10 steps to a Successful PLM implementation


Is your company considering investing in PLM but hesitating because you have bad experiences from earlier business development projects that were not very successful?

There are things you can do to significantly increase the chance of success. Regardless of the scope and goal of your project you can, and we recommend you do, apply these guidelines to your project initiative.

#1. Involve a PLM expert early

Involve a PLM expert early to help assess the company’s PLM maturity and align the project with current business initiatives and challenges. To be successful when implementing PLM it is important that the initiative has both a long-term vision and a clear short-term focus. In the short term, the project will need to provide critical business support and rapid payoff while in the long run, it needs to deliver high value across the entire business. To achieve this it is necessary to understand the company’s business processes, landscape, and drivers to properly map the solution to the requirements and needs.

A PLM expert will help assure the project is delivering the desired support and value to the organization. By involving the expert early, you will enable this person to acquire a better understanding of the company which will improve the quality of the project outcome.

#2. Ensure management commitment and support

Implementing PLM will require funding, time, and resources depending on the project’s scope and size. Having the nature of a business development project, a PLM project will often affect such things as business processes, distribution of responsibilities, and organization setup. This may require changes that sometimes encounter resistance on various levels causing lag and acceptance issues. Changes of this kind usually require management-level decisions and executive support to one degree or another. Hence, having the commitment and support from company management is a critical success factor when implementing PLM.

#3. Align PLM initiative with corporate strategies

Before starting to implement PLM methods and software it is important to understand the business challenges and initiatives. If the PLM initiative is not aligned with the corporate strategies the chances are that the PLM project will end up implementing tools and methods not supporting the operating business process or that it will be obsolete in a near future. PLM implementation should go hand in hand with other ongoing and planned business development projects.

#4. Understand the processes affected by the PLM initiative

By themselves, tools almost never solve any problems. A tool is only useful if it is supporting an already working process. Map the “As-is” process and document its strengths and weaknesses. When the “As-is” situation is known, define the “To-be” process and list new best practice objectives required to improve business performance. Using gap analysis techniques, the necessary steps to achieve desired improvements can be identified. Apply the PLM solution to existing, well-performing structures and processes.

#5. Plan for the long term

We strongly recommend that any PLM initiative starts with a limited scope and focus area and expands over time. PLM will usually generate greater value the further downstream a process you go. Implementing CAD PDM will of course offer designers creating and managing CAD data critical process support, but if the PLM platform is limited to the design team, no one else will be able to use and benefit from the information. The more people that are able to reuse and add value to existing data from a single source, the greater the value will be. (This is also a key part of the path to digitalization and Industry 4.0.) Therefore, establish a plan on how to grow with the PLM solution; how to expand and add key capabilities, and how to include more users and organizational functions to gain value.

#6. Invest adequate time, infrastructure, and funds

A PLM project requires investments in three areas; people, tools, and processes. All of these areas are equally important and require due attention. When implementing new tools the project needs to consider both affected processes and the people operating within them to ensure that they collectively can take full advantage of the new tools. Neglecting any of these areas will decrease the chance of success.

To ensure system availability and performance, assess the IT infrastructure readiness early in the process. The infrastructure needs to be able to cope adequately with computation and communication load depending on the number of users and activities. It also needs to be scalable to manage future demands if and when the organization grows or otherwise changes, adding more load to the system. If not, there is a risk that the system will not perform satisfactorily.

When drawing the project plan it is recommended to build enough flex time into the schedule. It is likely that the PLM project will engage the company in discussions and changes related to business processes, methods, and responsibilities. Discussions and changes need time to be properly analyzed, evaluated, and introduced. Having a too compact schedule when implementing PLM there is a substantial risk that such matters are not given adequate time for consideration and maturation. This will in turn increase the risk of the project not delivering the correct business support.

#7. Establish a governance plan

Before starting a PLM project, a governance plan should be created. The governance plan will describe how the project shall be organized, managed, and staffed. It should also include a communications plan documenting how project information, progress, and issues are communicated. To ensure high system availability and positive user experience it is important that the governance plan also covers important post-deploy areas such as handover, system ownership, service and support. Often, as people start using the PDM system they will learn more about it and discover new ways how to use it even more efficiently. This is a strong and valuable driver for the future evolvement of the PLM solution and should be taken careful advantage of.

#8. Plan how to translate and import legacy data

Most companies that have been operating for some time, have legacy data and historical information which is important to retain and transfer to the new system. There are numerous processes that can be applied when migrating legacy data depending on its quality, volume, source, and so on. Legacy data and business processes will have an impact on new processes and the target data model and need to be duly considered. Having a clear strategy and a plan for data migration is a critical success factor for a successful PLM implementation.

#9. Have a clear Business Change Management strategy

Traditionally, PLM implementation projects are often managed as IT projects using typical IT project models. From our point of view, this is not a recommended approach since a PLM project more often has the nature of a business development project. It, therefore, requires a different management model to capture and address impacts and changes to business processes, legacy data, tools, and the people working with them than an IT project would. Having a clear strategy for managing business changes is a critical success factor for a successful PLM implementation.

The fundamentals for a successful business change management strategy are in principle; staff readiness, staff acceptance, and project understanding of the business target area. The methods for obtaining this can vary from project to project and business to business, but failure to do so will dramatically decrease the chance of a successful implementation project.

Make sure to assess staff readiness early and plan support and training efforts as soon as possible. Understand the changes required for people across the entire supply chain and build a regular communications plan to keep everyone updated on progress and decisions. Highlight and communicate the benefits of changes to obtain acceptance in the organization.

#10. Avoid the “Big Bang” approach

If it is possible, avoid the “Big Bang” approach when implementing PLM. Take small consecutive steps rather than a giant leap. Too much change and too many new tools at once can often be difficult to manage. Develop and communicate an iterative and incremental project plan based on key milestones and ROI criteria.

Give all affected departments access to the PLM solution early. Deploy solutions and process changes gradually to allow the organization to learn and adapt to the changes. This will ensure that the project is aligned with business requirements and conditions. Any necessary adjustments will only have a limited scope in relation to the deployed iteration.

If you want to know more about how we at Nextage plan and execute PLM projects, feel free to contact us.

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