Thursday, February 28, 2013

PLM Education Done Right in 3 Easy Steps

I have recently read several articles about the complex nature of PLM: PLM Should be Like Google, and PLM is Too Complicated. Some would like to make it simpler, and some would like to remove much of what we see today in modern PLM software tools. Managing a product's life-cycle is not simple. By definition, the tools that do this job well will not be like playing Solitaire. I think there can be some things done to simplify PLM for many users, but, in my opinion the answer lies in better education.

When software doesn't appear to work correctly, users blame the software, management blames the users, customers blame the company, and everyone thinks it is someone else's problem. When PLM software is complex and difficult to use, the blame is usually placed on the software, or the vendor, or someone else. Usually, no one says "Gee, I need more education so that I can use this software properly."

Here are 3 simple steps that you can follow to make sure you have trained your users to use your PLM solutions properly:

1) Education and Training Plan - Too often education and training gets relegated to a low priority. A plan for education must be created before any software is ever purchased. Allow plenty of time for education and provide chances for users to give feedback before the software is implemented so that you can accommodate various ways of working at your company.

2) Super User Training - Make sure you identify several smart, intelligent, experienced, and good looking people to fill the role of a super user; ok, they don't have to be good looking, but it doesn't hurt. These users should be experts in their organization, looked up to, and knowledgeable in your company processes. These experts may be part of the PLM team as you evaluate solutions and determine your direction with PLM. They can also lend helpful advice during PLM implementation planning. After roll-out they will be an indispensable tool in helping all users get up to speed quickly.

3) On-going user groups - Many companies do initial user education, roll out the PLM software, and then hope for the best. New PLM software capabilities are often added in point releases, but no one ever gets re-trained. With this approach, it's no wonder the users can't use the software. There must be follow-up and constant interactions with the users to understand their issues, introduce new features, and communicate future PLM activities. When users feel that they are on their own without adequate training, they will often point their fingers at the software. Monthly user meetings with leadership from your super users will help users feel empowered. Throw in some free pizza, and that's a winning formula in my book.

Follow these three simple rules, and I think you will see happier users who feel like PLM experts. It will make a big difference in your PLM activities.

Do you think your users are properly educated? Let me know what you do to keep them sharp!

- Jim

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Cultural Change Management or How I Saved PLM!

It was dark; too dark. The rain pelted my hat and left crusty pools of congealed slush around my feet. The wind blew hard against my back and produced a rhythmic swaying like that of a tall tree that is being cut down, just before it falls: gracefully tracing an invisible arc in the sky. The only light was a sharp point at the other end of the room, barely visible in the harsh conditions. After considerable effort, I reached out my hand to push the puny button and the neon lights above my head sprang to life.

I stood under the harsh lights of the server room. With the door closed, I was able to breathe freely  for the first time in several hours. It had taken me some time to traverse the many hallways and cubicles, undetected, to finally come to this place. Several rows of servers stood motionless, gleaming in the glow of halogen warmth, their lights blinking and flashing in a symphony of digital magic. Somewhere in the distance, a low beeping sound brought me out of my stupor; I had to act fast.

Quickly, I ran between the rows of digital sentinels looking for the one that held the key to my visit. They all looked the same, standing there with those unfeeling eyes; judging me; taunting me; profiling me. But, I would have the last laugh, not them. I pulled a crumpled piece of paper from my pocket to see the barely legible scrawls that would identified my target.

At last, I saw the one I was looking for. I stood before my prey and wondered what the thousands of users would think when many of their favorite applications would no longer be available. I imagined they would stare at the screen, bite their lips, and profane silently. Maybe now they would be forced to log into the new PLM system we had just rolled out. Maybe now they would make an effort to learn how easy it was to search for information, collaborate with their colleagues, and find the latest version of any file.

With one decisive stroke I pushed the glowing green button, and with a low whine, the fans stopped running, and legacy applications were no more. The digital crutches that so many had used for so long were gone. No longer would they be able to submit an Excel spreadsheet, and call it "current"; no more guessing about where the latest version resided. It was deceptively easy. It took only a small amount of effort, and PLM was saved. I had saved PLM!

It was than that I heard a low rumble. The moaning and whining of thousands of users, and the groaning of managers all over the company; it would be a long night...

But, I had saved PLM. Instead of being able to ignore the new PLM tools, the users would be forced to use these new tools and learn better ways to do their jobs. There would be no way to get around our corporate workflows to support engineering change activities. Now our many pages of configuration management rules would need to be followed, or no work would be accepted. I knew this was not the recommended way to manage cultural change during a PLM implementation, but I had no choice.

If I had done this properly, I would have created a Cultural Change Management Plan, long before we ever rolled out one piece of new software. The plan would have included advanced education for our super users in every organization. They would have been a key part of our roll-out plan, and they would have helped us educate their users. We would have had some excellent user group meetings with free pizza, to let everyone know what was happening. We would have communicated frequently to make sure everyone felt good about the new system before we ever rolled it out. We didn't do any of that, and that's what brings me to this server room to do this dirty deed.

