PLM (Vendors) and Lean Product Development - Part I: An Overview

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“Basically, lean is [focused on] creating more value with less work.” Wikipedia, Lean Manufacturing

No matter who can be credited with making this statement, I have to thank him or her. This statement allows people to apply lean principles in broader circumstances than manufacturing. Following this idea, I’d like to define lean product development (LPD) as this: LPD is focused on developing more products better and with use of fewer resources. To be more specific, LPD contains the following three major elements, in my view:

1. Productivity in product development. Productivity is composed of two aspects: 1) individual productivity designers, engineers, and other product development parties need to reduce waste (e.g., time and effort) in their individual tasks; and 2) collaboration productivity product stakeholders need to reduce waste (e.g., waiting time and rejections) in product development collaborations.

2. Product development process optimization. Doing things faster doesn’t necessarily mean doing things better. Productivity is more significant when the entire product development process is optimized so each party knows when and how to participate in order to maximize resource use.

3. Product sustainability. The above two aspects focus on product development activities and processes themselves, while the third one is about the quality of the results. Product developers face two groups of “customers” those who use development outputs in manufacturing and the subsequent service processes, and those who finally purchase and use the developed and manufactured products. Hence, good product development not only means low product cost, good manufacturability, good serviceability, and so on, but also high acceptance from the market.

Looking at the three aspects above, it is quite natural to link product lifecycle management (PLM) and LPD together since there are significant commonalities between the two. However, I have to say that PLM doesn’t necessarily mean lean.

If we look at PLM from the methodology perspective, I believe that PLM can help a lot toward achieving LPD goals. However, if we look at PLM as a system, the situation might be somewhat different. Different vendors may incorporate different foci in developing their PLM solutions; software functionality may vary from solution to solution; or seemingly the same functionality may have different depths and be implemented differently. All these imply that if your goal is to achieve LPD through PLM adoption, the PLM solution you select should be able to support your LPD initiatives; different lean approaches and priorities may result in different selections of PLM solutions.

In order to locate the PLM solution that best suits your requirement to become lean, you need to study how PLM solutions support LPD. The following is my rough list of areas you need to look into:

  • the PLM vendor’s overall vision and approach in supporting LPD;

  • how well the solution incorporates a new product development and introduction methodology;

  • the solution’s coverage (how many major parties within the user organization play roles in the PLM system?);

  • to what extent the solution has the ability to support product definition information visibility and interoperability;

  • to what extent it has the ability to interact with enterprise resource planning (ERP) and other enterprise systems;

  • how well the analytics capabilities that can help support continuous productivity, process, and development quality improvement;

  • the vendor or implementation partners’ capability in terms of process modeling and optimization.

With this list in mind as I write future blog posts, I’ll choose a few PLM vendors and investigate what each of them can offer to your lean initiatives. Stay tuned.
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