the Enterprise Resource Planning system (ERP).

In the fashion industry, PDM and ERP are the two main systems to manage the complete product lifecycle. There is a constant information exchange between the two. Mainly PDM is for the design and development, whereas ERP covers the planning, purchasing, inventory, sales, marketing, finance and human resources.

The buyer plans the inventory and based on the calculations, purchases the fabric (or other accessories necessary for the assembling of the product) using ERP. The buyer is also in charge of ordering the fabric from the fabric mills to the final production using the tracking (SCM) and planning tool.

Two more systems are often used in the fashion industry: SCM and CRM.

Managing the supply chain through the lifecycle

SCM stands for Supply Chain Management. It’s used to manage the flow of goods and services, the movement and storage of raw materials, work-in-process inventory, and finished goods from point-of-origin to point-of-consumption.

That’s how the buyer can follow up on the cycle, from manufacturing to product delivery at the point-of-sale. This tracking system makes the workflow transparent and provides the possibility to act just in time if a delivery of the goods is delayed. The sales information will be later reported into the ERP system.

Keeping close to the customer to develop better products

CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management. CRM puts the customer at the heart, closing the product development cycle with the product feedback, giving the final customer a voice. This information is mainly collected from social media and e-commerce platforms in the fashion industry, where the customer can provide their opinion. CRM connects the product to the customer, providing feedback that’s key to planning new collections, listing the best sellers or making complaints visible.

Closing the loop, the PLM system gives the opportunity to gather all insights of a product, to make the setup and forecast for the new collection. Once again we are at the beginning of a new product lifecycle.

In future posts, we will discuss the threats and how future technologies are shaping the fashion industry.

Stay tuned to learn more and subscribe to never miss a post!

Design Your PLM eLearning Course in 12 Steps

elearning course design

Here’s a stat for you: 85% of every euro spent on your PLM classroom training is spent delivering it. This means that when you invest in classroom training, you’ll spend more on the PLM trainer’s time and travel than you will on actual training materials. How do you cut those costs? By making a PLM elearning course designed specifically for your company.

Creating a PLM online course is a flexible, cost-effective way to deliver your PLM training. An elearning course is easy to access from anywhere, can have a design customized for your team, and allows your learners to pace themselves according to their needs.  The best part is that you standardize your procedures, provide better training and reduce costs!

Creating an online course involves a whole lot of moving pieces, some more exciting than others. Brainstorming course ideas? Fun! Uploading your course to your corporate LMS? Not so fun. The trick to successfully getting your online course off the ground is to meticulously plan and organize your materials, prioritize properly, and stay on top of the progress of each and every one of these moving parts.

Although every PLM environment is a bit different, a systematic process will help you plan and structure your course and reach your desired goals. This article will walk you through all the steps you need to take to build your first PLM elearning course design.

1. Pick the perfect PLM online course topic

The key to creating a successful online course is identifying exactly what your organization is looking for. Does the sales department need to better understand your organization’s products? Do you want to train your PLM support team to troubleshoot common issues? Have you recently launched a new product development process and need to explain the changes to your organization’s researchers? Does service need a blueprint to maintain your company’s products?

People are drawn to the topics that matter to them. Before selecting a course topic, ask yourself: How much effort will it take to create the content and what will the immediate impact be? The magic behind success is prioritization. Focus on the high impact, low effort topics first that can drive quick success.

2. Assemble the right team

  • Project Manager: Oversees the full project, interfaces between subject matter experts and the eLearning team, sets deadlines and makes sure the job gets done.
  • Concept Developer:This is the person who works with the content and presents it in a way that facilitates learning. Often, the concept developer handles the course project management as well. Working on a PLM online course is demanding work—it’s not something every instructional designer can do. Understanding the technical content is not enough. You need the right blend of technical and communication skills to understand complex concepts and present them so that people actually understand what you’re trying to teach them.
  • Graphic Designer: Creates graphics and animations, and produces video and audio. The graphic designer’s work is key to achieving an appealing look and feel for the course.
  • eLearning developer: Assembles all the elements into an engaging course, adds interactivity and works on the elearning course design. Sometimes the eLearning developer takes care of the graphic design as well.

