Product Lifecycle Management (PLM). It certainly sounds pretty dry when you think about it. A great many compelling discussions have centered simply on the terminology of PLM and what it represents: is it a bad word, does it have an image problem, is the definition muddled in jargon or just plain variable? Yes, probably.
What’s in a name? That which we call PLM by any other name would deliver ROI as sweet? Not so fast, Shakespeare.
Problem the first: most people haven’t the faintest inkling what PLM is about – it’s too obscure. I always enjoy the moment I start talking about PLM to an otherwise unsuspecting individual… you get that famously vacant, confused look. Similar to the look your dog gets when you put him on the phone. It seems simple enough… Product Lifecycle Management, you know managing a product over its lifecycle. But then you get into finer arguments over what constitutes a product, the totality of a lifecycle, and management is well, management. Only once you start describing a consistent thread of information to tie together all the assets and artifacts created in definition and support of a designed item do you start to replace the confused phone dog with a more sensible expression. Evidence of this identity deficiency is everywhere – there are seven hundred billion definitions over what PLM is, might be or should be. And unfortunately most of those definitions are not particularly compact, replete with industry jargon, or readily translatable to the non-technically inclined. The existence of the term as an acronym is itself somewhat of an issue. Think about the concept of cloud – we could call it application service provisioning over a distributed computing network or by any of the specific flavors like IaaS, PaaS, SaaS, or NaaS but that threatens to bring back phone dog. Cloud is what works when attempting to communicate the general idea in a compact manner. PLM is lacking that attractive hook.
Problem the second. Some of those who do know what PLM is about want to forget immediately. Wait, what? A recent post struck a chord with me – an extreme case where a particular business burned by multiple unsuccessful PLM deployments. Their most recent attempt involved going out of their way to erase any reference to PLM for the project’s sake. Internal marketing to claim “this is not that horrible thing you’ve heard about or remember recently but it’s totally, totally different”. More commonly, I’ve seen quite a few cases of internal branding, especially within larger companies where a bit of empire justification is at work. In those cases, heavy multi-year customization efforts include a concerted effort to wipe all the OEM logos off the original software product and pretend like it was something entirely invented in-house. And frankly after all the codeful customization, it might as well have been. Last time you opened Microsoft Excel at your company did it load as Interslice Number Blaster? It certainly seems like more trouble than it’s worth. Regardless, over budget and/or over scheduled implementation projects or outright failures aren’t helping the image. The fact that some are taking measures to not include PLM terminology in their implementation is a disconcerting sign the term is outdated.
Problem the third, marketing clouds everything. Most of the vendors in this space have marketing armies hard at work at dragging the PLM terminology through whatever means necessary to sell more software. So PLM is a handy brand to stamp on any piece of software even remotely related to PLM. In addition, a constantly evolving software turf war drags on as various vendors position themselves in overlapping spaces (PLM and ERP is a prime example). The chief damage here is the definition of PLM becomes decidedly less clear, especially to software buyers and users who are learning about the products through all this marketing. Of course every product needs to be marketed – but in this case the definition of the product is so fluid and moving that it’s presenting a different kind of problem. And a perplexing one at that, considering the first problem (lacking an attractive hook) is right within marketing’s usual purview.
So what should we call PLM? I don’t have a concise answer for that just yet, so for now we’ll call it hamster. So once we add all the requisite marketing flair, we end up with Unified Smart Enterprise Hamster Experience 360+ Not a bad start, but certainly needs work.