Please, learn from my mistakes. Make cultural change management an important part of any PLM planning activity. If you don't know what to do, there are people who can help. Do it right the first time, and you won't be the bad me.

What do you think?


Monday, February 11, 2013

Are you Prepared for the Next Generation of PLM?

I just read a very interesting article, Are you Prepared for the Next Generation of Manufacturing? Click on the link and read this very interesting article. I started to think about new technology in the context of PLM. Many of these new technologies have not been embraced by PLM vendors, nor is their impact well understood by businesses. Most PLM vendors have done things the same way for decades, and businesses are loathe to change anything ever, if they can avoid it. We are already starting to see new and exciting ways to encourage efficiency and innovation for PLM. I am afraid those who do not adapt may soon find themselves on a sinking ship.

My favorite quote from the article was:

"If a manufacturer (or any business) makes an informed decision to embrace technology with a progressive, flexible architecture, that manufacturer is prepared to attain success."

So, here is my list of technologies that are starting to have an impact on PLM now, and will continue in the future: Embrace, or get erased!

1) The Internet of Things - sensors, software and all types of intelligence is being added to every device under the sun. Do you have a good process to link your engineering activities with software and electronic activities? The technology exists today, but many have not implemented these new tools. Often different business organizations prevent this from happening efficiently. Check your processes and make whatever changes are necessary to facilitate information sharing between software development, electronic design, and engineering.

2) BYOD - I grew up in the 70's and attended a lot of events with the postscript: BYOB (bring your own beer). Today we are focusing on BYOD (bring your own device). As more and more employees request to use their own devices with company data, the need to adapt will increase. Do you think employees would be more creative if they could log into the system and noodle with their data on a tablet, phone, or other device whenever inspiration strikes, and wherever they are located at that moment? There are issues, but the opportunities are increasing in this area.

3) Social Media - I have blogged about Social PLM in the past (read it here and here and here and here). Becoming a more social business is hard for most engineering companies. The standard engineering environment is one that is not use to sharing any information unless violently threatened. If you tell an engineer that his email will be used less internally in favor of a Facebook-like sharing platform, he or she might hit you with a slide-rule, or at least slit your tires. But, that is the direction forward-thinking companies are taking. It makes a lot of sense and it enhances support for innovation and collaboration; are you ready for this?

4) Big Data - Today, information is growing at an unprecedented rate. We have moved from talking about Petabytes to Zetabytes, and now to Exabytes: 2.8 Zetabyes of data were created in 2012 alone. For more astounding facts about the growing data tsunami (read my blog here), or look at the following article: Staggering Revelations About Big Data. The real point for PLM is not how much data is out there, but how prepared are you to track, analyze, and act on this data. As you read this, many Gigabytes of information is being generated that relates to your company, your products, and you. What will you do with it?

There is probably more, but that will do for now. How are you preparing to make these new technologies complement your PLM environment? Are you choosing to put your head in the sand, and hope they go away. SPOILER ALERT: they aren't going away!

- Jim

Thursday, February 7, 2013

How Can You Measure the Value of PLM?

What is the value of your PLM installation? How much value is it providing to the rest of the business? How do your PLM costs stack up against your PLM savings? How will future PLM activities impact your bottom line? Do you know the answers to these questions? The answer for most people is a strident "NO, now go away and stop bothering me"!

Knowing the value of PLM to your business can help in many areas: selling the value to upper management, selling the value to various business organizations, planning your next implementation activity, and maintaining a view on how well you are proceeding relative to your planned PLM value. For all of these reasons, and more, it is important for you to measure PLM value at multiple stages during PLM planning, implementation, and deployment.

The first step is to create a baseline PLM measurement of how you do business today. Use a repeatable methodology that you can rely on to give you information at many stages of your PLM activity (if you don't have one, contact CIMdata; we have one!). How are you doing things today? How much time does it take to search for information, for example? How many steps are involved in implementing changes to a design? There are a whole host of questions you need to answer to create a baseline. This is true whether you are new to PLM, or you have been doing it for several years.

Once the baseline is in place, you can look for areas where you would like PLM to positively impact your business. Start with the "low-hanging fruit" to get the quickest results. Every business is unique, and that is why you must measure YOUR business to get an idea of where to start, or where to continue your PLM implementation efforts. Don't let a PLM vendor tell you what you need and where to start; they do not know YOUR business!

Once you have a methodology in place and a good plan of attack, you can choose metrics that will guide your PLM efforts. Use these metrics to show the value that PLM is bringing to the business. Communicate this information to upper management frequently, and you will soon get a huge raise; and who doesn't want that?

What experiences have you had trying to measure the value of PLM?

- Jim