The PLM State: Habit 7- “Sharpen Your Saw” – Ways to improve your PLM System

May 21, 2015 By:

Although I certainly meant to write about this habit sooner the timing is pretty appropriate for the New Year. The New Year is often a time for reflection and evaluation in our personal lives and there is no reason why we shouldn’t apply the same logic to the business processes and technology we leverage for our work environments. This is the final article in this series and the final habit in Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey tells a story to try and illustrate his point in the chapter, in the story he comes upon a man working feverishly to cut down a tree. When questioned about the effort he is putting forth to chop down the tree he explains that he has to work so hard because his saw is dull. When asked why he doesn’t stop and sharpen the saw he explains that he has too much work to do and not enough time to sharpen the saw. The analogy is pretty obvious. I am sure we have either experienced firsthand or witnessed situations where inefficient process or improperly implemented technology was hindering progress on a project but there was no time to stop and fix the root issue. A significant amount of the content in this chapter is directed to the individual and how they can improve in four areas; Physical Mental, Social and Spiritual. Covey goes further however to equate these areas to business. He equates the physical dimension to economic performance, mental to the development and use of talent within a company, social to how employees are treated by the company and spiritual with finding meaning or purpose in the company and through organizational integrity. All of these areas are certainly worthwhile to develop and can be addressed as you reassess the effectiveness of your product lifecycle management system and take steps to improve. This article will address some of the methods that can be used to improve PLM while leveraging the areas that Covey highlights.

We start with the first attribute which is physical. In the book Covey talks about diet and exercise for the individual, developing habits and practices that promote physical well-being. He talks about the fact that this is a quadrant II activity meaning that it is something we must initiate. This also means as we all know that it is something that can easily be ignored as demonstrated by the growing waistlines of America. In the context of a company this area is compared to the economic criteria the company utilizes to be successful. For the purposes of PLM I think we can break it down further to value assessment. One area a large number of companies struggle with is quantifying the value PLM provides to their company. This can be especially difficult up front but once the system is in place it should be somewhat easier to gather metrics on the impact of the system and identify gaps and areas where the system could be leveraged to deliver more value to the company. As a best practice I think it is important that companies designate a certain time in the year where they can allocate time and resources to benchmark their current system and determine the impact it is having on their organization. Measuring search times, ECO approval cycles, cost metrics for product development etc. is a great way to really understand where you should be focusing going forward. In previous articles like the “Measure this” series we have discussed the value of gathering these types of metrics but I rarely find companies that conduct this sort of activity. Much like the exercise and diet routines these types of initiatives often fall by the wayside. It requires focus, commitment and time but the value return is worthwhile. One line of reasoning might be that you already own the software and have spent the money so what is the point of continuing to gather return on investment (ROI) data? While this makes sense from a cost justification perspective metrics gathering can highlight areas of need and possible deficiencies in either the technology itself or the manner in which it was deployed. According to Covey, “continuous improvement is a hallmark of the Total Quality Movement and a key to Japan’s economic ascendancy.” Covey also emphasizes that all four dimensions must be maintained or you create negative resistance that can impact growth and effectiveness. If your company is floundering today reviewing your PLM technology and processes might be a good way to better understand some the reasons why.

The second attribute is mental which Covey related to continuing education for the individual. He stresses the importance of continuing to read quality books and to challenge your intellect. I always try to include references to the various books I read in my articles and encourage people to continue to read books that will allow them to further develop their mind. In the first article of this series I provided a link to the top self-help books of all time and have referenced a few others along the way. In the book The Power of the Habit, author Charles Duhigg talks about keystone habits. He cites both exercise and reading as habits that lead to other beneficial habits and I agree. Finding relevant books to help you improve your professional capabilities is a great start to impacting your overall satisfaction with yourself and your job. Relating this back to companies and PLM it really revolves around training. One of the key reasons companies typically fail with process based technology like PLM and ERP is that they underinvest in user and administration training. Sufficient investment in user training can ensure a successful PLM deployment even when saddled with inferior technology. Another issue that occurs is that some companies focus on the initial deployment and ensure that all employees are sufficiently trained but fail to make provisions for the future. With employee turnover, changes in business approaches, acquisitions and software updates the knowledge gap can become considerable. Additional knowledge retention is always an issue as employees forget certain aspects of how the software works and develop inefficiencies due to their lack of knowledge. Developing long term plans and curriculums to ensure that everyone stays proficient is not only a good investment from a product development efficiency perspective it is also a good idea to maintain employee morale and improve retention. Investing in your workforce is one of the better choices a company can make when you consider it is typically one of the most expensive cost areas in any company. A study conducted by Scott Brum at the University of Rhode Island indicates that well trained employees are typically more committed to their company which generates higher performance and less likelihood of turnover. This is reason enough to consider putting these programs in place but the improvement in the performance of the PLM system just adds further to the benefits. A training program could consist of quarterly or annual refreshers or be tied to assessments of the system and linked to improvement initiatives.

