Two weeks ago, my blogging peer Jos Voskuil published a blog entitled “Why PLM will never be simple”.
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 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.
2) A bit of marketing.
Yes, a bit of marketing can help PLM as well. And 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 for 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 system architecture.
The rise of cloud computing and open APIs is changing the game for traditional PLM architectures. 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.
And often complexity is a side effect of not making decisions. Too often, companies engaging in mergers and acquisitions end up having 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 the user experience.
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 better. Several PLM vendors are working on developing modern user interfaces, and cloud providers are taking steps towards toward nimbler and industry-specific PLM.
If your company is still stuck in legacy PDM systems and wants to improve the 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 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 technology – but in the end, the key to success is people.
Most PLM initiatives fail because people don’t understand the project’s “why” and 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 a 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.
Making PLM feel more simple.
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 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 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.
But making things seem simple involves being brave, making decisions and having difficult conversations.
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 mentality 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 are well designed, sharing and supporting one another gets much easier and the barriers to collaboration start to crumble.