Getting to the Roots of PLM Resistance

Roots of PLM

Sarah had just taken on the role of Director of Product Lifecycle Management at Nexa. She was bright, a bit shy – and man, was she passionate about PLM!

Sarah had worked as an implementation manager for the last three years, helping Nexa roll out their new PLM system

During this time, she had gained deep architecture and system knowledge. She could draw Nexa’s data model in less than 5 minutes and was the go-to person whenever anyone had a question about systems, processes, or integrations.

Sarah was excited by the thought of what Product Lifecycle Management could do for the people in her organization. 

So was her team. They’d seen how their pilot products’ time to market decreased by 50% after Product Lifecycle Management was implemented. 

But as the story developed, things weren’t as straightforward as they were supposed to be.

Most people started to hate the PLM system. They couldn’t figure out how to use it properly and they started to experience serious PLM problems

Some users kept asking for new functionalities. They wanted the new system to work the same way as the old one. 

Her team quickly got overwhelmed with support and development requests. 

Users felt disengaged, or worse, hostile towards her PLM system.

Sarah was particularly concerned that she was losing buy-in from management.

The business didn’t understand where the PLM budget was going: “Do you really need so many licenses?”

Her big boss kept asking her for the return on investment (ROI). He thought PLM was just a system: “So why can’t you make it work?”

Getting to the Roots of PLM Resistance

Even though Sarah’s story is fictitious, this type of experience is common in many of the companies we work with.

Some months ago, I came across a brilliant, simple, but powerful organizational change management framework. Rick Maurer, an organizational change-management expert who works with big digital transformation projects, invented it. 

According to Maurer, there are three core reasons why this resistance happens:

#1 - “I don’t get it.”

PLM can often get a little abstract.

Is it a paradigm? A lifecycle mindset? Wasn’t it supposed to be just a new system to manage our data? 

If people don’t understand why the change is needed and don’t see what’s in it for them, they just “won’t get it”. 

#2 - “I don’t like it.”

User experience is not a strength of PLM systems. Boring user interfaces and confusing screens with thousands of buttons are day-to-day realities in the PLM world. 

Wouldn’t it be great if your PLM system could be as intuitive and drop-dead simple as LinkedIn or Google?

We’ve been spoiled by consumer-centric applications. 

Product data is spread across multiple systems (PDM, ERP, CRM, MRO, etc.). These systems often aren’t well connected. They are complex and typically don’t offer a great user experience.

As a result, people fear using these systems and they just don’t like them.

#3 - “I don’t like you.”

Maybe they do like you, but they don’t trust or have confidence in your leadership.

Perhaps it’s not you, but rather the people you represent. The moment they hear that you’re from headquarters and are coming to help, they get sceptical and enter resistance mode.

If people don’t trust you, they will resist you. They will complain and hinder your ability to get things done.

Each of these three levels of resistance plays off the others, one influencing the other.

I love Maurer’s framework because I feel it works well for PLM projects where people resist change.

How to Turn Resistance to PLM into Support

Since you made it this far in the blog post, I assume you might be wondering how to overcome the problems presented above. 

Here are some tips on addressing resistance to PLM in your organization:

LEVEL 1: “I don’t get it.” - Explain the Big Picture

One thing sets successful PLM implementations apart from those that don’t achieve the desired results: people believe a change is needed.

Creating a compelling case for change is the first step to helping people “get it”. To do that, formulate your “why” in a crisp and clear vision statement to guide your PLM transformation. 

Although this might seem obvious, most companies rolling out PLM initiatives don’t have a simple, powerful vision. 

To test whether you’ve done a good job with your vision, ask 10 random people in your organization:

  • What is PLM? 
  • Why do we need it?

If the answers you get are all different, you either don’t have a vision or haven’t done a good job at communicating it.

LEVEL 2: “I don’t like it.” - Improve the User Experience

Although this might seem like a daunting task, it doesn’t have to be that difficult.

Identifying and improving your top 10 use cases will solve many of your “I don’t like it” issues.

Take your random and disconnected system manuals and distill them into the essence of what really matters to your end-users. Focus on the 20% of the functionality used by 80% of the people.

LEVEL 3: “I don’t like you.” - Listen and Communicate a Lot More

My recommendation here is to start listening to people’s concerns and take them seriously. 

Find out if people are complaining for a good reason. 

The mere act of listening will bring you closer to your people and establish trust. 

Communicating more will help you make your PLM initiative more appreciated and more welcome. To make communication happen, put together a communication plan. Following a plan will help you develop your communication muscle and make it a habit.

An expensive PLM system won’t help you overcome resistance to PLM.

Often, companies rolling out PLM initiatives don’t think enough about the human side of change when they deploy PLM.

They think about systems, integrations, and data. But they don’t plan the change and how it will affect their people.

Soon, they realize that their people don’t get it.

Their people don’t like it.

And then their people don’t like them.

A Ferrari PLM system won’t get you faster results.

Product Lifecycle Management is all about people.

The cultural shift required to embed new ways of working demands a clear change strategy, and most importantly, a deep understanding of people’s needs.


Let’s talk. Let us discuss your unique challenges and unlock your transformation with a people- centric approach.


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