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.
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?