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:
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.
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.
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.
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!