Beyond your core team, you’ll also be interacting with other people across your organization who will be part of your extended team:

  • Subject Matter Experts are experts in their field. Imagine you’re working on product training for your sales team. The product managers would be the subject experts in that case. Or think of a very technical course documenting the PLM architecture. In this case, the information architect would be the subject matter expert. In practice, the concept developer works with subject matter experts to develop the content.
  • Reviewers / Tester:Testers and reviewers execute the course review process—both from the technical and conceptual perspective. It’s key to appoint the course reviewers well ahead of time and clarify who will make the final decisions. The review process is one of the most demanding parts of the course development process, so I recommend that you tie up loose ends with your reviewers before you get started.

If some roles are only needed part-time, consider working with freelancers. For example, your team might need graphic design and project management work on a part-time basis, so these roles could be outsourced. At Share PLM, we specialize in training and eLearning course design and can help you create your PLM online training plan!

PLM team types
  • Project Manager: Oversees the full project, interfaces between subject matter experts and the eLearning team, sets deadlines and makes sure the job gets done.
  • Concept Developer: This is the person who works with the content and presents it in a way that facilitates learning. Often, the concept developer handles the course project management as well. Working on a PLM online course is demanding work – it’s not something every instructional designer can do. Understanding the technical content is not enough. You need the right blend of technical and communication skills to understand complex concepts and present them so that people actually “get” what you’re trying to teach them.
  • Graphic Designer: Creates graphics and animations, and produces video and audio. The graphic designer’s work is key to achieving an appealing look and feel for the course.
  • eLearning developer: Assembles all the elements into an engaging course, adds interactivity and works on the course didactic. Sometimes the eLearning developer takes care of the graphic design as well.

Beyond your core team, you’ll also be interacting with other people across your organization who will be part of your extended team:

  • Subject Matter Experts are experts in his or her field. Imagine you’re working on a product training for your sales team. The product managers would be the subject experts in that case. Or think of a very technical course documenting the PLM architecture. In this case, the information architect would be the subject matter expert.In practice, the concept developer works with subject matter experts to develop the content.
  • Reviewers / Tester: Testers and reviewers execute the course review process – both from the  technical and conceptual perspective. It’s key to appoint the course reviewers well ahead of time and clarify who will make the final decisions. The review process is one of the most demanding parts of the course development process, so I recommend that you tie up loose ends with your reviewers before you get started.

If some roles are only needed part-time, consider working with freelancers. For example, your team might need graphic design and project management work on a part-time basis, so these roles could be outsourced. At Share PLM, we specialize in training and eLearning and can help you create your PLM online trainings!

3. Get clear on your learning outcomes

Learning outcomes are the compass that guides your course development. They explain in simple terms what the student will learn by the end of your course.

Think carefully about what your key learners’ takeaways will be. What is the course all about? Who are the students? Why should they take the course? How will it help them?

Getting clear on these big questions is the best way to take a step back, look at your course holistically, and define the targets before you start getting into the weeds.

Here’s an example of the learning outcomes for our PLM Basics eCourse:

PLM basics ecourse

4. Organize a kick-off meeting

One of the best ways to avoid getting stuck during the project is to organize a project kick-off meeting where all the roles and responsibilities are clearly defined. Who will collect the feedback? Who is responsible for reconciling conflicting feedback? Who gets to make the final decision? Are you going to collaborate with freelancers to design or develop the course yourself?

PLM kick off meeting

Get your team together and identify expectations, including:

  • High-level objectives
  • Budget
  • Suppliers
  • Tools
  • Deadlines
  • Style Guidelines
  • Review process
  • Escalation path for decision-making.

By taking some time upfront to set the ground rules, you’ll be in a much better position to create a successful course, on time and on budget!

5. Prepare an online syllabus

A syllabus ensures that only the right students will enroll in your course. The syllabus is like the course’s cover letter—an introduction to the course’s content and goals. It’s a guide for students to the kind of teaching and learning they can expect in your course.

A good online syllabus should at least include:

  • Course description:What is the basic content of the course and what makes it important or interesting? How does the course fit into the context of the discipline?
  • Learning objectives:What will students be able to do by the end of the course? Formulate objectives in simple terms and keep it easy for your learners to understand what they will get from your course.
  • Prerequisites:Do your students need any previous skills to take the course? Do they need to understand any previous concepts before they start? Do they need to install something, or grab a new license? Make sure to list everything they need to take the course!
  • Course duration:How long does it take to complete the course? Don’t forget to include the exercises and thinking time when calculating the course duration.
  • Support:Explain to your learners how they can solve questions through the course. Do they need to write an email to someone? Do they have a support forum available? Are you organizing Q&A online meetings?

