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What Do Users Really Think About Their PLM System?


I recently published a report on PDM/PLM User Satisfaction and I’d like to start a dialogue about the results. The feedback has been very interesting with industry insiders saying everything ranging from “that’s about what I thought” to “that just doesn’t reflect reality.” These are people I respect, their beliefs are passionate, and it seems I might be stirring up a hornet’s nest. If the report drives a discussion then I’m not sure it makes a difference who’s perspective is right, but I think it needs to be hashed out. So let’s get started!

You can follow the link above to get a summary of the report (or download the whole thing if you like), but I think the following two graphics are the key points to discuss.

Tech-Clarity_PLM_SatisfactionViewpoint 1 – Yeah, I’m Pretty Much Satisfied

The statistical response to the questions about whether people are satisfied with their PLM system and whether it helps them do their jobs tell a pretty rosey story. I would summarize the response as, “yeah, pretty much.” We analyzed the survey responses related to different categories of questions including usage, support, ease of use, quality, performance, stability, and performing various functional tasks. The results were all about the same. “Yeah, pretty much.” We saw some interesting differences between responses based on organizational level and departmental function, but overall the responses were positive.

Viewpoint 2 – Please Change Everything!

Wordle-PLM-ChangesThe second viewpoint came from analyzing the written responses. There were a lot of exclamation marks and capital letters helping to express things that people didn’t like about their system. What?! Didn’t all of you just say you were satisfied? People asked to change ease of use, configurability, search, performance, stability, and integration with other systems (including design tools and enterprise systems like ERP). Pretty much everything. The feedback was clear, I would summarize it as “there’s a lot we aren’t happy with and we want it to change.”

My Takeaways

I have two takeaways that help me reconcile these two different viewpoints (that came from one set of respondents).

  • People are about as happy with their PLM systems as they expect to be. They aren’t expecting much and they are complacent. They don’t want to change systems. Perhaps they are just worn out. Maybe they expect enterprise applications to be clunky. Or maybe they just don’t see a better alternative?
  • People are starting to expect more, and that trend will continue as we are all inundated with simple to use, pleasing to look at, and very functional apps like DropBox, Box.net, and many others. I believe these consumer-oriented apps are setting new standards for what people will expect (and put up with)

If those two takeaways are true, it’s a wakeup call for PLM users and vendors to look forward. To be looking at how mobile changes everything. To see how the new generation of solutions work. To expect efficiency. To demand software quality and stability. Hopefully the result will be a more consistent set of feedback on satisfaction so people don’t just say “I don’t want to change my system because it’s too hard to even think about changing,” and instead say “I don’t want to change my system because I like working with it.” Not put up with it. Not tolerate it. Like it. Enjoy the time spent on it. What do you think?

More Importantly – Your Takeaways

Do either of these viewpoints fit your views? Both? Neither? Please take a minute to comment. I’ll try to consolidate the comments from different forums back to this original post.


  1. Jim thanks for sharing the results and your comments to it. Very much what I would expect. Classical PLM systems are in a way rigid and designed for the linear go-to-market process. For companies working in a linear process (the famous silos) I would assume once the system is in place, benefits come out of it (after getting used to the system).

    The first problem you mentioned the connection to other systems is potential more a cultural change in the company than a technology issue. We (at least my generation) are not used to share, we are used to own and control the exchange. This in contrary to more modern concepts where nobody owns data anymore, however people get responsibility for a part of the data set. This approach helped me a lot when discussing CAD-integrations or PLM-ERP integrations. Don’t try to own data – contribute and share.

    And this is exactly what we currently experience in our modern, day-to-day, digital life. We are much more used to sharing although I am not sure if we always consider the implications of sharing with for example dropbox. Who is responsible for the content and what happens when there is a (costly) dispute.

    Meanwhile the linear go-to-market process becomes outdated and smaller, circular iterations between multidisciplinary teams seems to be the future (the 2025 promise) and this requires a different enterprise infrastructure and business infrastructure. Will we still call it PLM ? Not sure …

  2. Thanks Jos, a thoughtful opinion as always.

    I’m not as convinced that sharing data is a modern viewpoint that will stand the test of time. It sounds a bit too idealistic to me. I have seen presentations by Local Motors and others that manage to thrive in an environment with an open flow of data, but I’m not yet convinced that it’s a sustainable model. As manufacturing gets more repeatable (easier CAM, 3D printing, etc.) it seems like the value could be in the IP versus the supply chain. I don’t know, maybe you are right and I’m just old fashioned.

    Either way, we agree that the world is changing. Fast and iterative will be the norm. Today’s enterprise systems (including PLM) just weren’t built with that in mind. The user paradigms are changing. PLM will have to adapt. Or whatever we call it at that point.

