A career path reflects a sequence of skills and experiences that leads to medium- and long-term goals, affecting the way that someone progresses, either in one job or a series of jobs. Following a “career path” presumes that there is a “development path” towards a certain objective, or a set of objectives. In the world of PLM (the discipline, not only the tool), there are multiple roles and skills involved: from business operations to PMO and program management, requirement analysis, solution architecture, functional and process expertise, technical architecture, configuration and customization, training and business change.
In the context of PLM, what career paths can be considered? Are they clearly identifiable from the outset? How can they align to long-term target goals and objectives? What are the development opportunities? How to change from one to another career path?
In this post, I elaborate on possible career paths for PLM professionals to grow, gain experience, learn new skills, advance and move up the job ladder.
Career development may mean different things for different people, based on motivation, soft skills and other circumstances. In a nutshell, it is hard to plan a career as it refers to a lifelong process of learning and decision-making towards an ideal job or skill, aligning personal and professional needs based on opportunities:
How can this apply to PLM professionals as there is no formal body of PLM knowledge or education?
How to make sense of the “PLM profession” when the acronym “PLM” has so many interpretations, mostly at a very high level?
Without diving into too many details, there are 5 typical career paths which can be related to PLM: technical, functional, system, business change and management related. These are complementary and not mutually exclusive, and it is possible to evolve from one to another. At the same time, they are perhaps not unique to PLM, and can relate to many other enterprise disciplines.
Technical career path: PLM platform experts know how to link out-of-the-box capabilities to business requirements, evolving from technical analysts to solution architects, possibly moving into technical leadership roles as they advance in their careers; such specialists are likely to lead other SMEs and technical roles, and be more suited to evolved into customer engagement management roles with PLM services organizations or lead technical teams with OEMs as they combine business and technical expertise.
Functional career path: process experts are likely to grow from business analyst roles into functional consultants, process SMEs or trainers as they put into practice their understanding of a given functional domain. They can aspire to become functional leads, focusing on specific domain (such as CAD, requirement management, MBSE, simulation / CAE, program and project management in context of product development, NPI / NPD, etc.); growing into managerial roles, leading functional teams specialized in a given sub-discipline and across a center or excellence for a given set of domains. They can alternatively evolve into solution architect roles as they learn technical PLM implementation expertise and possibly rejoin the technical career path. This path can also lead to non-PLM roles, towards engineering or management opportunities with OEMs and alike.
System career path: understanding what is under the hood of PLM toolset is what system analysts, PLM administrators and support engineers or even IT architects are about. They can acquire such system expertise by working with vendors, solution providers or possibly IT department of OEMs, moving into technical architecture roles. They are likely to either have PLM vendor specific knowledge or be tool agnostic; they can equally engage in other IT roles across ERP, MES and other digital enterprise platforms. IT infrastructure expertise can help them grow into IT leadership roles, especially if they are able to learn how to derive (and sell) value from these technical solutions. They can also expand their expertise into analytics, big data, cloud technology, cyber security, mobile apps and platforms.
Business change career path: this path is possibly referring to many as there are various alternate roles which relate to business change: from a change analyst, management consultant to organizational change management specialist, etc. Like many career paths, there is not a one-size-fits-all route into business change, and it can lead to many other disciplines. Business change experts will look to get qualifications around change management, develop people skills, and possibly grow into analytical and critical thinking roles to manage more and more complex situations, related or not to PLM and digitalization.
Management career path: same as above, this is perhaps another generic career path that can lead project managers into more and more rewarding project and program roles; due to complexity, it is often said that managing PLM projects require some understanding of PLM, and it will also influence career development following the relevant project opportunities (independently of the delivery methodology, from waterfall to agile, service delivery or other). Like for the business change career path, there is not a one-size-fits-all route into management. It is often wrongly assumed that management career paths can be more rewarding than the other technical and functional career paths, but this is not true. There are many alternative paths to choose from, based on one’s ability to navigate from one project or portfolio to another, leading team and delivery functions across a variety of disciplines.
As it was mentioned above, there is not a one-size-fits-all route for the PLM professional to choose from, but many alternatives based on opportunities. As PLM is a very multi-disciplinary line of business, it can lead to various opportunities, based on the project, the industry, the technology and the organization.
Successful PLM leaders and SMEs are capable of transferring (re-using) skills from one career path to another based on opportunities; in essence, they become “Swiss army knife” experts driven by the desire to learn and be challenged as they discover new things.