Customer Case Study: From Manual Calculations to PLM in Six Months


At the 2019 Selerant User Conference, the Vice President of R&D, Innovation, and Consumer Affairs for a global food brand shared the company's journey from the kind of informational chaos that comes from organizational growth to the smooth control that resulted in their standardization of Devex PLM. The story starts in 2003 when the company began an impressive acquisition streak of at least one company each year.

Nearly a decade and a half into that streak, a spice company was acquired that literally doubled the size of the organization overnight. The goal was to launch $100 million in new products under the newly acquired brand. This VP—just six months into his new role with the company—was charged with making growth goals feasible by getting a handle on the company's ballooning portfolio of product specifications. "We could no longer write formulas on a piece of paper and hope that we could survive. What was really critical to us was to create a system," he said.

Creating that system was easier said than done. As a result of the acquisition streak, the company worked with more than 80 manufacturers totaling upwards of 100 plants. Just 12 of those plants included over 17,000 pieces of product information that would need to be migrated to the new system. Add to that wildly varying specifications and it quickly became clear that harmonizing information would be a challenge.

Adopting a PLM solution was the only viable oath forward. "We need one system," the VP said. "We need to get all of our formulas and recipes in that system."

The challenge: Six months to harmonize specs post-acquisition

The company had six months to move all data, including records of old formulas and current information, out of the old company's SAP and into Devex. "It was an impossible task," the VP said. "We had no resources. We had no funding. But we had a plan. And the plan was to get there in six months."

And this daunting challenge soon got harder. The acquired company was hit with a computer virus, which effectively crippled their manufacturing systems for a month. An entire month of effort, in effect, was lost.

The hurdles described are actually common to harmonization and transformation of the product development process.  They include: 

  • Lack of funding. "We didn't have time to think about future costs," the VP said. "Nor did we have the knowledge to understand it. As we built out this plan, we worked with Selerant to figure out that multi-year plan and what's it going to cost. That was critical.”
  • Lack of people and resources. Resources were scarce. "We still don't have enough. We'll never have enough. We're trying to do what we can with what we have," he said.
  • Resistance to change. The VP noted that change management is the common thread in nearly every story presented at the Selerant User Conference. "It's the hardest part," he said. "We had a lot of resistance, but we got the buy-in we needed."

Lessons learned: 7 Best practices to accelerate PLM adoption

The VP and his team were specific and generous with the lessons they learned, and the clarity they gained from hindsight.

Scope the entire project. The VP wished his team had been more specific at the outset about what it is they were trying to accomplish. "Because it affects your timing. It affects your cost, implementation and stakeholders."

Define the funding. Timing was everything when it comes to funding, he said. "Our budget process happens once a year. So if you're thinking about capital or other expenses that you need to implement this system, you can't just do that midyear. We didn’t consider this aspect and then had to expand the scope midyear—and it was very painful."

Identify your resources. During the rollout to internal plants, the team relied on the skills and expertise of our quality managers in those plants. "It was taxing them to a very high level.  First, they're doing their day job, and then they're doing some input and qualification for us. Making sure everyone knows that's what's happening, that's really important."

Identify system needs. Plan for both the expected and unexpected, the VP warns. In their case, they needed to consider how they would manage cyber attacks, and what aspects of the PLM project could be affected.

Define the extraction process. “With different ERP systems, sometimes you have to have an intermediary. So product data goes from Devex to some kind of spreadsheet or SharePoint, and then back into the ERP. How is the extraction process going to work? Defining that is critically important."

Determine document formatting. "Packaging was our biggest challenge," the VP said. “We went into the PLM transformation project expecting that we'd have corrugated, flexible, rigid formats. Once we got into the project, we also learned we had grinders in our spices that have a specific spec format because there is some assembly required. We learned that we have 16 different packaging specification formats."

Plan for change management. "That was the biggest challenge for us, ensuring that you top-to-bottom alignment on this project." Getting  buy-in is the hardest part, the VP admitted. "We made sure IT was completely engaged, and particularly our CIO and the executive team."

So what convinced them to buy in? "For us, it was the regulatory changes that require so much tracking, so much documentation. We didn't have a system that can track these areas. If there's a question about a certain ingredient, we have to go through piles of papers, or contact quality managers." Once the laborious process and its costs were explained, it wasn't difficult to convince stakeholders that Devex was a better way forward.