    All the best,

  3. Hello Jim,
    very interesting and useful report. As implementer of CAD/CAM/CAE and PLM in last 35 years I always asked the question – why in some companies our implementation failed and in other was excellent. I think I found the answers:
    1. Set-up the goals properly and do it on all levels, and all departments in the company, This has to be done before you make any implementation,
    2. When you have the goals set, than tune the system as much as it is possible to the individual/ departmental needs

    Technology could not help us to the point-01 properly. It is people to people relation and hard work that has to be done.

    Point 2 will become easier and easier with the development of PLM systems and bringing new technologies, and new ideas to the PLM software, especially user interface. PLM developer must understand that PLM application will not be used by the people who are ready to study for hours how their application works, but by the people who have to do their every day job. Today PLM vendros have in their development teams excellent programmers and very smart people. Might be is the time to include in the development teams ordinary people, who was working as designers, purchasers, operator on the CNC machine…. They will tell them how their software has to talk to them.

    Companies like google, facebook found the way how to push millions of people who have never used computers before to make them “dependent” on their application.

    I am pretty sure PLM vendors will do the same. It takes a time, but it will come . Don’t worry.

    Good luck,

    • Hello Tihomir,
      Thank you for sharing your experience. I like the idea of including more “ordinary” people into the development cycle. I think too often we judge how easy software is to use based on how easy it is for us (technical people) to use. I like working with command lines, shortcut keystrokes, and other cryptic ways of working that my non-technical friends don’t. I do see PLM vendors bringing in more users into the design process. I also see them starting to adopt more “app like” user interfaces. I agree it will come, no doubt.

      All the best,

  4. Jim,

    Within a 10% margin of error, I would have expected these results. These results are very similar to MRP and ERP (in the early days). I think that many or most companies’ vision was a place to store/find data and documents and integrate to ERP or they tried to implement as broad of solution. While they have achieved these goals, the company is underwhelmed and this impacts the level of satisfaction. If the results were underwhelming and company has been live for 10 or more years, it will be hard to get execs to signup for a conversion or major re-implementation and they will focus on quick solutions with less risk than a PLM conversion. If they don’t address the limitation of their implementations, manual workarounds and islands of automation will spring up all over the place and make the conversion more complicated.

    In order to change the perception of PLM as a data/doc data store that feeds ERP, a company needs to define their competitive advantages, how digital business processes will improve customer interactions and to collaborate with their supply chain partners. Using Systems of Engagements, many companies can start to improve their effectiveness and build out future proof solutions without ripping and replacing their PLM backend.

    Integration must be more than just putting data and docs in a common place or every bit of data must be continually revalidated. On the other end of integration spectrum, I’m not sure that most companies can shove everything bit of data into PLM and have PLM be integration hub. For most companies, PLM should be the key innovation and compliance data. Using a dynamic publishing strategy, downstream departments can amend data and the amended data drives integration.

    If a company is looking to migrate to a new solution, focus on these key business strategies and don’t get lost in 1000’s of lines of RFP features.


    • Rory,
      Thanks for sharing your insight. Your last comment about the 1000’s of lines of RFP features caught my attention. It seems like there is a percentage of companies (not sure how much it is) that are starting to make the “simple to use versus robust feature set” decision. I hope that we will be to find the balance, or to hide complexity so that the same solution can be easy to use but also add deeper features for those that need them.

      It’s always great to hear from you, thanks for joining the discussion.

      Take care,

  5. Jim, Rory as a reaction to Rory´s response – two points:

    The first point about building the vision, understanding the competitive advantages. This is still the hardest part for most of the companies I am working with. They either have no vision but they have a pain to solve and believe PLM will do the job. This is a typical mid-market strategy as changing the organization in order to align to more modern business concepts (including PLM) is too complex for them.

    The second point about the 1000 RFP lines, I believe everyone who looks at it from a distance would see this is a joke. They create a false sense of security when making a decision. In reality after the RFP, most companies decide on costs (first) and then when two alternatives come close, first the emotional impression (will this system / with this vendor / with this implementer work for us) and finally when all needs to be justified the scores will be used.

    In projects where I was assisting the PLM selection, we always worked starting from the business goals, inviting the most likely to be relevant implementers/vendors to share their answers through an RFI and based on that go into a more detailed RFP process with functional blocks, not individual requirements.

    The last point related to the RFP process: Often you only know what a PLM system can do for you when you have it in-house. So start small and simple, make it your own, and discover the rest. Most PLM systems can do much more than you need. (and there is always an ROI – otherwise don´t do it)

  6. Jim –

    I mostly agree with your findings.

    I would like to emphasize that some of my clients started out expecting much more. User typically don’t see their immediate department benefiting all that much and few companies are communicating the greater enterprise benefits well. By the time the enterprise does quantify the benefits, the typical employee has been so worn out by enterprise initiative fatigue, they don’t hear the message. Nothing beats good and consistent communication of what you can expect from your new tool.

    Further, the tools that do adapt use models, aesthetics, of consumer-oriented apps and automate some of the widely accepted best practices of data management will likely be setting the new standards for what people will expect.

    Best regards.


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