Modern PLM Software: A Start-to-Finish Guide to PLM Selection

Endless options. Conflicting priorities. Tight budgets. For many companies, the Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) software selection process can feel like an enormous, daunting task.

Since leading PLM softwares are inching closer as their system capabilities expand and mature, it’s easy to get caught up in the bells and whistles of the software.

Furthermore, smaller cloud PLM systems are now also in the game – and playing with great cards.

To start you off in the right direction, here’s a no-nonsense guide to choosing a PLM system.

PLM Software Selection: Common Reasons for PLM Evaluation

There are 4 key reasons for undertaking a PLM software evaluation process:

#1 - You don’t have PLM software.

This is probably the easiest scenario: your company doesn’t have a PLM system yet. You might be a start-up, or have survived with CAD, PDM, and ERP.  The fact is, you feel like you need to better manage your product data through its lifecycle and start with a blank page.

#2 - Your existing PLM software is getting old.

Legacy technology, expensive upgrades, or home-grown systems that are no longer supported are common reasons for companies to look for a new PLM system. 

Some firms might have a well-functioning system in place, but the infrastructure is getting old or the vendor has stopped supporting the software.

In such cases, you might decide to evaluate new PLM software to replace your existing, antiquated technology.

#3 - Your company is undergoing a merger.

Another common reason for companies to evaluate new PLM software is a recent merger.

A merger that brings together companies with different PLM systems triggers the PLM evaluation process to build common ground.

Many companies find themselves in this situation: you have an expensive PLM software and a development process that’s anything but agile.

Your people hate the system and would do anything to stay outside of it, and the system vendor that doesn’t support them to make things work.

Moving On - Implementing a New PLM System

Successfully implementing a PLM system is a hard nut to crack. It’s a complex process and affects the entire lifecycle. 

In this situation, it often pays off to start again and take advantage of the current challenges to propel your PLM transformation and generate the right energy with a new system.

PLM Selection Process: 5 Steps to Agile PLM Software Selection

Too often, organizations make the mistake of rushing through the PLM software selection process without really focusing on the purpose of the evaluation.

Even if the executive buy-in is strong, new PLM software changes the way people work. But PLM systems are useless if your people won’t use them or if teams have to spend an inordinate amount of time fighting with the system rather than doing business.

Kicking off the PLM evaluation process with a light audit, listening to people, and finding out how they feel and what they value is a great way to enable change.

There’s no simple, sweeping solution that will guarantee your people will wholeheartedly embrace your chosen PLM software. 

By involving your people soon in the PLM selection process, you’ll increase your chances of widespread PLM acceptance and adoption later.

#2 - Power your PLM selection process with a storyline.

When I ask my customers about their vision, they often show me a slide deck with tons of facts. Facts are always good, but aligning your organization around a PLM system change takes more than facts and figures.

Unless the people you’re trying to reach find themselves personally invested in the process, your facts probably won’t resonate with them. 

That’s why I’m a huge believer in investing time to build a PLM narrative – your PLM storyline.

Before hitting the PLM evaluation road, take time to reflect on your vision and your goals for the project: 

  • Are you trying to secure an investment, drive a mindset change, or bring other lifecycle teams on board?
  • What problems are you trying to solve? 
  • And most importantly: why should they care?

Next, identify the key takeaways for your audience and the transformation you’re trying to trigger or accelerate. 

Your storyline will motivate people to actively listen. It won’t seem like you’re just telling them what you want them to do. 

The power of storytelling can lock in the commitment you need to move things forward.

#3 - Assess what’s important for you.

Most of the top PLM software vendors love to position themselves as an all-in-one solution. 

To see what I’m talking about, check out the web pages of these major PLM vendors:

Your job is to evaluate what you need, what you’ll use, and what the software does well. 

Rather than listing hundreds of requirements, define your top 5 use cases rather than getting too detailed with functional requirements.

Focus only on a handful of use cases that underline your unique business processes and system architecture. Vendors can prepare a demonstration and weave multiple capabilities together with your specific use cases. 

They’ll help you find out whether their PLM software fits your specific business.

#4 - Evaluate PLM system vendors.

The next phase in the PLM software selection process is the search for new software. In addition to the well-known Dassault, Siemens, PTC or Aras, other smaller PLM software vendors might meet your company’s needs.

Start with a large list of vendors and gradually narrow down the list until you find one whose product demonstrations check most of the boxes on your key use cases.

I prefer to select a maximum of 7 systems for vendor demonstrations.

System demos take time. They’re organized into two or more rounds:

First Round of Demonstrations

In the first round, you’ll get to know your PLM software vendor partner. 

They will typically provide a “standard” demonstration that shows the breadth of their software’s functionality.  You want to use this first meeting to describe your evaluation criteria and key use cases, the areas that are most important to you. 

