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Critical Success Factors for Every Product Lifecycle Management Project


Mark Reisig's varied past runs the gamut from startups to large enterprises, software developer to a soccer player, and just about everything in between.

So, what does that have to do with Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)? Mark now possesses an incredible selection of stories and a deep understanding of how people work together, make decisions, and use technology born from real-world experience.

Recently Mark joined me on Minerva PLM TV to discuss good PLM practices that span industries, help you formulate your vision, and focus on the people that drive transformation.

In this blog I’ve captured a few stories from his time at IBM, GE, and now Aras and expanded on his list of critical success factors. You can also watch the complete episode on YouTube: Critical Success Factors for Every PLM Project.  


Good PLM Practices Span Industries and Company Size

When working with a variety of companies and going through what works/what doesn’t, you see a lot of the same things. Outdated business processes. Doing things a certain way because that’s how they’ve always been done – often with no recollection of why. Companies that already have PLM typically share a scenario where they’ve taken out of the box solutions that would work a certain way and customized them to achieve a goal with no plan for future upgrades or longevity.

Larger companies like GE, may try to combat these challenges by becoming PLM hoarders or collectors. A museum born of mergers, acquisitions, bits and pieces all over the place, and tossing out more technology to anyone who asks.

No matter your industry, size, or state of your technology – take a step back and develop a strategy to get back to using PLM for what it was intended to do: support staff in the transformation of an increasingly complex product definition and enable a digital thread. How?


Start with the Basics

  • 1. Acknowledge PLM is not an engineering tool

PLM is used to transform the product aspect of your business. What you’re creating is a PLM ecosystem for the product, essentially a digital thread. Think of the lifecycle from beginning to end of life. The disciplines that you use, and the supply chain as well. This is neither a straight line nor just check-in/out CAD. Know that going in.

  • 2. Have a vision – but know that it will change
  • 3. Plan to stay current, or as current as possible with upgrades

Even outside of PLM, upgrading frequently helps you stay ready to attack the next opportunity or defend against any threat. The IT ecosystem and opportunities for incompatibility, corruption, or corrosion are greater than ever. Most companies are not even close to up to date. Baby steps help.


Then Dig Deeper

  • 4. Throw money at your biggest problem, the bottlenecks

Two books Mark recommends reading by Eliyahu M. Goldratt are The Goal and Theory of Constraints. In the latter, an example is provided of four workstations. Three of the workstations have the appropriate amount of people and other resources to handle an acceptable flow of work. Station four has work mounted up to the ceiling. Station four is the bottleneck. While a simple example, it illustrates well understanding what your problem is and focusing on that to achieve results. If in the end, you have a digital thread as a goal, solving the constraint of disconnection eliminates a major bottleneck.

  • 5. Technology supports people and processes

Technology deployed in the most optimized way supports people and processes. Not the other way around. Do not adopt processes solely to meet technology.

  • 6. Remember the data

Data has always been challenging. Data is growing at double exponential rates. Linked data with relationships is imperative. Drive data governance as it goes across the lifecycle with champions.

  • 7. Address Configuration Management early

Many challenges are born of not addressing configuration management early in the process. Following CMII change management processes are one way of dealing with changes related to product scope. It is a well-defined, trainable practice. CMII reduces change causing bottlenecks downstream when those changes could have been handled better much sooner in the process.

  • 8. Drive toward your vision incrementally

People use the term minimum viable product. Using an Agile process, you understand the problem, you build the right solution, you iterate. This allows quicker wins, return on investment, and momentum. Every person has an ROI as well. People are willing to change when they understand the value. Reiterate the why and the vision during programs where rollouts are happening frequently or over an extended period. This helps ensure people – and their bosses – remember and understand why they are continuously improving.


Get a PLM Dr. in the House

Or is it a psychologist? Perhaps a little bit of both. Part of Mark’s role and other PLM professionals the world over, at companies they help to select, implement, consolidate, and retire PLM systems is to diagnose the root of the problem. And align the solution with the end goal.

At times, the solution is better education of people managing the process. Perhaps with CMII or other foundational courses. After all, PLM is a relatively newly taught field in university, and not necessarily widespread in business or engineering programs. Other times the appropriate medicine is to align business processes. Often the diagnosis includes identifying legacy systems ready for retirement to bring the company up to current standards capable of supporting the user base.