The social attribute is difficult to relate to PLM. In the book Covey talks about how one interacts with his or her peers and working on ways to increase the frequency and quality of these interactions. He discusses using the Win/Win approach and doing acts of service that lead to deposits in your “emotional bank account” with others. As I mentioned above Covey relates this in a business context to how employees are treated by the company or more specifically by the leadership of the company. I think we can relate this to PLM in two ways, one being how we involve the employees of the company in determining the direction of the PLM system and two being how we “script” the employees for success with the PLM system. Depending upon the size of a company the majority of the users may feel fairly far removed from the decision making process when it comes how to utilize PLM. Sometimes companies are leery about asking their employees too many questions up front about their opinions on PLM because it can complicate the deployment and delay time to value. Setting up mechanisms for feedback once the system is in place avoids most of the pitfalls you might encounter with broad user surveys up front. Setting up questionnaires/surveys for your users or even holding meetings to gather feedback will allow the end users to feel more connected to the process and will likely yield some good information for improving the product development process. The other idea Covey discusses is scripting up your users. He quotes Goethe, “Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be and he will become as he can and should be.” By viewing your users as potential resources that can improve the system and encouraging them to perceive themselves in this manner you can set the basis for consistent ideas and feedback that will ultimately produce a superior system and promote a sense of ownership among the user community in your company as opposed to having them view the system as something that was thrust upon them by management or IT.

“This is the true joy in life-that being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one.” This quote from George Bernard Shaw captures the essence of the spiritual attribute. Covey talks about finding a higher purpose that will elevate activity up from the mundane. PLM can get pretty tedious but if it is tied to a higher purpose then the tedium becomes meaningful. If you did not establish major business outcomes and goals at the beginning of your deployment then now is as good a time as any to revisit this. Looking beyond the details of data vaulting, security and workflow what are you really trying to achieve with PLM. It can be tied to cost reduction, improved quality, and shortened time to market. It can be linked to profitability or top line revenue for your company. Some companies use PLM to drive new product development or to evaluate which projects to undertake. The key is to find meaningful reasons around why you use the system and to make all parties within the organization aware of these business drivers. It is also important to monitor your progress by establishing baselines and periodically compare current conditions to the baselines. This will help the management team better understand how to invest in the future and motivate personnel to fully leverage the system in place. Reflection, meditation and assessment are key components to any type of spiritual undertaking and while adopting PLM might not qualify as a journey of enlightenment tying it to a higher purpose will produce some surprising results. Self-knowledge is the key to enlightenment and PLM enables organizations to better understand their true nature and to make adjustments as needed.

This final habit really compliments the other six. I am sure it is no accident that Covey made it  the final one. By continually looking for ways to sharpen your saw in all aspects of your business11075673-firewood-texture-after-the-sawing-wood or PLM system you certainly amplify all of the benefits you can derive from this type of automation. As Covey points out this type of “balanced renewal” can have positive effects on all of the habits we have discussed in this series but the key is to keep it balanced among all of the attributes we have discussed in the article. If you neglect one in favor of another it will create negative impacts that will negate the efficiency and momentum gained from your efforts. Certainly there is benefit that can be derived across all of these attributes as you focus on process improvement and making your system better and not settling for the status quo. Getting a PLM system in place is a big job but you cannot rest on your laurels too long. It is critical to recognize that settling for inefficiencies because you are too bust to stop and optimize is a bad strategy and will lead to ruin. Good luck and good “sawing”.

[Edit: Repost from 2013]

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