A couple of weeks ago Jos Voskuil wrote what I considered to be a fairly strong article titled “How com PLM is Boring?”. In the article Jos makes the point that certain aspects of product lifecycle management can be “an IT or academic view… which can be confusing and complex topics.” He goes on to discuss how PLM can be fun which he relates to the changes PLM can effect on business process. The most interesting part of the article was the reaction. There were numerous people that either failed to read or understand the entire article or just flat disagreed that the more technical elements (i.e. complex) of PLM are boring. Jos’ article was really about how to effectively spread the ideas of PLM throughout industry and increase adoption of the process and technology. Interestingly, the people who replied to the article are the key to making that happen. This article will explore how to effectively disseminate the ideas and benefits of PLM in a manner that will resonate beyond early adopters and innovators and how PLM liked sliced bread is a good idea that needs a little help to become widespread.
Seth Godin is described as the “ultimate entrepreneur of the Information Age” by Business Week. His books include Lynchpin, Tribes, and Permission Marketing. I recently watched a speech he gave titled “How to get your ideas to spread” on the TED website. As many of you are aware there are some amazing speeches on this site and Godin’s ideas about the power of ideas is worth the 20 minute investment. He starts out talking about Otto Rohwedder, who is known as the official inventor of sliced bread. Godin describes Rohwedder as your typical inventor focusing on the technology but never really achieved widespread success. He attributes the widespread adoption of sliced bread to Wonder Bread and their ability to communicate the value of this wonderful invention. An article from MIT on Rohwedder doesn’t quite match up with Godin’s version of events but the point he is trying to make is that even the best inventions need a little help to catch on. He states, “People who spread ideas win.” I think this was the point of Jos’s article and why it is important to understand how technology is adopted and how it spreads. Godin talks about how in today’s world the traditional models for marketing and sales don’t work anymore. The idea of designing “average products for average people” is no longer a successful strategy. He contends that all product development companies are now “in the fashion business” and that this requires a different approach. He references a term, “Otaku” which is a Japanese word used to refer to people with obsessive interests. He explains how companies like Apple benefit from a passionate user community and that to be successful you must promote your product not to the mainstream but to the innovators and early adopters who are passionate about the product. By doing this you will create a viral momentum as they carry their enthusiasm into the mainstream community. This idea is hardly new. Geoffrey Moore wrote about this idea in 1991 in his book Crossing the Chasm. Moore’s book talked about the gap between the early adopters and the mass market and how important it was to develop strategies that help companies bridge this gap. I found an interesting article by Alex Iskold titled “Rethinking “Crossing the Chasm” in which the author reaffirms the idea that passionate early adopters are a critical component for a technology to become widespread but contends that early adopters are now barraged by so many new products that it is difficult to get their mindshare given that there is only a finite amount of time in a day.
This brings us to PLM. Jos’ article contends that the technical discussion around PLM can stymie mainstream acceptance of PLM yet you have people like Michael Grieves, a well- established authority on PLM, challenging this perspective by saying that technical discussions are important because they demonstrate value. Michael went on to contend that as an executive he was focused on the value of a solution and nothing beyond this. I think Michael’s interpretation of Jos’ blog was a bit literal but I am in agreement with his assessment that what ultimately leads to adoption of PLM is the value that it generates for a company and not much else. Others chimed in that the challenge PLM presents from an implementation perspective is complex and this challenge is far from boring but again I think this misses the mark. Another commenter suggested that focusing on tools is the issue and that if you considered what PLM actually accomplishes that it is far from boring. I think this comment gets us further to the point Godin is touching on and where we want to be as advocates for PLM. In his comments responding to others Jos Voskuil hits on the key point he was trying to illustrate in his article, “How to get PLM as part of business strategy at C-level is the continuous challenge for me and indeed this is not boring.” This indeed is the crux of the issue. As the response to this article indicates there is not lack of high powered intellect when it comes to PLM. Some really great business minds are strong advocates for PLM yet it is not necessarily a household word at the higher levels inside companies. In my experience the strongest advocates for PLM within a company are at the user level for the most part. This is because they have the best view to understand the impact PLM makes on their productivity. As PLM has matured I have started to see more executives pick up the cause but even these executives tend to have a more technical bent. Many of these executives have been in leadership positions at other companies and seen the impact PLM has on their productivity and profitability. They become what I term “serial PLM adopters” as they acquire it at each company they join. This is an example of the “Otaku” Godin describes and also consistent with Geoffrey Moore’s descriptions of how technology bridges into a mainstream solution. If PLM is to become a more mainstream business solution we need the enthusiastic endorsements from both the highly technical and highly strategic. To Michael Grieves’ point we must identify the value but be able to justify it technically.
I congratulate Jos on a very provocative and successful article that stimulated a great discussion on the merits of PLM and the difficulty involved in persuading management of its value. As several of the commenters observed PLM is a business transformation tool and this can be a traumatic but necessary experience for many companies. The earlier a company adopts PLM the less traumatic the transformation but in order for a company to put themselves through this experience the value must be high. PLM vendors need to heed the wisdom of Seth Godin, Gregory Moore and others and focus their energy on the people that truly understand the value of PLM and empower them as advocates within their organizations. This strategy will lead to better focused, more relevant solutions and likely speed the adoption rate considerably. Certainly, we need to do a better job of capturing the impact PLM has on the companies that use it and distill this into tangible results that resonate with executives that are farther removed from the development process but without the skills and knowledge of the users this information will be suspect and PLM will languish much like Rohwedder’s invention did before Wonder Bread made it a household name.Share this on . . .