It is not a surprise that implementing a PLM software has high time, effort and financial resource needs. Therefore these projects require advanced project management and leadership. However, some companies tend to be more afraid of PLM implementation than they should be: it is certainly not easy and can affect the company’s routine both in the short and long term. By following this simple 7-step guide, you can ensure that the implementation process is as successful as it can be:
1. Set the goals for you PLM
No company wants to implement a PLM without having any reasons for it. Each PLM implementation should start with defining those reasons; as these reasons help set a direction. It is important to involve the stakeholders in this phase, as they can play an important role in the project kick-off, by supporting the identification of the goals.
The phase is finished when basic system requirements are defined. However, following a lean management approach, the project’s target should not be fixed but aligned throughout the whole process.
2. Assemble the team
It is crucial to take project management seriously for implementing a PLM, as it is a complete and complex system that affects the everyday work of the whole company. Furthermore, if an automated system is not implemented correctly, it can cause more issues than it intended to solve.
This phase should contain selecting a senior project manager with excessive experience in leadership and assembling the team. It is advised not to have a homogenous team, as people from different departments and positions can contribute with different aspects to the team. With the project manager’s lead and management, the team should construct the project plan, including the budget and time frame estimates.
3. Map the production data and business processes
As described before, a PLM automates given business processes and keeps product data in a single environment. This indicates, that PLM implementation is only possible if the current state of the available data and processes is known. Do not be surprised when your vendor’s first questions aim towards these. Ensure, that the data you have is reliable, up-to-date and complete, and your processes are well-mapped.
A PLM will definitely require changes to be made in the setup, thus in the well-known business processes. These changes are not only challenging for the management, but also for the people working with the system. They will be required to change their routine and learn to use a new system. Because of this, it is important to include, inform and support them during and after the implementation. People might fight against change – ensure them, that these changes will have a positive effect on their everyday work too, as their role is critical in such a project. For better information exchange, you should find the perfect balance in the frequency of the meetings and announcements:
- Having too few could make it hard for the stakeholders to track the progress. This can lower their confidence and increases general uncertainty;
- Making it too frequently means that there is smaller progress in between two meetings, which can make employees lose interest in the change and raise concerns instead. Allocating more time on meetings means spending less on production.
4. Settle on the ideal PLM solution
This can be easily the most demanding phase of the project, as deciding upon a solution can affect the company’s life for years. However, this investment can pay off easily by finding the ideal solution. When searching for a PLM, bear in mind the resources allocated, and the requirements set towards the ideal system. Various factors can play a role in deciding a system, such as:
- your current ERP and CAD system(s);
- The number of sites and users you have;
- The costs of implementation and maintenance;
- Market specialization (some PLMs are for generic usage, while others are specialized in a given industry);
- Provided support by the vendor;
- On-premise or cloud-based system;
- Level of integration with other business apps.
Furthermore, implementing a PLM usually comes with long-term commitment towards the PLM vendor. It is important to find a reliable and trustworthy vendor: look for feedbacks and reviews about them online or participate in their webinar or demo. Finding a solution that fulfills everything is hard, but not impossible.
It has been proven before that implementing a PLM can save money and resources for manufacturing companies, but only if implemented correctly. Read a more in-depth description of this step at How to Choose the Ideal PLM Solution?.
5. Shape the selected PLM
Selecting a PLM vendor and its solution gives an image of the final system. However, that image is still blurry. What makes it crystal clear is configuring the PLM. This configuration can include system scaling, setting up country, region or industry-specific settings, selecting the modules or add-ons that are required for the ideal PLM. Mapping the possibilities for integrating the PLM with the customer’s other business tools is also often started at this stage.
The configuration of the PLM is done by the vendor in close collaboration with the customer company to ensure that the final system meets all customer requirements. Different vendors have different ways of gathering the needed information used for configuring and customizing the PLM. These can include one or more of the following:
- Filling out detailed and long data gathering forms
- Using web conferencing tools such as Skype for Business, GoToMeeting or TeamViewer
- Having face-to-face meetings on the customer’s site.
6. Train the stakeholders
PLM solutions are not self-explanatory. Not even the ones embedded into an ERP – where the user interface might be familiar, but the group of new functions is definitely not. To be able to confidently use these complex systems, stakeholders should be properly trained first. Fortunately, most PLM vendors provide some sort of training for their customers. Usually, they train the super users, who will train the other members of the company. The forms of training can vary:
- Giving access to written or video user guides;
- More complex: web-based e-learning system;
- Classroom training.
The training often takes place in parallel with the system testing and deployment, to shorten the projects.
Formula-1 cars might be the fastest race cars in the world, but in the hands of an untrained driver, it can be both slow and dangerous. The same stands for PLM. It does not matter that you just implemented absolutely the best PLM on the market if your employees cannot use it at its fullest. Our advice: do not try to save money or resources on training the user!
7. Close the project and Measure the results
PLMs are configured and customized for individual companies. This means that throughout the system development and implementation, multiple tests need to be run to ensure the system’s correctness and optimization. This also includes step-by-step testing of data migration, to minimize the risk of losing or corrupting data in the final, master data migration. In most cases, this is the last phase to request and apply minor changes in the system. When all the test results are verified, the master data is safely migrated to the final system, all super users receive training, and the after-sales services are clarified. Then the PLM is ready for deployment.
However, the PLM implementation does not end at the point when the PLM vendor hands over the final system to the customer. It is recommended having a closure meeting at the company, where the project can be summarized, and the first reports can be presented. This can also include the first comparison of the desired and the finalized system (if all the goals, requirements, budget and time frame was met or if not, then why not). Of course, the real effects are only visible in the long run, which can be measured using both quantitative (KPIs and ROI) and qualitative (stakeholder feedback) methods.
The process of implementing an ideal PLM solution might be a tough and stressful process. However, PLM is beneficial for optimizing the product lifecycle by automating the non-value adding processes, increases productivity by lowering product-related costs via a centralized database. It is definitely worth the investment. If you would like to aim for a smooth PLM implementation, fully embedded within your Microsoft Dynamics ERP system integrated with the market-leading CAD systems, you should take a look at Bluestar PLM, by Microsoft partner vendor PDM technology.