Later, you might also want to incorporate the course outline into the syllabus. This ties into our next task: “Preparing a course outline”.

6. Prepare a course outline to structure the content

Before you jump into the content, it’s worth spending time on structuring your course. It’s best to start with the end in mind and work backwards: think about the key takeaways you want for your students and brainstorm to come up with the content you need.

Now look at your ideas and start classifying them. Break down your content into a hierarchy of chapters and lessons. Group similar themes, tips, and ideas into small lessons that are easy for learners to digest. Then work on the sequence: structure the chapters and lessons in the order that makes the most sense. This is sort of like a puzzle. Just move your lessons around until the story flows!

7. Select and gather your PLM course content

It’s time to prepare a detailed inventory of what you have: past training materials, PowerPoint presentations, user manuals, workbooks, audio and video files, and worksheets. Only include content that directly relates to your learning outcomes.

Once you have all the “raw materials,” your next step is to review them and check if the information is accurate. Flag those parts that require an update or flag the content you need to create from scratch.

At this stage, many PLM teams start procrastinating. They realize that some parts of the process aren’t well documented, some information is missing, and some concepts aren’t yet in place.

My advice is to focus on the content you have ready first. Put the missing parts in the “to-do list,” and work on them later!


8. Create engaging lessons

Now that you have a thorough course plan and know the content you need to create, it’s time to get to the meat of your course. This is where all the learning happens. Your goal is to fit your content and ideas into a storyboard and figure out how you’ll present the content to learners.

Creating content for your course is a really creative process in which you’ll organize information, brainstorm the interactions and decide on the best way to deliver the content.

What type of visuals will you use? Will you have videos, reading content, interactive activities, audio content? Mix up different formats to bring your content into action and keep your learners engaged!

The good news is that the tools to put all the pieces together, including ones that record your original content, have become easier to use and a whole lot less expensive.

If this is the first time you’ve worked on an elearning course design, it’s hard to imagine all the potential ways to present your content! To help, we’ve put together a blueprint that guides you through the course-building process, step by step. 

9. Prepare exercises

It’s time to prepare some exercises related to the course content. Exercises are great for helping learners follow along and strengthen their skills and knowledge. Keep your exercises relevant and try to use real-world situations as often as you can! This is a cool exercise example from John Stark’sPLM Paradigm course.

PLM interactive graphic example

10. Review your course

At this stage, you should collect feedback from all the stakeholders. Ask your reviewers to formulate their feedback in a way that’s specific and actionable. What do I mean by specific feedback? Let’s look at one example:

  • Unspecific Feedback: “I can’t read the text. Please change.”
  • Specific Feedback: “The header text is too bright. Could you please change the colour to black?”

The review process is one of the most challenging parts of the online course creation process. The more people involved, the more complex it gets!

When Share PLM develops PLM courses for our clients, we can find ourselves stuck in the middle. We have to make sense of confusing and contradictory feedback from reviewers who confuse and contradict, and those who are too busy to work on the content until the very last minute. Managing the feedback process can be a big challenge!

The review process can often feel like it’s never-ending. To avoid these challenges, set a due date for the feedback and agree on the ground rules at the start of the project. And if things get stuck, avoid the back and forth and bring everyone together for a face-to-face online review.

11. Host your PLM online course

After all that hard work, you’re ready to share your awesome PLM online training with your learners! There are two major ways to deliver your online courses:

PLM hosting
  • Option 1: Self-hosting

As the name suggests, with this option you host your online course on your own server or website. If you use WordPress, you can install plugins such as “LearnDash” or “Scorm Cloud” and upload the courses to your website. Things start to get trickier if you need to track results or deliver certificates. At the end of the day, setting it up requires technical knowledge. It’s also time-consuming.

  • Option 2: Learning Management Systems (LMS)

An LMS is a platform used to deliver, track, and report eLearning courses. They give you full control over everything and are very easy to set up. LMSs come in all shapes, sizes, and price levels. At Share PLM, we use a free open-source LMS called Moodle to host our own online courses. If you work for a big company, the odds are that they already have an LMS.

12. Measure Your Success

Measuring the success of your course is an important final step. Ask for feedback from your learners and analyse the statistics from your LMS. How many students took the course? How many finished it? What did they like most about it? What would they improve?

Gathering feedback is great for improving future versions of your course, creating better courses in the future, and shaping your PLM training program so that it brings the people in your organization closer to your products!

