Does a user friendly PLM system solve all deployment issues?

09/12/2012 09:47

If you present the new company's PLM system to engineers, then some of them after a short introduction understand its potential and they just want to use it even if they have difficulties. Others - the majority? - react with complaints: it is not intuitive and does not have a simple user interface. The search function is not as simple as Google search. In summary, the system is not user friendly.

Responsible for the PLM deployment we attribute the complaints to the shock phase of a change process and try - in listing the benefits, giving support, and acting as a role model - to guide the users to acceptance and integration of the new practice.

Facing the change the user wants to have a system, which is friendly to him, the user. In fact in executing the new practice the system must deliver operational stability, it must be easy to understand and easy to use. From a company's perspective increased productivity is key followed by usability and visual appeal motivating employees to go for the new practice.

Let's go through each of the topics.

1) Operational stability

An IT domain: fixing bugs, organizing proper resources, hardware and network. Saving here does not pay off.

2) Easy to use

This is not a pure system issue. A PLM system is integrating people having different skills. In using the PLM system an employee has to execute his/her tasks and the system has to support him/her. There is an interaction between task definition and system set up. Business has to define straight forward procedures with tasks containing system interaction adapted to the skill set of the users. The system work flows have to follow the task flows. If this is not the case, then the most user friendly system does not help.

3) Easy to understand

The system is friendly to you as long as you know how to treat it. A proper training is needed, meaning training of basic concepts required to execute the tasks and training of the sequence of clicks to be executed. Just after the training the employee has to use the system and applies what he/she learned automating the sequence of clicks.

4) Motivating employees to go for the new practice

And this is the most critical topic. I argue that most engineers cannot recall existing schemata to adapt their current data processing to the new practice. Their main tool for organizing data is the file explorer organizing files managing revisions in the file name. Confronted with the new practice managing Document item revisions related to Part item revisions, change management features and work flows the existing schemata no longer work. Following Jean Piaget this adaptation process is called accommodation and requires the development of new schemata causing high resistance.

How to overcome resistance to change? Social psychologists argue the most effective methods for influencing attitudes are financial incentives (bonus system) and penalties. There are a lot of persuasion theories in social psychology, but none of them promises to be all the time successful. Responsible for the PLM deployment you have to study the organizational culture and have to develop a plan how to walk through the cultural change process taking all levels of the organization into account. Claiming a user friendly PLM system only does not work!