Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Basics of Configuration Management - Part III

Welcome to the third, and final post on the basics of configuration management (CM). If you missed part I, or part II, go ahead and read them now. In this post I want to talk about the bad things that can happen when you ignore basic CM practices. The results may not be as dire as this story, but hopefully you can see that CM practices should be followed by all companies to avoid serious problems.

On the morning of April 20, 2010, several explosions rocked the Deepwater Horizon oil platform, and fires broke out. The platform was evacuated; coastguard and other ships were dispatched to fight the subsequent fire, and rescue the survivors. 11 men were killed in the initial devastation, and oil began to rush from the unsecured well head deep under the Gulf of Mexico.

Of course, every oil rig is equipped with many safety devices. When BP engineers attempted to activate a huge piece of underwater safety equipment, it failed. The failure was a result of modified drawings of a variable bore ram, designed to seal the pipe, that did not match the current equipment drawings used by BP. The fail-safe in use did not match any of the drawings that had been given to BP from the equipment owner.

Transocean, the owner of the variable bore ram and of the sunken Deepwater Horizon rig said any alterations would have come at BP's instigation. BP said they never asked for any alteration. These alterations meant that BP spent several days unsuccessfully trying to cap the well. Only after several unsuccessful attempts did they figure out that the drawings they had did not match the actual equipment at the bottom of the gulf. The existing equipment would not cap the well properly, and more work had to be done to finally get the well capped.

It wasn't until July 15, 2010 that the well was able to be capped; almost 3 months later. By this time, nearly 53,000 barrels per day of oil had spewed into the gulf with a total discharge of 4.9 million barrels. The impact on many aspects of the Gulf of Mexico are still being felt to this day, and the full impact may not be fully understood for many years.

Had BP and Transocean followed basic CM principles they would have been able to cap the well within a short time using the proper equipment. No changes could have been made that no one knew about, and all parties would have been able to sign off on any changes. 

Think about this disaster, and make sure you don't get stuck with the same mess. Without CM practices that are followed by everyone, you risk your customers, your products, and your business.

What do you think?

- Jim

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Basics of Configuration Management - Part II

In part 1 we talked about some of the basic steps you should take to make sure Configuration Management (CM) is working well in your company. Following strict rules around CM provides the foundation for product innovation. In this post I want to cover a few of the rules you should follow to make sure CM is helping support your business properly.

Change Processes

The first set of rules you should evaluate covers how changes are initiated, tracked, and completed. There should be as few options here as possible. Do not provide the ability for anyone to use any type of ad hoc process they choose. Two or three options is all you really need: Simple and Low Risk (75%-80%), Complex and Medium Risk (15%-20%), Complex and High Risk (0%-5%); that's about it. Audit change processes, and make sure no one is going around them for a "unique" change. There should be accountability and penalties for those who do not follow the prescribed change processes. Your system should be set up so that NO WORK CAN BE DONE unless they have come through an approved change process.

Working on change practices can have a very significant impact on your projects. Those who have excellent change management practices are much more likely to achieve or exceed project objectives. This usually leads to happier customers, and more revenue for you.

(Procsi, 2009 Best Practices in Change Management Benchmark Report)


The most basic approach to CM is to make sure the final product matches the original requirements. There must be a way to capture these requirements, and checks to measure conformance at each stage of product development. Many companies have some requirements that initiate a product, but as the process progresses there is no linkage back to these requirements. At the end of product development a working product may be produced, but if it matches the original requirements is anyone's guess. Implement a strong PDM system that can track requirements and provide a global view of as-planned vs. as-released states. Hold people accountable for decisions they make that are not in line with these original requirements.


Create baselines to "freeze" the product at certain points in the development process. Baselines are very important since they allow us to go back to a valid design at any time. We can analyze these baselines, share them with partners and suppliers, evaluate with marketing and sales, and use these for product reuse to start a new valid project. Most companies do not have a good way to create a valid baseline. Have you ever sent something to a supplier, and then wondered what version you actually sent them? Baselines eliminate all these problems, and allow a smooth error-free design process.

Making CM an important part of your business will provide many benefits. It doesn't happen overnight, so keep working on it. Once you make this part of how everyone works, it will become second nature. I will provide a few more insights in part III.

What do you think?


Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Basics of Configuration Management - Part I

Configuration Management (CM) is like a seat belt: it might be uncomfortable, unfashionable, and painful, but without it, you just might be dead. When I say CM what am I talking about? Well, here's the short definition that I like to use:

Configuration Management is a set of inter-related processes meant to enable people to work together better. 

The Basics

There are many aspects to this discipline and very few companies will likely apply all of them. However, I want to mention 4 areas where you can start to use CM to support innovation and collaboration today.