12 steps to design plm elearning course

And that’s it! Ready to dive in? We’ve compiled a quick guide to walk you through the building blocks of modern PLM online courses. Check it out and share it with the world!

Plugging Into The Power of Connected Plant Engineering

plant engineering

Digitalization and end-to-end plant lifecycle management are spoken of as top priorities by companies across the chemical, oil and gas, process and power industries.
The goal? A complete digital footprint of the plant engineering helps optimize operations, plant maintenance, build better products and provide better services.
But how can traditional Engineer to Order (ETO) businesses, who often lag behind other sectors in terms of information technology, product and data management, even dream of a plant digital twin?

Complex one-off products and low volumes

Products are complex and produced in low volumes and in high variety.

Plants and Facilities are almost always the result of a project. Engineering, Procurement and Construction companies (EPCs) design and build these plants to meet single Owner-Operator (OO) requirements, which often lead to Engineer-To-Order solutions. The order specification process is often lengthy and complex, a labour-intensive process that requires deep technical knowledge.

main challenges of plm plant engineering

It typically takes several years from initial customer inquiry to the closing of the deal—and yet the deal is still not done. The detailed design of the plant or facility is not carried out until an order has been signed. Each new order often involves new product development to match customer specifications. Products usually end up being highly customized.

This is entirely different than traditional “PLM-ish” industries, where the product is designed before it’s sold.

The main challenges: departmental silos and interoperability

The final plant is the result of an intense collaboration between and among functions and disciplines. The civil department, mechanical equipment, structural building, piping… everyone has their own set of discipline-specific tools. Applications and core systems are usually not well integrated with each other. And information ends up imprisoned in documents and discipline- specific authoring applications.

plant engineering parts

The result? A “messy” application landscape, departmental silos, lack of transparency and a lot of duplicated data. Each discipline gets locked into their own engineering tools and standards. Information handovers are sluggish and hinder the sorely needed cross-discipline collaboration.

Plugging into the power of the connected plant engineering

Connectivity within plant businesses is not new. Yet today’s advanced technologies and cheap computing, storage, and bandwidth costs make it possible to move beyond single plant and equipment automation toward more complex, connected product and process networks. The integration of data from several installed products—the so-called product instances—enables a holistic view of product performance and generates actionable insights to improve next-generation designs.

product plant engineering structure graphic

All this improves equipment performance throughout, leverages data-driven insights, increases the quality of the end product and prevents breakdowns before they occur. Identifying and responding to small problems before they become big, improves plant engineering and performance, and lowers maintenance costs.

For example, using cloud-based technologies and connected data, a plant digital twin enables an expert sitting in a central control room to monitor a product installed in several plants located around the world, troubleshoot problems and extract performance insights to help product development teams design the product’s next generation. It enables a field service engineer to scan an equipment, load its digital twin, follow maintenance instructions, check out historical reports and use advisory tools to improve equipment performance. And it equips analysts with a wealth of connected data to answer the questions: “How often?” “What?” “When?” “Where?” “Who?” and “Why is this a problem?”

plm plant engineering questions

The possibilities are many, and realizing them begins with setting the foundation for a connected model that allows for digitalization at the plant level. Product Lifecycle Management, enabled by the latest technological capabilities, provides this foundation and allows plant businesses to capitalize on the convergence of the digital and physical worlds and plug into the power of the connected plant.

Setting meaningful goals for your plant digital twin strategy

The decision to embark on a plant digital twin initiative should align with the organization’s specific needs. Understanding how the company intends to compete and aligning this strategic “true north” with the digital investments is crucial to success.

For example, some EPCs could decide to focus on their service portfolio and to invest in fast, reliable information to offer better services. Others may choose to invest in product configuration to speed up quotations and close more deals. Operators might want to monitor plant performance and invest in maintenance to extend asset lifecycles.

It’s important to prioritize strategic initiatives for investment based on the company’s specific objectives. What follows is a summary of the six overarching trends that seem to be accelerating the drive toward plant digital twins.

6 strategic initiatives

Leveraging the service side of business

Plants are products with long lifecycles. And EPCs are undergoing a fundamental business transformation to monetize these long lifecycles. It’s a shift from project to lifecycle business.

Rather than the “one and done” project approach of the past, the business model for most Plant and Facility solution providers is evolving from delivering projects to providing services for the entire plant’s lifecycle.

