Really, Really Complex Products: Is PLM Software The Solution?

by drjim on October 18, 2010

How Do You Make Sure That All Of The Pieces Fit Together In The End?

How Do You Make Sure That All Of The Pieces Fit Together In The End?

There are a lot of products out there that need product managers. However, there is a special class of products that needs a special type of product manager – the really, really complex product. These things have too many parts and subsystems for any one person to keep straight. Maybe it’s time to bring in the big guns: Product Life-Cycle management software?

What The Heck Is A PLM Package?

Remember those big ERP software packages that every company seemed to be running around and installing in the 90’s? Well guess what, a PLM package is sorta the same thing, but it’s focuses on managing really big products.

The purpose of installing and using a PLM system is to allow a product manager to manage just about every part of his / her product’s life-cycle. This starts with the concept / design phase, goes to manufacturing, into maintenance and (depending on the product) may even include managing its eventual disposal.

Generally speaking, PLM packages contain three separate components that are designed to automate the development and eventual production of products:

    • A CAD system

     

    that allows the product to be designed in detail. This allows each of the components that makes up the product to be inventoried and tracked.

    • A digital manufacturing system

     

    which allows your firm to simulate how they are actually going to manufacture the product (it’s a lot less expensive to simulate first, and then build-out the factory second)

    • A Product Management Data System (PDMA)

     

    which provides you with a single place to put everything associated with your product: CAD drawings, parts lists, specifications, etc.

So What’s Wrong With PLM Solutions?

I can almost hear the little gears in your Product Manager head clicking as you come to the conclusion that one of these really expensive PLM systems is exactly what you need your company to get their hands one. Hold on a minute.

It turns out that, as with everything else in life, a PLM solution is not the silver bullet solution that you might initially think that it is. It turns out that there are three main problems that can pop up when you use one of these systems:

    • Software Compatibility

     

    : this is a tricky issue that can show up and bite you at any time. If one half of your team designs your blue widget using v3 of the PLM CAD program and the other uses v4, there’s a good chance that the two parts won’t fit together. This is the problem that caused Airbus’ A380 superjumbo airplane to be delayed for two years.

    • Missed Errors:

     

    since the PLM system allows you to live in a virtual world, product managers stop creating real products for testing. This means that errors in design can be missed that won’t be caught until manufacturing has already started.

    • Bad Data:

     

    the ability to maintain a data warehouse that is both current and accurate and which does not contain any bad data can easily turn into a full-time job.

What All Of This Means For You

Every product manager would like to have a dedicated assistant. When you are responsible for a very complex product, this becomes an even greater desire. Sadly such assistants are few and far between. However, the good news is that PLM software packages can provide you with a lot of what you are looking for.

However, these sophisticated product management tools come with their own set of challenges. Issues such as software compatibility, testing products, and the scourge of bad data can interfere with the successful launch of a new product.

We’re living in the 21st Century and of course the future will be full of software tools that will be able to help us do our product management jobs easier, quicker, better. However, making sure that the PLM system that you’re using is doing its job correctly will become yet one more task that falls to the product manager to perform.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that a PLM system would be worth the expense and hassle for managing your product?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

It’s time for true confessions: you play one of those silly Facebook games don’t you? Pick your poison:Farmville, Fishville, Mafi Wars, etc.The company that makes these games, Zynga, currently boasts that they have over 100M users (and that’s just after 2 years). What can they teach the rest of us product managers?

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Eric Krock October 18, 2010 at 2:27 pm

Jim – Great post, thank you. By the way, you might want to doublecheck the shortlink in your tweet announcing it. At list for me, clicking on the shortlink took me to http://www.theaccidentalpm.com/product- and gave me a 404 error. Of course I was able to find the post by going to the top level.

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Dr. Jim Anderson October 22, 2010 at 9:56 am

Eric: Thanks! Turns out that you are completely correct about the messed up Tweet. I’m going to have to figure out what’s up with that! Thanks for pointing it out!

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Justin T. Smith November 15, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Nice post Jim – I feel that PLM systems are both underappreciated and overhyped.

Having a tool to manage complexity is important for product management, however you’re spot-on that PMs need requisite data *quality* along with quantity.

Siemens is starting down this path, but have you looked at Rymatech Solutions’ FeautrePlan platform? It wraps best practices and processes around a tool to support quality data to facilitate PM decision-making. It’s not at the level of PLM complexity, but interesting stuff regarding software product development.

Cheers,
Justin T. Smith

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Dr. Jim Anderson November 19, 2010 at 6:41 pm

Justin: I didn’t know about the Rymatech solution — but I do now! Thanks for sharing.

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Chad Jackson December 14, 2010 at 6:57 pm

Hey Dr. Jim. I like the ghist of your post, but I wanted to offer my perspective on the definition of PLM. You can find a relatively good definition at wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Product_lifecycle_management), but I tend to be more discerning with my definition. PLM really looks at automating and managing processes and is separate from PDM, CAD, CAE and Digital Manufacturing. Some of my thoughts from an online debate are here (http://www.engineering-matters.com/2010/11/why-hasnt-plm-taken-over-the-world-live-blog-debate/).

Hope this helps. Take care. Talk soon.

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Dr. Jim Anderson December 17, 2010 at 2:59 pm

Chad: took a look at your article — very well written! I find it interesting that you are excluding the automated manufacturing components from your definition of PLM. Since the ultimate goal of a PLM solution is to manage the entire product creation process, don’t these systems need to be included? Change management, a big part of the product management job, directly impacts these types of systems…

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Chad Jackson December 20, 2010 at 4:58 pm

Thanks Dr. Jim. I appreciate the compliment. I work hard at maintaining the blog.

With regards to PLM, there’s two general ways of defining it. First, you can treat it as a definition for a whole category of software applications and systems. That means it’s inclusive of all sorts of things like CAD, PDM, Simulation Lifecycle Management, Digital Manufacturing, etc. My issue with this approach is that there is a system you can use to automate and manage processes as well as generate reports based on product related information and data (think regulatory compliance report). If PLM is an umbrella term, what is that thing that automates and reports?

As a result, I use PLM to describe that. I like to also keep it separate so I can assess its value on its own, instead of wrapping it into all of these other things.

Oh, and one other note. It’s actually a little more accurate to say that PLM is really targeted at the development cycle instead of the entire lifecycle. You don’t see sourcing capabilities, supply chain capabilities, service capabilities and the like usually in PLM systems. In my opinion, it’s a bit of a misnomer.

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