PLM Transforming a Company

Tim Brown, Director, PLM, Smiths Medical
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Tim Brown, Director, PLM, Smiths Medical

PLM transformation is more than just a one-time project that took place a couple of years ago. Effective PLM management is more than just activities that the business performs as Business-As-Usual. Engaging the business with ongoing PLM process development can lead to faster product development turnaround times and improve product changes. If you wait to improve portions of a process the company will find a way around the problem. They will begin to manage PLM in their proverbial department silos increasing their workload and inefficiency. There is no getting around it. The payoff is improved product data and improved product development information that is useful throughout the company. Several years ago I sat in a room with colleagues, a white board full of circles and lines, engaged in a discussion about PLM processes. We began to realize that across all markets there are four key elements to effectively manage PLM as a transformational business process; 1) Future Vision, 2) Strong Leadership, 3) Great Technology, and 4) Employee Capability and Knowledge.  Together these elements continue to transform companies, their product and customer offerings.

1) Future Vision

In every growing company and organization, I’ve been a part of, they have a vision for what they want to accomplish. Driving that vision becomes a focus of the entire organization. Yes there are other activities that are needed, but this supports the company’s future and desired growth. PLM transformation needs a vision to ensure programs and activities have direction and focus. I’m not talking about a statement of work or project proposal, but a simple declaration that people can capture and understand why the continual effort is needed.

A PLM vision changes the expectation of everyone involved in the organization. It changes the expectations of our customers in the development of new and better products. It changes the expectations of product development and the feedback they receive. It changes the expectations of operations and quality in the information they receive for their processes. Their expectations for your output become bigger, superior, and more consistent productivity.

  ‚ÄčThe more people can make the connection on PLM and its processes the increased likelihood they see in new areas and new processes to improve 

A few areas that a PLM transformational vision has become relevant for me include the following; standardization of data and how information is presented and measured; globalization of processes so everyone can use that same process; information visibility where it doesn’t take forever to find something or ask several different departments; and a culture of responsibility where people can identify their actions and move forward. There are other characteristics of a good vision that should be followed these have helped me stay focused on transformation.

Take time to develop the vision and share that vision with others. Develop it as you would a product or a company vision. Share and align this vision with other leaders in the organization. The execution of that vision will take everyone’s involvement. You can’t do this continued PLM transformation alone.

2) Strong Leadership

While we tend to think PLM is one person’s responsibility in reality there are multiple people that are engaged. Every leader needs to grab hold to the PLM vision and incorporate various efforts into their plans. This is no different than aligning with a product portfolio strategy or product obsolescence strategy. Without the continued engagement in PLM transformation process the individual silos thought a company will start taking over the process and weaken PLM’s ability to be effective.

Take risks in pushing the boundaries of PLM.  Not all companies are the same and not all development or manufacturing processes are the same.  With the right leadership you can identify these processes and continue aligning them with the PLM transformational vision.

Even in a group effort there is typically still one or more people that I would describe as idealistic visionaries. Entrepreneurs or change agents would also be a good explanation. They network and share the vision with as many people that will listen, and a few people that won’t listen. As the transformational process continues there will be many different challenges. You can’t do it alone. Surround the PLM team with strong leadership that can address the challenges it finds.

3) Great Technology

While the PLM processes are critical to transformation, process and technology go hand in hand. When implementing any technology, whether a spreadsheet or integrated systems, technology will change the process. The key element is using great technology, not good or appropriate or “what we have”, but great technology. 

Great technology improves the process and becomes a core competency of the company. Core competencies for a company have the capability to expand the company into untapped markets. With this technology, it is size appropriate and can still support growth. Technology that is expandable yet simple. Every process changes over time. As your future vision is developed by the strong leadership you will find new methods or scenarios that weren’t part of the initial implementations. Great technology will expand to support organizational growth without compromising its validity. 

4) Employee Capability and Knowledge

Right alongside strong leadership are employees that live and breathe PLM. When developing and documenting the processes document Key Process Indicators (KPI’s) will help ensure that the process maintains its alignment with the future vision. As employees monitor these KPI’s they must have the capability to make changes and improvements to the technology and process. Developing a knowledgeable staff is a continual effort. Products change, equipment changes, customers change, and people change. I have found that continuing the education and training in various processes opens the door to new scenarios and new challenges. The more people can make the connection on PLM and its processes the increased likelihood they see in new areas and new processes to improve. People become enthusiastic in transforming their company.

Learning companies exemplify the commitment to the technical knowledge of their employees. Employees are continually improving and challenging the status quo. Learning companies don’t just let the existing conditions continue. Employee with the capability and knowledge will use the practices that make sense and learn from their experiences.

Conclusion

PLM activities and processes will continue to transform a company. Depending on the intensity of these four key elements they will vary the level and direction of that transformation. PLM transformation is truly an organization engagement, a dance between information, process and technology. Developing PLM processes and technology is not a onetime activity or simply a training session. Drive your PLM transformation with clarity and through every department and every employee of the company.

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