A portfolio of services ranging from spare parts delivery to plant maintenance or process monitoring can greatly boost the revenue from after-sales while building longer, closer relationships with customers. Better service means higher revenues, greater profitability and, over time, a powerful competitive advantage.

Leveraging the service side of business requires easy access to equipment-relevant information and smooth data transfer between project and service organizations. Service-relevant master data such as spare parts, spare-part kits or maintenance-relevant information must be defined and available to streamline service quotations and delivery.

Retaining knowledge

Deep technical knowledge is needed to sell and deliver the final plant. And this knowledge often resides in the heads of a handful of experienced employees. Typically, procedures and rules aren’t written down and shared with others. A technically educated sales team is needed to fit the product to the customers’ needs.

Standardizing their methods and creating reusable knowledge allows plant businesses to take on more projects, scale and grow. Documenting processes and “decoding” product configuration and sizing rules from the experts’ heads is crucial to retaining knowledge and democratizing the selling process.

Gaining efficiency through reuse

Reuse (and the re-users) is the crux of the matter when it comes to efficiency. Reuse is a major cost-saver. Not only does it reduce time spent in delivering the final product, but it also allows development costs to be amortized over many projects.

Modularity is a design strategy for building and organizing complex products effectively. A product is modular if it has standardized interfaces and the components perform one or very few functions.

Providing less variety along products and adding commonality among components simplifies complexity and paves the way towards more advanced product configuration tools. You can still allow a certain degree of product customization by combining standard and custom components wisely and involving the customer in the product specification process.

Exploiting reuse requires a good dose of change management. By making designs reusable and storing them wisely so they can be found, your company prepares the ground to get reusers on board and fight the “not invented here” attitude.

Speeding up quotations to boost sales

Quotation speed and delivery time are order-winners. A clear and concise product description, using modular designs that limit the options available to customers, is key to speeding up sales quotations and closing more deals.

Salespeople can build a reliable, high-quality proposal faster and at a better price than others by using product configurators, templates and standard documents that have been fine-tuned and proven to be successful.

That’s not to say that the sales process operates on autopilot. Think of product configuration as a toolkit that salespeople have at hand to put together a compelling proposal while applying their skills to close the deal.

Traceability and compliance

Manufacturing and the supply of a large proportion of the plant’s equipment is outsourced to third parties. Orchestrating these equipment deliveries with suppliers around the world is a complex process that requires close attention to quality, scheduling and cost.

Adding to the complexity, orders and specifications might change during the project. This often leads to product design and documentation adjustments that need to be tracked and controlled. End-to-end traceability along the project and supply chain are critical to ensure compliance and quality.

A well-defined Plant Digital Thread is a keystone to demonstrating to regulatory authorities the integrity of plant-maintained information.

New digital revenue streams

The plant digital twin generates reams of data that can be monetized through the development of new products and services. Advisory tools to provide corrective advice to optimize process performance augmented reality to help field services maintain and repair equipment, remote process monitoring services analytics to reveal asset performance issues … the options are many, and by listening to customer challenges it’s easy to be inspired, develop new solutions and dive into new revenue streams that capitalize on access to fast, connected information.

digital revenue streams plan engineering

Getting started: taking small steps towards the plant digital twin

The journey towards the plant digital twin requires navigating complexity and a keen focus on acquiring needed capabilities. While an overly simplistic plant model may not yield the value a digital twin promises, taking an overly fast and broad approach can almost guarantee that you’ll get lost in the complexity. The good news is that by thinking big and defining an ambitious true north, starting small with agile bimodal projects,and scaling fast based on the learnings, it’s possible to see the shoreline beyond the rough waters of the plant digital twin.

1. Start with a plant structure

Start by describing the plant’s structure. As my peer Bjorn Fidjeland explains in his Plant PLM eCourse , several plant information structures are required to describe plant engineering.

To get going, start with a functional structure. A plant’s engineering and functional structure is discipline-independent, hierarchical and breaks down the plant from the functional perspective. A plant structure includes plant processes, systems and equipment.

plant engineering

Once you’ve agreed on the plant functional structure “on paper”, it’s time to move it to a system. And where does the functional structure belong? If you’re already using a PLM system, that’s probably the place. If you still don’t have a system, you could experiment with Aras PLM, or look into SiemensDassault or Aveva comprehensive plant solutions.

2. Identify and share relevant information

Plants require intense collaboration between and among different disciplines, using a variety of different tools. The information-sharing across disciplines and functions is a major challenge and affects the traceability of information throughout the plant’s lifecycle. All stakeholders struggle to access information effectively due to its lack of visibility, a problem that is compounded when information is split among several discipline-specific applications.

