Can I use my PLM system to go to work? Using metaphors to understand PLM

22/11/2014 10:14
No, you cannot, you go by foot, by car, by bus or take any other transportation system. But to get ideas sorted out it is sometimes easier to change the realm of meaning. Metaphors are used to communicate and understand complex interrelationship. For example to explain the concept "Money" we use the concept of "Water" and talk about "money flows", "income stream" etc.
To explain the interrelationship between business process, supporting procedure and enabling tool in the PLM realm I would like to use as a metaphor the concept of "Going to the office". I call it the "Going to the office" realm of meaning. Then part of the business process "Employee in an organization" is the sub process "Arrival to the office in time". The employee probably goes by car; then the car is the enabling tool. The supporting procedure is quite simple:
  • You take your coat and the key to open the car, walk to the car and go into the car, drive by car to the office, get out of the car and walk to your office.
To execute the procedure, only one role is needed: you. If you go by bus, then it is different.

Concept Mapping: PLM - Bike

To explain what it means for an organization to introduce a PLM system I change the realm, from PLM to "Going to the office" and describe the change of the transportation system in going to work. Let's assume an employee decides because of getting rid of traffic jams, losing weight, intending saving of the environment or other benefits to go to the office by bike instead of going by car. He changes the enabling tool. But because of changing the enabling tool, his procedure changes as well.
  • Depending on the weather report you choose your clothes, you walk to the bike, drive by bike to the office. Depending on your fitness you have to start earlier or later. Probably after arriving you take a shower and walk to the office.
Because we know the concept of going by bike quite well we can envision what it means to go by bike. Based on our understanding of the concept we can optimize the overall process in - for example - buying a very lightweight bike, because someone has to go up a hill or looking for special clothes helping him to reduce sweating.

Not familiar with PLM concepts

People are familiar with the "Going to the office by bike" concept and therefor knowledgeable about which aspects of the tool and the procedure they can optimize regarding cost-effectiveness. Now let's assume, you are not familiar with the "Going to the office by bike" concept. Members in organizations introducing a PLM system are very often not familiar with the PLM concept, because it is quite new and there is no established practice. What I am doing here is the following: In using the "Going to the office" realm I try to make you aware of properties of the PLM realm. I go through corresponding invented scenarios in each realm of meaning and draw conclusions out of it.

1. Clear decision

"Going to the office" realm: Let's assume your target is to avoid traffic jams. Before you decide to buy a bike you will rethink your decision. Do you really want to go by bike? What are the savings? 15 minutes by bike instead of 30 minutes by car? What about biking in winter? How much snow? How often does it rain? Do I save additional time because I do not have to go to the gym improving my fitness? These are basic questions, which come first, before you think of which bike to buy.
PLM realm: What are the long term targets of the organization? Is the deployment of a PLM Tool now beneficial for the organization in reaching these targets? How big is the impact of introducing a PLM System regarding supporting procedures to the organization? Is the organization ready to perform this big change? If yes, then the decision comes from the top.
Learning: Clear decision for new procedures from the top being aware of the consequences. Then supporting procedures come first, enabling tools follow. 

2. Adapt the tool

"Going to the office" realm: You decide to go by bike, but you want to stay with your old procedure and do not want to buy rain protection clothes. You request from the bicycle vendor to configure the bike in a way to have a box around you. If it rains, you do not get wet. It is not an expensive change of the tool and you can afford it, but in using the bike with the box around you, you will have difficulties to go up the hill. Consequently you visit again your bicycle vendor and ask for an e-bike.
PLM realm: You decide to deploy PLM. In trying to keep the current procedure, you initiate tool configurations, which preserve the current practice, for example in implementing the current smart, intelligent, or significant numbering scheme. Or you implement a long work flow with many specific cases following the current procedures instead of developing a few small generic work flows used as building blocks. Using the building blocks you design new procedures.
Learning: In trying to keep current procedures, the procedures may not fit to the tool and the cost-effectiveness goes down.

3. Optimize the tool

"Going to the office" realm: In driving by bike to the office you get familiar with the bike and you get aware of your needs. You have to get up the hill. Consequently a lightweight bike would be more convenient. You need a better lamp to see better in winter time. Or you need better breaks to slow down after racing down the hill.
PLM realm: As soon as you are getting familiar with the PLM tool you know the PLM tool properties better and become aware of the potential: better reaction times after a click, buttons at wrong places forcing you to move your mouse a long way. This is core business of your PLM tool vendor.
Learning: Initiate optimizations of core properties of the tool and do not add properties, for which the tool is not designed for.

4. Optimize the procedure

"Going to the office" realm: In going by bike to the office, you realize in getting up the hill, that your body weight is challenging your fitness. Not to get breathless in going up the hill you can reduce your weight and/or you increase your fitness. Additionally you look for shortcuts permitted for cars, but allowed for bicycles.
PLM realm: In cross-functional team meetings the procedure execution is discussed and challenged regarding complexity. Is it possible to run tasks in parallel? Which data must be available to execute a specific task preventing loops of tasks? Is it possible to reduce the number of approvals?
Learning: Optimize the core properties of the procedure instead of losing time with general complaints about the not given user friendliness of the tool.


In using the "Going to the office" metaphor you probably will figure out much more about the interrelationship between business process, supporting procedure, and enabling tool than I did. Maybe you even find a different metaphor. (Probably you write it down and send it to me. I am very interested in your arguments and in knowing your context I probably will understand.)
In writing this blog I came to the conclusion, that most of the PLM related issues are originated in unclear responsibilities:
  • The PLM tool vendor is responsible for the optimization of the tool allowing to perform tasks better in changing basic tool properties (lightweight bikes) like performance of reaction times, ergonomics of user interface, etc. Industry Best Practice Templates is not priority 1.
  • The cross-functional business team is responsible to optimize the procedures allowing to perform tasks better in changing basic procedure properties (your fitness, looking for a shortcut permitted for cars) like parallel execution of tasks, getting rid of too many involved roles, etc. The cross-functional business team has to adapt the new procedures to the PLM tool and to optimize procedure properties. Configurations of the PLM tool intended to preserve the current practice are suboptimal.
  • Prior to the introduction of a PLM System into an organization, management has to understand, that this is a big change for the organization in running the business process. All supporting procedures, the PLM System impacts, have to be adapted in terms of task execution and role assignment. You may even need different/additional roles. Management has to take the lead in managing this change. It is not just the introduction of a new tool.
Again: Can I use my PLM system to go to work? No, you can't. But in using real world scenarios as metaphors you can understand your interactions with a complex virtual system and improve them.