1) Initiate basic rules in your company that support CM - Many companies think too many rules will stifle creativity; nothing could be further from the truth. As I mentioned in my previous article, The Tortoise and the Hare: a PLM Story, there is no way to support collaboration and innovation if you do not have very strict, formal rules that are followed by everyone; that leads me to point #2:

2) Make sure people actually follow your rules - It doesn't make much sense to spend time formalizing rules and procedures, only to allow people to do whatever the heck they want. Make sure you audit your processes and make sure people are following CM rules, whatever they are. If people know your rules are only weak suggestions, they will not follow them.

3) Automate as much of the CM process as possible. If you expect people to enter information or update details manually, it won't happen. With good tools in place you can automate much of your work without depending on the potentially limited brains of your workers. But, remember, process leads, tools follow; when tools lead, fools follow. Create your business processes first, then use tools for support.

4) And, finally, don't try to do everything at once. Remember, incremental improvement is better than delayed perfection. Start in one area, like Engineering Change Management, and walk the walk. Once you have processes and tools to support you in one area, you can grow into other areas. Your users will get use to following CM processes, and additional changes will seem less gruesome.

Good luck with all your efforts at Configuration Management; more on this later.

What do you think?

- Jim

Monday, January 7, 2013

Why Has Social PLM Failed?

"I hate Facebook", he said, with fire in his eyes. "Twitter is a total waste of time, if you ask me. I can see no reason for it to exist!" I was instantly sorry I had asked his opinion. I was also surprised that someone in their mid 40's would have such strong negative opinions about social media. It was especially surprising, since this was a person that had embraced smart phones, tablets, PCs, email, and other technology for many years.

The man in question was an engineer who was looked to as a forward-thinking leader in his company. He was a key player in an engineering organization and in charge of introducing PLM to his company. He was also in charge of the entire PLM implementation project. The executives in this company would listen to him on PLM related technology issues. Any chance of  getting social PLM tools into this company was quickly erased from my mind. This conversation got me to thinking about social PLM and why it seemed to limp along in 2012.

Why has social PLM failed to make a big impact in most companies this year? I, along with others, thought this would be the year when social PLM would make a big push into most businesses. I also read a recent article by Oleg Shilovitsky about his take on this topic. Read the full article here.

I have come to the conclusion that Social PLM has failed because most people in the engineering and manufacturing parts of businesses (mostly the people that champion PLM) do not use social media. They have not seen benefits in their own personal lives, and that is why they struggle to see how it can help in their businesses. It reminds me of the early days of the PC: people started to buy personal computers for their own use, and then wondered why they couldn't have the same exceptional connectivity and personalization in their jobs?

I think social PLM will have to follow the same path. However, for that to happen, we need company PLM champions using social media in their personal lives. This has not happened yet. In fact, most of the PLM classes I teach tell me that very few engineers use or care much about social media tools. When I introduce the topic I get a lot of wide-eyed stares and snoring. Those who attend my classes think social media tools are fun toys for their teenagers, but have no use in a "real" business.

I am sure that this will change over time. Sadly, I am old enough to remember when people called Computer Aided Design (CAD) a toy, and when people called 3D modeling impractical, and when people called email a fad; of course, none of these turned out to be true. I just hope I can live long enough to see social PLM have its' due.

What does your company think about social media? What do the leaders of your business organizations think about social tools? Do they have Facebook accounts? Do they have twitter accounts? Do they see any benefits from social media? If not, it will be hard for any of them to see the benefits of Social PLM.

What do you think?


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Back to the Future: The 5 Best PLM Posts of 2012

Before we rush off down the road that is 2013, let's take a moment, and look back at some of my best and most commented posts from 2012. Sit back, put your feet up, and enjoy. Perhaps as we look at these posts, we can learn something about the future of PLM:

1) Most Commented Post: PLM Education, Gangnam Style

I don't like to think that I got any bump in comments based on the popularity of the YouTube video, but it didn't hurt. PLM education is important. I hope you have some PLM education planned during 2013. If you don't know where to start, CIMdata has a PLM certificate class that really rocks! I ought to know, since I teach it.

2) Most Liked Post: What the Mars Rover Landing Can Teach us About PLM

The landing of the Mars Rover in September 2012 had a lot to teach us about PLM. The landing was complex and tedious, but after many trial runs, simulations, and testing, it worked perfectly. We can learn a lot about how we approach PLM from this exciting event.

3) Most Insightful Post: Top 10 Ways to Tell if Your Business Needs PLM

There are some key signs that point to the need for PLM in your business. I got many comments from people who thought they already had PLM, but realized there might be more to it. This kind of company effort can have many benefits.

4) Most Sagacious Post: How Will Social Media Technology Impact PLM?

When I posted this back in May, it was clear that PLM would be impacted by social media tools. This trend has not diminished, and I think we will see some very exciting advances in 2013. New devices and software will slowly make PLM a much more social activity.

5) Most Viewed Post: 2013 - The Year of PLM!

This is a great blog post to end with, since my hope for everyone is that 2013 can be a great year. I hope you get everyone at your company educated about PLM, and watch your efficiency, innovation and ROI increase.

So, what do you have planned for 2013? What do you think we will see this year? I hope it's a great one!