Now that we have a common plant structure, the key is to get disciplines to start sharing their data. They need to understand why others need the information they produce and how easier work will be downstream if they spend a little more time on sharing it.

plant engineering

It’s OK to start sharing only documents. The goal at this point is for people in the organization to become familiar with the structure. Afterwards, we’ll start sharing models and metadata.

3. Define a product family modular library

A product family library comprises a predefined set of modules that can be combined in different ways to form a product. Modular designs offer not only an opportunity to speed up product deliveries. They also have an enormous potential to unlock service opportunities and increase customer loyalty.

It’s time to audit your product portfolio, seek commonalities and analyze how to reduce complexity and foster reuse. Defining a product family library to illustrate what modules are available and how they can be combined is a major breakthrough but also a huge task for ETO companies.

The variety and complexity of the product portfolio is high, and while companies usually don’t start from zero, it’s a big effort to come up with a comprehensive modular product library.

My advice? To win early support, begin with products that have the potential to maximize the return on investment. Find the most profitable product families and focus first on the common and profitable products and modules. If a product is seldom sold, the cost of defining a library may exceed the benefit.

4. Connect plant specification to product realization

The next step is to connect the plant’s functional structure, where we specify equipment, to product realization, the asset itself. At this step, it’s very useful to integrate the plant structure to the most common authoring applications. Plant disciplines operate in different CAD environments, and information often gets locked up in department-specific applications. Purchasers can’t access MCAD – they don’t even know how to use it or have a license. And the service colleagues spend more than half of their working time hunting for technical information locked in hidden drawings to order spare parts.

Integrating discipline specific authoring tools to the plant structure enhances visibility and provides easy access to plant’s technical data and product bills of materials. A reliable information flow between CAD and PLM speeds the development process, enables efficient information handovers between disciplines and upholds consistency in product quality.

plant engineering graphic

In the example, we are connecting a centrifugal pump specification to the asset that’s fulfilling the specification. The difference between specification and realization is very important within the plant model. Imagine that this pump gets broken, and we need to change it. We’ll then bring in a new asset, but the specification stays the same.

5. Modeling the plant lifecycle

Most plants and facilities move through a lifecycle with approximately eight distinct phases, starting with the specification of the plant objectives and ending with decommissioning. The plant structure and the connected products will evolve through the lifecycle. At this point, we can start defining a model to maintain the plant’s “digital thread” all the way through the process.

steps to using plant engineering digital twin

6. Define a plant catalogue

Equipment in the plant is specified using attributes. Some of these attributes are measured by field instruments, creating a digital feedback loop or, in some cases, a remotely accessible live view of the plant. Classifying processes and equipment in the plant and defining reference data are needed to automatically create a plant tag and effectively connect all data—including the data from sensors in the field.

A major challenge when dealing with field data consists of the systematic and efficient information tagging of sensor data so that we don’t end up comparing apples with oranges. If you want to know more about reference data and catalogues, head to my peer Bjorn Fidjeland’s blog. He has several excellent articles where he discusses these topics.

7. Integrate suppliers

Different interactions with suppliers are required during each stage of the plant lifecycle to share and store information. Efficiently collaborating with suppliers is key for plant businesses, where a big portion of the equipment deliveries come from third parties. Integrating suppliers into Plant PLM facilitates document exchange, product model collaboration and change-tracking, among other things.

8. Harness information for action using end-user apps!

Now that we have the data, we can harness it for action using end-user apps! End-user applications are easy to configure and drive meaningful value, whether it be through powering better decision-making or enhancing consumer-facing applications.

Imagine an application for salespeople who need to constantly monitor after-sales opportunities for their products. Through an easy-to-use application, they could track installed equipment, gain performance insights and tap into new service and modernization opportunities.

I’m a big fan of end-user applications because they facilitate daily work and generate additional insights for specific use cases.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step

Jos Voskuil concludes in his “PLM for Owner / Operators” blog that digital continuity requires a “new way of thinking” for plant owners/operators, who are “struggling to grasp a modern digital enterprise concept as their current environment is not model-based but document-driven.”

All in all, true success in achieving early milestones on a digital twin journey will likely rely on an ability to grow and sustain the digital twin initiative in a fashion that can demonstrate increasing value over time.

It can be an overwhelming task to get there, but as a wise person once said: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”