How to Organize PLM and IT Benchmarks

PLM Benchmark

PLM IT benchmarking: Identifying opportunities for improvement

Benchmarking is an excellent way to boost your PLM initiatives, identify new improvement opportunities and get inspired. IT benchmarks in your PLM plan help you follow industry best practices and compare your performance with that of other companies.

Through benchmarking, you keep abreast of what other organizations are doing and of current best practices, and set a baseline you can use to compare against your organization’s capabilities.

But since it’s a powerful tool you can use to gain insights about concrete functionalities and processes, benchmarking is also a continuous improvement tool.

Comparing and measuring your organization against other companies helps you discover significant breakthrough opportunities and take actions to improve. The goal is to identify major trends, analyze gaps and gather inspiration by learning from the experiences of industry pioneers.

Types of Benchmarks

Several types of benchmarking can be used in a benchmarking project. We can categorize the benchmarking dimensions by area, methodology and reach:

plm benchmarking dimensions

AREA

By discovering and understanding best practices, you can assess your PLM strategy, evaluate your system’s performance, learn about new trends and functionalities, or gather data to support your new program proposal.

For example, a benchmark can help you lay the groundwork for your next data governance program. If you’re planning to change or add new functionality to your PLM system, getting together and discussing with peer companies might well influence your decisions. You might also want to know more about how other organizations are dealing with PLM training, or how they’re structuring their learning and development programs.

Gathering information about how other companies are dealing with key PLM areas can uncover improvement opportunities for your organization. When executed well, it provides the guidance you need to propose fundamental changes, get executive and financial support for your initiatives and be aware of potential roadblocks.

METHODOLOGY

Through qualitative PLM and IT benchmarking, you gain understanding and insight into the focus area. Qualitative research is used to explore the topic, brainstorm ideas and develop guiding paths for taking action.

Quantitative research, in contrast, uses measurable data and other facts to come up with results. It is very useful for quantifying things like system performance, data quality or user satisfaction.

While quantitative benchmarking tells you what happens, qualitative data helps you know why it happens. Benchmarking results become more meaningful when both qualitative and quantitative research methods are applied.

REACH

Benchmarking can be internal or external.  External benchmarking is used to evaluate how your business compares to others. This type of benchmarking provides opportunities for learning from best practices and experiences of your peers or competitors. It can be used to learn more about a system or functionality, to find out how other companies have implemented a new process or to get inspired by new trends in the field.

Internal benchmarking is executed within the organization. It typically considers different functions or processes within the company. Although external benchmarks are generally considered to provide greater insights, internal benchmarking is easier to organize and can be used to build the foundation for further external research. For instance, you can use internal benchmarking to learn how other departments have organized a product launch, how they deal with change management issues or what they’ve done to market that new system.

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How to organize a PLM Benchmark

1. Articulate your benchmark’s intended goals in quantifiable, measurable ways

“What is your goal?” “What do you want to find out through benchmarking?” These are the first questions you should ask yourself before starting a benchmarking project.

Establishing a specific benchmark goal helps you clearly define the expectations for the project. If your goal is not well defined, then your company will be less likely to get excited about the project and actually participate in the benchmark. By being precise, you’ll be able to measure results and get participants on the same page.

A short project abstract indicating the goals and illustrating the procedure can be helpful to explain to potential partners the benchmark objective and the project’s steps.

2. Identify benchmarking partners

Analyse the areas of study internally and do some research to position your company in the market. Define specific areas to study and identify benchmarking metrics.

Be careful not to choose an area of investigation that’s too broad and can’t be measured properly. It’s better to break down your project into smaller, more tangible studies. Based on these results, it will be easier to find possible partners.

Start by defining the characteristics of the ideal partners, and collect information about potential candidates.

Once you’ve decided who could be in the group, start contacting your peers. Sharing the benchmarking goals and the project abstract can help you attract more participants.

Having good contacts is also key to getting more people involved in the project. PLM Consultants usually have very extensive networks and can help you find peers who might be interested. Participating in conferences is also great to build a solid network. I strongly advise you to keep active and visit several events. It’s not just to learn more about the conference topics—it’s also about getting to know people who might become discussion partners.

Once the benchmark group is formed, inform participants about the project. Define a rough project schedule and share the next steps with your peers. Here’s an example of a rough project schedule you can share with your partners:

Sometimes a confidentiality agreement is needed—especially when competitors are in the group. You’ll probably need some kind of collaboration tool to share information. Dropbox, OneDrive or Google Drive are good tools to quickly share documents and information within a group.

