Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in February 2014 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Creating a vision for product lifecycle management is no easy task—especially if the goal is to produce a vision that will be clear and effective enough to gain buy-in from business leaders and product development teams alike.
For those who have accepted the challenge of producing a clear PLM vision as part of a mission-critical initiative, there are five areas of clarity that can drive focus toward the tactics with the highest potential impact. Rather than oversimplifying the product development process with flow charts or lose the thread in nitty-gritty details, it is most effective to focus the PLM vision on the one component that can make or break the entire endeavor – people.
1. Get candid about what a PLM system can – and cannot – achieve.
Rolling out a PLM system can do wonders for transparency, efficiency, global collaboration, compliance, and time to market. In fact, companies with digitally-transformed operations saw 18% higher gross margins than their competitors. (Source: RSM) PLM becomes a process driver and a single source of truth from idea to label to production.
But a vision for PLM extends far beyond the platform it runs on.
For a PLM platform to truly live up to its potential impact, the people and processes the platform was intended to manage have to be working in fast, functional partnerships. Team members need access to the right modules and data for their individual responsibilities, as well as clear goalposts to guide their efforts.
A PLM platform can’t decide which teams should be in the know about a supplier change. Nor can PLM indicate who ultimately bears responsibility for documenting project requirements, or what success looks like across teams. The systems of interaction and ownership around each company’s preconfigured PLM is where the vision happens. So, let’s first focus on those basics.
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2. Right team, right tools, right goals.
A PLM vision is not going to be effective without a clear, overarching goal. For most, that goal ultimately pertains to decreasing time to market, and increasing revenue. But a clear PLM vision stair-steps its way to revenue gradually, with a framework of goals expertly matched to the strengths and tools of each team and each stage of the process.
The PLM vision will need to spell out these catalysts for growth in a framework that addresses each stage of product development. For example, the Research and Development department stands the best chance of producing a market-winning concept if they increase the quantity of ideas and tests. So rather than merely setting a strategic business goal for market share improvement, it is better to set forth a goal that pushes for speed of innovation, like the following:
Example: R&D Department 2020 Goal
- Objective: Increase ideation speed and quantity
- Ideate, prototype, and test ten new product concepts per quarter.
- Means: Enhance Toolset
- Expand access to market and consumer data
- Roll out Innovation Process Management Suite in Devex
- Determine clear budget for increased focus groups and surveys
- Key Result: Success Metrics
- 125% YoY product release rate
- Maintain 26% gross margin profitability
After laying out all of the foundational team goals and their projected outcomes for each stage of the product journey, the revenue impact of your entire PLM vision will become much clearer and more credible.
3. Build alliances around shared success metrics.
People will always be the most powerful—or crippling—part of the product development lifecycle. More specifically, the partnerships between departments and their leaders have the most potential to create transformation in product performance—or derail performance. The latter occurs when those partnerships break down due to lack of trust, miscommunication, or information silos.
Realistic shared metrics have the potential to unify cross-functional departments. As you lay out your vision for PLM impact, look at which people and teams should share accountability for key metrics like cost-savings, compliance, etc. Here, it is recommended to draw one map per success metric, to illustrate these accountability networks and show the points in the lifecycle where each department affects the outcomes. This approach enables a product development team to take a look at how a PLM platform might be configured to keep those teams connected to their shared metrics at every point in the product journey.
4. Find efficiency in the handoffs.
As you look at the broad landscape of the PLM vision – the platforms, people, processes and metrics – it is also advisable to pause and examine the handoffs. For instance: Where is data changing hands? Where is responsibility passed off? Where are separate teams being mutually affected?
The intersections between responsibilities, information, and tasks are almost always the right places to look for opportunities for efficiency and automation. The PLM vision process is the perfect time to take a second and third look at where all of these handoffs occur, and where specific transfers can be sped up or eliminated.
5. Expand the PLM vision process to paint in the details of potential improvement.
Every product owner and department head has a unique window into their piece of the product lifecycle. After you sketch the rough outline of the PLM vision for your intended approach, the technology platform, goals, alliances, and efficiencies can be deployed to help to paint the details.
With a broad PLM vision in hand, you will have already created a framework for other departments to work from. At this point it is best to give each department the new, overall vision framework and a blank sheet of paper. Then encourage each department (e.g. Marketing, R&D, Regulatory) to fill in further details and insights. If all goes well in this collaborative approach, you may find yourself editing the original PLM vision in light of the sharper vision departmental leaders provide.