Should we define PLM as an Engineering Decision-making Framework?


A quick peek into some research on Improving Engineering Decision-making with PLM from a recent Tech-Clarity report. The report discusses how manufacturers can improve products (and profits) by enabling engineers and product developers to make better decisions. Is this a new way to define PLM? Perhaps this gets to the fundamental problem PLM solves? At least it’s better than the definition I hear all of the time, “Product Lifecycle Management is software to manage the lifecycle of a product,” which is both circular thinking and relatively useless.

NOTE: Please don’t quote me on the PLM definition above, take the time to read what I wrote. I believe that is an awful definition, but one I hear on a surprisingly frequent basis (and from people that should know better).

The Research Findings

Let’s take a minute to start with what the report had to say. The key point is that the success of a product relies on the cumulative decisions that go into developing it. Engineers and product developers make countless choices when they define a product, and while each might be marginally important the grand sum of the decisions is critical. And as the report says, things have gotten more complex and competitive so “What was a ‘good enough’ decision ten or fifteen years ago will not suffice today.” So why not focus on enabling engineers to make each decision faster and better?

The report goes on to discuss what is required to help engineers with their decisions. In short, here is what the report says is required to help companies make better, more confident, timely decisions, the ability to:

  • Rapidly find the right information (not trivial given today’s explosion of information)
  • Supply information to decision-makers based on needs and what they are working on
  • Allow engineers to create a workspace that reflects their work in the context of the product (or perhaps better with the portion of the product that impacts their decisions)
  • Put product data in context (in context with the 3D product model, mapping business information to the product)
  • View and understand the complex relationships between product data elements (to understand impacts of decisions)

In addition, the report discusses how PLM creates a holistic environment to address the ““What, Who, When, Where, and Why of new product development.” The point is that PLM helps companies pull together and coordinate the entire new product development effort, in addition to helping engineers and product developers with individual decisions. Coordination, within the company and across the extended supply chain, is important to making the right product decisions.

Implications for Manufacturers

Regardless of how you choose to define PLM, the value is clear. For many manufacturers, the idea that engineering and product development as a series of decisions is probably self-evident. Admittedly, this may not be grand, breaking news to many. So what’s important to take away from the discussion is what to do with that knowledge, and how to enable engineers and product developers to make better decisions. That is where the value lies in viewing PLM as a infrastructure that helps manufacturers make better, information-drive decisions.

So that was a quick peek into some recent research on engineering decision-making, I hope you found it interesting. Does the research reflect your experiences? Do you see it differently? Let us know what it looks like from your perspective.

Please feel free to review more free research and white papers about PLM and other enterprise software for manufacturers from Tech-Clarity.