3. Prepare a survey

Now that you’ve selected a concrete goal and have identified possible participants, it’s time to gather information to prepare the session. Preparing a short survey with a few meaningful questions helps you categorize the participants and identify trends.

Your survey results can contain qualitative and quantitative answers. You can also select more than one PLM area to cover in the study. It’s important to label the questions so you can analyse the data better after you’ve gathered the results.

Consider asking concrete questions such as:

  • What PLM platform do you use to manage your product data? Are you only using one system, or more than one?
  • What CAD applications are you using? Are they integrated into the PLM platform?
  • What percentage of targeted users in the company use the PLM platform?
  • What is the user satisfaction level for the software?
  • What support model have you defined?
  • What PLM initiatives do you have on the go? Have you planned a new initiative for the coming years?
  • What training methodology do you have in place? Are you using PLM eLearning?

Try to keep it short. If you ask too many questions, no one will respond.

Before sending out the survey, take time to ask your peers if they’d like to add any questions to the survey. Make a short call or shoot them an email to find out if there’s any specific topic they’d like to get background information on (e.g., PLM processes, application areas such as Requirements or BOM Management, IT benchmarks, etc.).

Getting participants involved in the survey design makes the project collaborative, and your peers will feel they’re part of the initiative.

4. Analyse survey and research results

Before conducting the benchmark study, the position of your business within the evaluation range is unknown. The objective of the benchmark is to position your company in several dimensions against the other companies in the study.

Analyze data and use it to prepare the benchmarking sessions. Use the research material and the survey responses to identify dimensions and trends. Usually there are questions that require deeper investigation and discussion.

5. Organize the session

Organize an in-person meeting with the participants after the survey to discuss the results. In-person sessions are more effective because they allow you to build relationships, provide valuable guidance and help you identify challenges and get to your destination quicker. In my experience, peers are generally happy to share information and enjoy the benchmark session’s face-to-face discussions.

Sometimes, however, it’s not possible to get all the participants in the same room. If companies are located far away or results are needed quickly, you might need to arrange a teleconference.

With today’s technology, getting together via teleconference is easy. However, bear in mind that if the various participants haven’t met before, the discussion probably won’t be as productive as in an in-person session.

Prepare a meeting agenda and select a good facilitator to moderate the meeting. Send meeting invitations well in advance, and include some background information about the benchmark goals and survey results. Check out our latest agenda templates – they’ll help you craft a well-organized event!

Make sure there’s someone in the room who can take notes, and include enough discussion time to allow people to share experiences. Breaks are good for networking. Consider organizing a dinner after the event to continue the discussions and strengthen relationships.

Sometimes it’s interesting to organize focus groups. For example, you might want to dive deep into a topic that’s interesting to just some of your peers. In this case, consider visiting your partners or organizing a follow-up online meeting.

6. Compile and communicate benchmark results

Now it’s time to analyse results and prepare a benchmark report.

Usually, you’ll want to have two separate reports: one for internal use and one to share with your benchmarking peers. The internal report contains relevant observations and recommendations for internal use.  I find it useful to work on the internal report first, extract some condensed information for the external report and complete it with facts and figures that might be relevant to the participants.

Share the results with your colleagues, peers and management. Organize several sessions with key stakeholders to discuss key findings, recommendations and next steps.

I’ve seen several peers use benchmark results to support their secret plans and budget proposals. Don’t omit or disguise facts to make the results match your plans, or you’ll miss the point of the exercise. Also, misusing the data can ultimately result in you losing credibility within your organization.

7. Propose an action plan

Create an action plan proposal derived from your benchmark results. Assess and prioritize what needs to be done and develop an action plan catalogue proposal to implement them. Define concrete measures and design a project plan based on your PLM strategy.

Distinguish between short-term and long-term actions. Present the project to your management, and get the required funding for your next initiatives based on the facts and business case.

Incorporate regular benchmarking in your PLM program

As you know by now, benchmarking is a great tool to get your team motivated and to incorporate continuous improvement in your PLM program! The more you discuss with your peers, the better guidance you’ll have to develop your PLM initiatives.

Consider incorporating benchmarking into your PLM strategy. Conducting a yearly PLM and IT benchmarking initiative can help you stay relevant, identify trends and get inspired for new initiatives.