No matter the root cause, one critical success factor was always included. People. This is where the psychologist's role applies. Communication. Listening to the people doing the work, finding the bottlenecks, and supporting group willingness to change. Know what motivates the teams that ultimately hold responsibility for continuing the vision. Which brings us to critical success factors 9 and 10. 

  • 9. Ensure organizational buy-in for change

Across silos, divisions, or functions. Where people are doing their work, business as usual, it is easy to see transformational initiatives as unwanted change. Making sure people understand the WHY, as Simon Sinek would say, also helps them understand how new processes or technology will make their lives easier. It bears repeating again and again. Take the time to develop group champions across the organization and watch your change initiatives steamroll.

  • 10. Do not underestimate organizational change management

What you find as you go from engineering to manufacturing, for example, are opportunities to optimize processes where work could be done by either group. Communication, retraining, and ownership must be defined. Remember, anytime “Someone” leaves a meeting with responsibility for a new task, “No one” is going to do it. Sorting through responsibility, efficiency, and dissolving silos now may create friction for a time but is an important step along the path. 

*Checkout Organizational Change Management part 1 and part 2 for additional tips on how to manage this factor.


Additional Points of Consideration

Avoid the trap of the shiny object syndrome. There are so many cool technologies out there. You can put sensors on anything, get data, put it in a data lake – where it goes to die. But tons of money is spent to capture the data without thinking about all the processes that moved the data all the way through.

Other examples are creating digital twins without requirements, doing software before you do software needs. Set parameters. Be able to trace back to those parameters and see when they need to be updated. Focusing too much on technology and not on what you want to achieve is setting yourself up for failure.


An Executive Champion is not a Critical Success Factor

When so many others are focused on the executive championship as a critical success factor, Mark completely left it off his list. Why? The executive champion alone does not guarantee the success of the incredible change.

What you absolutely must have is everybody knowing what must change – something that is so obvious – that what they are championing becomes a mission. Think Gandhi saying 100K Englishmen are not going to control 350M Indians. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech inspiring millions for decades. Something incredibly transformative that the champion must get behind.

If you cannot inspire all of the people, you have a problem because all transformations have functional and IT people that are responsible for executing the vision. If you do not get those people on board with the vision you will not transform.

When you have a critical message that can be communicated that the entire company understands, then executive champions help. Particularly when you go back to what was decided. As you are trying to reach the vision you will have obstacles. Sometimes the obstacle is the technology like PLM or ERP. When in a digital transformation and you must work around the technology, that is an obstacle. If you spent a gazillion dollars on it and you think that is a reason to keep it when it's not serving you that is a problem. And that is when you use an executive sponsor to step in and make a decision.


Impacting Change for Good

With Mark’s varied history, I had to ask about his favorite story around impacting change for good. Of course, not all change is based on technology. In his PLM Dr roll around 2003/04, Mark was supporting the resource center for the Army. During the Gulf War, there was an issue with Humvee’s going over IEDs/land mines. The underbelly was not very strong, and soldiers were in imminent danger.

With 10,000 Humvee’s in the field of many configurations, Mark was called in to bring all the designs in and figure out how to continuously improve them – with CAD geometry from one PLM system to the another.  Mark did a demonstration with a three-star general and 19-year-old warfighter. The young soldier quickly jumped in, “We don’t need all this – just rip ‘em out – we need water and ammo.” 

The soldier was modifying the Humvee’s in the field by welding steel onto the bottom and the general was trying to understand what he was doing other than adding steel. How was more steel effectively saving lives?

Mark took out a napkin, drew the hull of a ship, and presented it to the team as the retrofit design in the field. The soldier confirmed, the hull like design was indeed diverting the explosions off to the left and right. This open communication, setting tech aside, allowed everyone to come together and understand how to rapidly improve assets in the field. Mark said it was very cool seeing the reactions and knowing that they got to save more lives. 


Final Thoughts

It’s an exciting time for PLM. Companies are really having to transform. With the ability to have a connected digital thread, we should see a lot of movement with redeployment, or harnessing more power, as well as with the digital twin.


Keep the Conversation Going

What are your takeaways? What questions do you have? Share them with the community and keep the conversation going.

Want to share your story? Drop me a line or send me an email at I’d love to hear from you.

About the author

Jennifer Moore

Jennifer Moore has more than 15 years of experience in Business Transformation across different industries. Her extensive experience includes helping companies navigate complex regulatory requirements through software solutions. She has been developing and deploying large, multi-faceted enterprise software project, driving revenues as well as market adoption.

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