Applying a lean strategy for PLM solution implementations

Posted on August 12, 2012

lean processAs mentionned is my short résumé, I’m an entrepreneur and I like to read about other entrepreneurs’ experiences whatever the result they are, all experiences which could be understood and converted into inputs for future initiatives are good experiences to share. These last few weeks I was reading “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries. This book covers different experiences related to the Lean manufacturing and applied to startup companies and also a larger scope of entrepreneurship. In many PLM marketing materials you will read that a PLM strategy helps supporting lean engineering and lean manufacturing processes but it is not usual to see mentions of the editors or solution’s integrators own use of lean methodologies. PLM has the particularity to be exposed to almost everybody in the company, with different needs it is difficult to create a system which will fit perfectly at first try for most people and the pace at which companies’ organisation change makes it even more difficult. After thinking about all these facts I realised that this lean process would definitely fit for PLM software implementations. So here are some hints.

Start with an MVP

One of the things we learn from Eric Ries is the way his team launched their product IMVU. They started with what they call a Minimum Viable Product. They realised how important it is to confront as soon as possible the users to the software to understand their needs. And that is quite important for new systems for which there is not a rich history record. We should do the same with PLM providing some first approach, first contact to the software in order to get as soon as possible what your users (AKA your internal customers) will be willing to use. At Minerva we are actually running a very nice project where I can clearly see a perfect parallel between the lean methodology. Where most editors would have started to specify a large scope of the project, we started with a small scope on change management. We’ve been then able to limit the risk of misunderstanding the users need and delivering the wrong product.

Proceed with small batches

Think big but iterate by small cycles. That’s a recurring fact mentionned by Eric Ries in his book. Once the MVP has been delivered it is important to quickly enhance the product, not necessarily by applying directly the users request but by understanding the needs and adapting the solution. Small batches means not only a small amount of features but also to quickly confront the changes to the users. In the same project we’ve been talking about, every time there is a feature developped, we quickly involve the main users even if most methods are not developed yet. Aras helps us a lot in this process has it makes possible to have very active reviews in which we can make changes live on forms.

Learn and Adapt

And that is exactly where things can get critical in a PLM implementation. Adaptation needs your IT system to be able flexible enough to let you pivot easily. This is somehow very related to the previous point but it is true that as much as possible you need to get users point of view. In Eric ries’ book he mentions that to innovate in this lean methodology, you need to be good at getting the informations frequently from you users. And test various evolutions for various type of users. We did it with Aras by opening new features to a small selected amount of users before doing a full opening of the feature.

With that being said, and giving the example of the project we are running using this methodology (without really noticing it so far), we clearly realize that we would have much more difficulties to follow this path with solution that wouldn’t be as flexible as Aras Innovator is. It also involve a good management of instances with a clear process on how we move changes from development to production through a staging instance. This methodology is not only a best practice for us, it should also be a best practice for our customers’ project manager. It takes confidence and a strong management to be able to explain that we move feature by feature and prioritize items that other managers may think are not first priorities. We will try to publish more information on that methodology as we need to clearly share it with our customers.

Yoann Maingon

Yoann Maingon is an Entrepreneur and a PLM enthousiast. He is our main blogger at Minerva as he has been publishing articles about General PLM concepts and Aras Innovator for more than three years.

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