We’ve prepared a checklist for you so you can remember what it takes to organize a PLM benchmark study. In it, you’ll find the steps you should follow every time you organize a benchmarking proposal.

So print out this handy checklist, keep it near you—and let’s get down to business!

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10 Effective Resources to Learn Agile PLM

Agile PLM

Many companies are shifting from traditional project management to more agile PLM environments, in order to operate at the speed required by today’s competitive market. Bringing new methodologies and tools into your organization can increase productivity, boost efficiency, and help you make better, faster decisions. But we’ve all been there: getting everyone on board is often a challenge.

Agile is a big change in the way people work. 

Understanding how agile really works is the first step. Through researching and benchmarking, we can be better prepared to embrace agile. What have other companies done right and wrong? What can we learn from them? How do experts adapt common agile methodologies to projects with fixed scope? What tools are available to help you streamline agile processes?

Learning and adopting agile principles and mindsets takes time: What organizational challenges and potential pitfalls should you consider when starting a new agile project? Where do agile problem-solving methodologies fit best?

Like PLM, it takes a while to get agile to work. 

I’ve gathered a set of great resources that I’ve found helpful to improve and get better and better with agile. What follows is a compendium of useful tools, tips and resources for you to be prepared and continue learning agile!

Enroll our FREE – 7 Day Agile email course.

We’ll walk through the Agile framework fundamentals, learn techniques that will make you and your team more effective. Join today and start your journey to project success!


BOOKS

Essential Scrum, from Kenneth S. Rubin

This book is a comprehensive guide to Scrum that contains the basics and will help you to build on this course.

The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries

This book started a revolution in product development and provides a scientific approach to creating and managing successful startups. Applying lean testing to your agile PLM projects will help you bridge the gap between business and IT, and save money by not running into slow and expensive initiatives.

User Stories Applied: For Agile Software Development by Mike Cohn

Mike Cohn provides you with a front-to-back blueprint for writing these user stories and weaving them into your development lifecycle. He provides practical “how-to” insights that will help you gain confidence in your agile projects!

VIDEOTUTORIALS

If you prefer to learn through video tutorials, check out these courses in Udemy and Pluralsight. They provide guidelines for the successful implementation of the agile methodology, and also cover advanced topics for you to continue learning.

Agile Project Management: Scrum Step-by-Step with Examples, in Udemy

Explained with real-world examples, this course is tailored to help anyone interested in knowing more about Scrum. Learn about key concepts in Scrum and get a basic understanding of how Scrum framework works in delivering successful projects.

Become an Agile Project Manager , in Lynda

This path will help you build a solid foundation in leading and motivating agile project teams, from developing user stories and agile charts to driving productive meetings.

Agile courses, in Pluralsight

Jeremy Jarrell is an agile coach and author who helps you to explore all topics related to agile methodologies. If you’re thinking about making the move to agile in your organization, these courses will help you shape your agile project management skills with in-depth tutorials and guidelines.

RESOURCES

Jira

JIRA is probably the most widely used agile project management software in enterprises. The tool is built for the whole team to plan, track, and release great software. You can try it for free and then move to a monthly subscription if you like it!

Trello

Trello is a very cool tool that enables you to organize and prioritize your projects in a fun and flexible way. It’s a visual tool that’s perfect to organize your agile projects. Have a look at this blogpost published on their website, where Andrew Littlefield gives an introduction on how to use the tool with Scrum projects. Trello has a free plan that lets you do a lot with the tool already. They also offer more advanced features in their premium subscription plans.

If you’re leading a remote team, you might want to check out Timedoctor’s blog post. It explains in detail how to use the tool and shares great tips and tricks to organize an agile remote team!

Asana

Asana is an easy-to-use project management tool. You can manage your agile PLM projects with this tool, and organize and track work efficiently. I’ve even used it for my personal projects: tracking your daily goals and monitoring  progress is easy with Asana.

Slack

Even if Slack is not directly a project management tool, it’s definitely worth mentioning! Since agile is all about collaboration, Slack is worth mentioning because the tool helps you gather project conversations and keep everyone in sync.

Last but not least, check out our new 7-Day FREE Agile basics email course. It will help you build a solid foundation to start managing agile projects, from developing user stories and agile charts to driving productive meetings.

And if you want to remember all these tips, download the learning cheatsheet in our resource library!

