The Five Faces of Dr. PLM

QuintessonPLMThere’s one fundamental source of unending consternation about Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) and it starts at the very beginning:  the very definition of PLM.  Any healthy knife fight debate on this topic will yield enough probable definitions to construct a workable bridge from here to Cybertron.  As I have explored in the past, the vast majority of those definitions are likely unwieldy abominations of the English language,  heavily burdened with industry jargon, marketing, and/or perplexing amounts of nebulosity.  We can talk about it, and we joke about it, but it’s in fact an obstacle to real progress in the space, especially in the introduction of new ideas.  There is an endless chain of examples where people don’t understand PLM, have trouble with planning and implementation, start with all the wrong assumptions, treat is as software and not a philosophy, etc.  With all that variability, it’s not surprising that  PLM is relegated to a niche understanding when it should in fact be much more universal.  Imagine trying to describe PLM to a venture capitalist investor.  You see, PLM is about a strategy across an extended enterprise to… Ten seconds later, a struggling Mark Cuban is rather resolute and concise in his response:  I’m out.

How about a quick experiment?   Let’s pretend we are a totally clueless PLM noob for the moment (and if you are my sincere apologies for stumbling here first).  Noobster has suddenly been tasked by his management to go find out what the hell PLM is before they start inviting the sales people over to wow everyone with assorted magical unicorns and endless servings of jalapeno poppers.  So what’s the very first thing Noobster does?  He Googles PLM of course, just so he can find out what the hell it is.  (Incidentally no one PLM’s Google)

So let’s take a look at the first five results that the mighty search engine king spits out, considering all of the PLM vendors likely pay their Search Engine Optimization (SEO) experts top dollar to carefully position their branding.   (Warning: your mileage may vary depending on when you read this, relative wind speed, and what you have got in your pocketses.  May contain peanuts.  Not legal in Utah.)

The first thing you’ll notice… PLM is in fact a horrible choice of acronym.  It’s not PolyMet Mining Corp, Parabolic Light Modification, or Professional Landscape Management (and these are just on the first page).  I wonder how many unfortunate people have gone back to their manager to explain that their release process should be governed by the groundskeeper.  For the sake of clarity that’s assume Noobster can toss out the obviously wrong or duplicate results.

So who checks in at #1? Why Wikipedia of course, the internet king of exhausting detail:

“product lifecycle management (PLM) is the process of managing the entire lifecycle of a product from inception, through engineering design and manufacture, to service and disposal of manufactured products.[1] PLM integrates people, data, processes and business systems and provides a product information backbone for companies and their extended enterprise.”

Noobster’s first reaction is likely what in the hell is the extended enterprise?  Is that Captain Kirk’s ship with a trailer in the back?  Since PLM is a process and it manages processes, does it manage itself?  Not the best of definitions.  Of course the article goes on… and on.  Which likely guarantees a colossal headache.  Mark Cuban:  I said I’m out.

Siemens checks in at #2, no doubt getting their money’s worth from their SEO team:

“Product lifecycle management (PLM) can be defined as an information strategy: it builds a coherent data structure by consolidating systems. You can also call PLM an enterprise strategy: it lets global organizations work as a single team to design, produce, support and retire products, while capturing best practices and lessons learned along the way.”

That is not bad, but not great either.  Relating PLM to an information strategy is a good thing.  However, consolidating systems… systems of what?  Noobster will never know.  I’m also not sure why best practices are mentioned in here, except perhaps to set the stage that the software is written for those very same best practices.   The definition also goes on and on, making sure every product line is amply mentioned.  It is marketing, after all.

Checking in at #3, weighing a spry 178 lbs, is PTC:

Product Lifecycle Management, or PLM, is a driver of successful product development, and a strategic contributor to business value across the enterprise. PLM helps product manufacturers manage complex, cross-functional processes, coordinating the efforts of distributed teams to consistently and efficiently create the best possible products.”

Is PLM a force of nature wrought by he-who-must-not-be-named or just some guy named Bob?  Is it a broad philosophy, or the most incredible talking dog?  Noobster will never know the way this is worded.  Nebulosity incarnate.

Rolling on to #4 is relative newcomer Autodesk,

“Autodesk® PLM 360 is an affordable, easy-to-use, and simple-to-deploy product lifecycle management (PLM) solution in the cloud. Now companies of any size can take advantage of PLM to streamline business processes for more efficient product development, manufacturing, and delivery.”

Silly Autodesk®, that’s not the definition of PLM, that’s the definition of Autodesk® PLM 360.

Bringing up the rear at #5 we have… SAP?  (Incidentally to illustrate the volatility of search results: when I began sketching this post SAP was #5 but has since been replaced by Infor)

“Gain a 360-degree view of the processes and activities involved in developing and manufacturing products. From concept through delivery, you can integrate operations, support innovation, enable collaborations, and make informed decisions. By implementing our integrated PLM software-and-service package, you establish transparency and comply with industry regulations, by documenting production performance.”

Here SAP goes a step further than Autodesk, revealing that PLM is not only a omnidirecitonal software package, but it’s actually a ready-to-go module of SAP.  It’s funny because most ERP definitions reference software and not strategy, so you could argue that what ERP is some of the stuff that falls under a PLM information strategy.  But saying something like that could make one think that PLM software > ERP software and before you know it, there’s a solution architect slapfight in the parking lot.

So that’s rather interesting.  Some lessons here.   First, Dassault’s SEO team is not doing so well.  Second, after processing all of the above, is there a clear sense of what PLM is for Noobster?  Nope.avi.  There have been some good attempts at a concise definition in the past, but they don’t seem to float to the top on this sea of information.  And that’s a serious problem for progress.  A plausible counter argument is that PLM cannot be concisely defined…

You see Neo, no one can be told what PLM is, you have to see it for yourself.

Blue pill time?  Make sure to slap/knife a few things in the comments.

  • pgarrish

    The (other) question here is whether you want to know what PLM is, or what PLM software does 🙂 I’d say there is a bit of a difference there…. You can ‘do’ a level of PLM using excel, as many companies still do, but that won’t sell many licenses for Siemens/Dassault/PTC/SAP etc… Equally, you can deploy a lot of PLM software and still not really do PLM – i.e. manage all your product (or service) information and it’s lifecycle(s) throughout the lifecycle of the product (or service)

    • An excellent point, pgarrish. Maybe we need another color pill. : ) As in Matthews post above, the biggest point of confusion is differentiating PLM as a strategy versus PLM as an implemented software technology. But there’s a problem in defining the second – because the “PLM” term is slapped as branding on all kinds of software that may or may not be relevant to the strategy. No wonder everyone’s confused.

      • Youhey

        I agree absolutely with you.
        I know some DMS or at best PDM systems, that over night change their names to PLM and are selling their software as PLM!! They merely support what a PDM-System even can do. They just misused this name for their profit and many midsize-companies don’t really know the meaning of PLM strategy and just buy!! a PLM-software without considering the PLM-Strategy.

  • Here is a ‘Product Lifecycle Management’ definition that should not sound like someone swallowed a dictionary and thesaurus: A computer program that can manage and store all information necessary for the creation, development, and manufacture of a company’s line of products.

    • But is PLM just software? Signs point to No. That’s a good attempt at defining PLM software though. If anyone else wants to take a shot at defining either drop it in the comments.

      • In my mind, the term PLM was spawned from software writers, given the base concepts of the Design Release Process have been around since the days of ‘Roll Room’.

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