Detailed Demonstrations

The initial demonstration will be enough to eliminate some vendors and select the final candidates you want to invite for a detailed demonstration. To make the most out of the detailed demo, share with the vendors a detailed walkthrough of your key use cases in the form of a script, a set of videos, or a process documentation.

Don’t wait too long between the PLM vendor demos. It’ll be easier for folks on your team to compare solutions if the demos happen back-to-back.

My tip for this phase is not to get excited about capabilities you’re unlikely to ever use. This essential point is worth repeating: the best PLM implementation is the one your entire organization will use. 

At this phase, some companies go for a PLM RFP (request for proposal). However, the cost, time, and demands of the PLM RFP process may not be the best path for your organization. 

Be careful with a blind RFP process. It’s one thing to shop for the best price for the materials you use to fabricate your products. It is another thing altogether to find the best PLM software for your company.

#5 - Plan your PLM implementation journey.

The final selection process weighs the system demonstrations along with the evaluation criteria, pricing, and overall feel of the vendor relationship.

It’s important that at least two PLM vendors remain at this point – one who is the “winner”, and another that’s a viable backup option.  Without a viable backup, you lose leverage in contract negotiations.

While the PLM selection process may seem time-consuming, it will pay off. Focusing on these foundational steps will save you time, money, and headaches during the implementation process and help you achieve the desired bottom-line results.

PLM Vendor Evaluation: 5 Tips to Move Fast and Capitalize on the Momentum

#1 - Experiment with cloud PLM software.

If you still don’t have PLM software, or if you’re not clear on how you define your product structures and how you want to align and structure your product data, I recommend starting with cloud PLM software.

Many cloud PLMs offer a trial or even free accounts for a limited number of users.

Cloud PLM is a great way to understand your data better, model your products, and clarify definitions before you jump into a complex PLM system.

These systems are often simpler and have a great User Experience (UX). Although their functionality is limited, you’ll be surprised by what you can accomplish by just selecting one of your products and modeling it in the system.

#2 - Organize peer benchmarking.

Your industry peers or business network are useful sources of recommendations. They can share specific PLM vendor experiences and tell you more about their challenges and the lessons they learned. 

PLM events – both online and offline – are great for finding benchmarking peers. 

If you want to know more about a specific PLM software vendor, ask them to provide references. 

Sometimes a quick online search can help you identify potential PLM benchmarking partners. PLM software vendors often publish case studies and ask their customers to provide testimonials. Using this information, you can Google the customer’s name and write them an email, or connect with them on LinkedIn.

#3 - Develop a PLM vendor criteria checklist.

“Best Overall” doesn’t always cut it, especially when you have specific industry requirements. 

By highlighting your key evaluation criteria in the form of a checklist, you’ll get a quick at-a-glance comparison of the top PLM software functionalities that matter to you.

I often hear from companies that want to go with SaaS, but SaaS is a broad term, and the details can get hidden in the fine print.

For example, you might want to dig into multi-tenant and single-tenant cloud models, as they not only have different price points but also different implications for available enhancements. 

Moreover, some PLM software is natively integrated, while others are stand-alone and need to be stitched into the company’s architecture. That’s why the PLM vendor’s strategy should be a consideration.

#4 - Define your top use cases.

If you’re not laser-focused on defining what matters most to you, you risk coming out of the PLM vendor evaluation without a clear winner.

Define a handful of signature use cases for your company, document them, and ask the PLM software vendors to demonstrate their product with these concrete use cases. Doing this will help you focus on the areas that are most important to you and understand the capabilities of the ones you would like to change or improve.

#5 - Invest in a proof of concept (POC).

Unfortunately, marketing information is often unclear, and PLM software demonstrations tell only part of the story.

Many top PLM vendors will show you presentations filled with flashy graphics, uplifting demo videos, and vague promises — essentially, just marketing. 

Once you have your final candidates, the smart move is to try them. Run a POC to check if their system works in your situation. If you don’t get to try the software before buying it, you might end up making wrong assumptions, only to discover later that the system you just purchased isn’t right for your business.

A well-designed POC will allow you to experiment with it – to ‘tweak the dials’ – to see whether it can deliver the promised benefits.

Your objective should be to experience first-hand some of the candidate system’s strengths — or weaknesses — before taking the plunge.

Your Next Move

Companies are looking for more flexible, more empowering, and more rewarding PLM solutions. If you’re stuck with a system that slows you down and hinders collaboration, consider evaluating new PLM software to power your Product Lifecycle Management transformation and capitalize on the new energy it brings.

As you embark on your PLM selection journey, no rulebook will help you avoid every roadblock. A well-defined and communicated strategy and a trusted PLM implementation partner will help you hit the ground running.

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