Project Management Training: How to Use Agile in PLM Projects

agile project management training

Agile is a project-management methodology. It focuses on continuous improvement, scope flexibility and quality product delivery. Agile isn’t a new concept. It’s been discussed for the last few years. However, it’s really picking up momentum, and businesses are starting to apply agile principles in several industries and disciplines. The framework is designed to encourage fast feedback and design iterations. Projects are broken down into bits of user functionality called user stories.

agile project management training

The user stories are regularly prioritized, then continuously delivered in short, two- to four-week cycles called iterations.

Origins of Agile

The traditional Waterfall model starts with the project requirements. The scope is defined in the beginning, and can’t be changed. Once the requirements are set up, you come up with a design that fulfills those requirements. Afterwards, you implement the design and validate it. The process ends with the maintenance phase. The process flows from top to bottom, like a cascading waterfall.

The main problem is that clients initially may not know exactly what their requirements are. If they change their mind, a project change request and a new estimation of the cost, schedule and scope is needed. A change to the initial scope leads to redesign and redevelopment—and it ends up being expensive.

In some industries, like construction or facility management, the traditional waterfall model works relatively well. Problems arise in disciplines where change is almost certain from the get-go. Take software development. It’s a bit like the research scientists do in a lab. You try something, test the results, and if it doesn’t work, you try something else. That’s why the Waterfall model doesn’t work well for software development.

Rarely can you plan the process of “getting it right” up front. The frustration of software developers working on Waterfall projects led to the creation of the Agile Manifesto. The Agile project-management framework came out of a desire to adapt to changing real-life projects.

The key difference between Waterfall and Agile is the ability to respond to evolving business requirements.

Does Agile work with PLM projects as well?

There is a perception that Agile applies only to software development. However, times are changing, and we’re seeing more and more of a broader application of Agile in Product Lifecycle Management (PLM). In today’s always-on market, the ability to keep pace with customer needs offers a significant competitive advantage. Being agile in Product Lifecycle Management means taking your product and system development projects and breaking them into iterative projects you can quickly test and learn from.

Adopting Agile PLM starts with admitting you can’t plan for everything. Product development roadmaps are great, but they’re rigid and tend to hinder innovation and the flow of ideas. You usually lose time with your functional and logical designs for system development—for instance, certain requirements may end up being too expensive to implement, or the system won’t support the functionality you promised in your workshops with users.

Whether you’re managing a product line or looking to develop your PLM system further, there is a big opportunity to become agile.

What kind of PLM projects can I manage with Agile?

Support

Incorporating Agile methods into both product and PLM system support can help you increase customer satisfaction and improve efficiency. Your support process should always evolve based on the feedback and changing requirements of the customer.

At some point, PLM applications go into maintenance, but most of the system development is limited to minor enhancements and bug fixes. Keeping track of the workload in a well-defined backlog and managing priorities with help from a product’s owner can help your team get organized, plan the support demand, justify the resource needs and keep track of what’s been done.

Product development

The core principles of Agile developed in software development fit very well with product development. By involving customers and other stakeholders, the product development team can verify ideas and validate requirements along the way, and thus make the necessary adjustments. Product development today means testing an idea and responding based on the data.

In Agile, you plan the next set of actions based on the best information you have at the time. The set of actions that follow might not be what you originally defined on your roadmaps. This makes the process more flexible, instead of boxed in by specific and rigid rules.

Enroll our FREE – 7 Day Agile email course.

We’ll walk through the Agile framework fundamentals, learn techniques that will make you and your team more effective. Join today and start your journey to project success!

New company integration

Integrating people, processes and data after a merger and acquisition is a formidable task. Scattered data across numerous systems and inaccurate or duplicate information often lead to unsatisfying customer experiences and distract employees from everyday business. Proactively adopting an Agile approach and breaking down initiatives into smaller pieces can empower teams and deliver better results. A well-rounded Agile project management approach can decrease integration time and safeguard the customer experience.

System development

Agile was essentially born to get software developed more quickly. One of the key benefits of using Agile for PLM software development is the collaboration that happens with business partners throughout the project. Direct, ongoing interaction to deliver what the business needs improves the process and ensures we get what we need.

Do you want to become agile?

Our Agile basics eLearning course will help you build a solid foundation to start managing agile projects, from developing user stories and agile charts to driving productive meetings.

Learn the mindset and techniques necessary to manage projects the agile way at https://shareplm.com/agile—and start your journey to project success!

You can also download the Agile methodology cheatsheet in our resource library!