This post could be entitled “everything you need to know about PLM, without spending the next 5 to 10 years learning about it”; okay, that’s perhaps a bit pretentious :-) When discussing “PLM essentials for busy people”, people often assume that a single definition will be suitable for everyone; this is sometimes not possible. Trying to explain all aspects of product lifecycle management in one sentence or one paragraph can be misleading or a source of endless debates.
This post is neither about reiterating the typical “PLM as a strategy” definition, managing the product lifecycle “from cradle to grave”, nor explaining PLM vs PDM and CAD, PLM vs ERP, debating whether it is a strategy or tool, whether or not it has industry flavors, etc. It is about providing a simple understanding without reiterating the whole history of the discipline.
In this post, I provide a high-level awareness an introduction to PLM to business executives, and also everyone interested in learning about it. As ever, PLM professionals are also welcomed to comment.
Interestingly, according to the Cambridge dictionary, PLM is “all the existing product variants can be automatically input capturing the related information from an enterprise resource planning or product lifecycle management system” … In other words, the PLM discipline spans across multiple “systems” including the so-called ERP and PLM systems—which is often a controversial subject across so-called “PLM professionals” (since there is not recognized or acknowledged body of knowledge or professional accreditation for it).
Looking at the definition of each words individually, there is no ambiguity at all:
A product is basically “something that is made to be sold, esp. something produced by an industrial process (…)”
The lifecycle (also sometimes written as ‘life cycle’) refers to “the series of changes that a product, process, activity, [data,] etc. goes through during its existence.”
Finally, management refers to an accountability and / or responsibility as “the activity or job of being in charge of a company, organization, department, or team of employees.”
Engineering and manufacturing encompass many disciplines which intersect: from discrete to process manufacturing, from mechanical to electrical and software engineering, from people to data management and collaboration, from release to change management process, from engineer-to-order to configure-to-order, manufacturing-to-order, from make to buy strategies, from BOM to CAD, simulation, requirements, and other data management, from top-floor analytics to shop-floor assembly instructions, from IT to OT, etc. All of these topics, and many more, relate to PLM.
Summarizing such a wide discipline is not simple. Here a summary for executives of “what PLM is about”, in 10 key points:
PLM refers to how product data is managed throughout, how people create and consume product data as they interface across functions, organizations and disciplines to develop products—a.k.a. feedback loops of various types, per the systems engineering principles.
PLM is about the “process to create” products (and their related services); this was for example discussed a number of years ago in this post: PLM as an operating model.
Building on the above, PLM is about managing operations and people, as they create and commercialize new products.
PLM is about complexity management, as products can be indeed complex, their manufacturing or assembly process can be complex, their sourcing and distribution process can be complex, etc.
PLM informs people about the relevant status of a project, program or product portfolio, based on where they are in their “development” and “commercialization” process.
PLM contributes to balance a gradual transition from “creativity” to a decision-making framework: when to introduce rigorous processes, and at what stage of the development process to avoid hindering creativity in the early stages of the process.
Complementing the above, PLM drives product innovation towards performance management, and has multiple industry flavors based on their respective new product development requirements.
As discussed in a previous post, PLM is primarily about product configuration (a.k.a. modularity) and change management; also focusing on the iterative principles of product realization: the ‘C’ in life-cycle.
Finally, PLM intersects more and more with digitalization due to the rise of new technologies, collaborative tools, apps and platforms, automation and integration, new IT infrastructures and business models. This also comes with new jargon: virtual models of physical products or assets are digital twins, enterprise integration is digital thread, smart devices and sensors connected through the internet of things, smart automation leverage machine learning and AI (…).
When introducing PLM to non-PLM professionals, it is important to use a business perspective first, long before diving into any technical or tool considerations… What is “under the hood” of the IT system or platform is not simple; it is simply expected to work and seamlessly get better and better with new technologies.