Social Product Development

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Yes, Oleg, You Should Keep Secrets From Your PLM System

Recently, Oleg Shilovitsky asked this question on his blog, “Should I keep secrets from my PLM system?” My answer is “Yes!” Not every product-related piece of information should be controlled by a product lifecycle management application. I know what you’re thinking. Is this Robin Saitz talking? She’s worked at PTC forever, right? This is blasphemy, isn’t it?

Not really. When you think about it, there are many tools available to optimize product development. There are authoring tools, such as CAD/CAM/CAE, which are focused on making the individual engineer or designer more productive. There are enterprise applications, such as PLM, that are focused on governance and control of product information. PLM is dedicated to shepherding a promising product idea through design development, sourcing, change and configuration management, manufacturing planning, production, service, and retirement. But there’s another set of activities that hasn’t been suitably addressed by either PLM or Desktop apps.

Before an idea makes its way from an individual engineer or marketer to a PLM system for management and control, there are many people who could, should, and do get involved in considering that idea as well as other ideas, vetting them against ideas considered and discarded in the past, morphing ideas into better ideas, leveraging broader communities inside and outside their organization. This is true whether the idea is for a new product or possible way of solving a design challenge in a current product. Maybe you’re just stumped on a question; don’t know where to turn but think someone in your company should be able to help. PLM tools are designed to be structured and automate well-defined, formal product development processes. They are not designed to enable the type of fluid interaction I'm describing ….which is good, by the way, because companies count on PLM for governance to ensure that selected products get to market with all the t’s crossed and the i’s dotted.

On the other hand, new social product development capabilities (those leveraging social computing technology) can significantly improve this type of idea exchange. It’s a more flexible and natural way of interacting, and doesn’t carry the constraints inherent in a governance system. Not every idea exchanged, considered, commented on, discarded or every question asked and answered needs to be in the PLM system. But having the freedom to spawn and discuss ideas and spontaneously ask questions or help out your colleague can make the process of getting the best ideas into the PLM system easier. Then the PLM system is tasked with managing the processes needed to bring that great idea to market.

Do you agree that tools are needed to facilitate these exchanges and that PLM may not be the answer?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Getting Smart with Social Product Development

Let’s face it, not many company execs wake up one morning and think “today I’ll buy a new CAD or product development solution” – much as we vendors would embrace such an approach.

The reality is that such decisions are typically driven by one or more business critical events, such as a lost opportunity, a failed product, a new competitor, and a whole host of other reasons. Rather than having a knee-jerk reaction to these events, smart companies begin by asking some tough questions and using the answers to formulate and follow a plan for improvement. These plans take the form of clearly identified ‘business initiatives’, such as increasing the reuse of existing components and modules.

This structured approach is especially important for smaller manufacturing businesses (SMBs), which may not have the financial cushion and resources of their larger counterparts.

With all this chatter around social computing and its relevance to product development, it’s important to keep it in context. What we’re seeing is the emergence of new technologies, which will allow every stakeholder in the product development chain to more freely communicate and collaborate – not just internally, but with customers and suppliers. Here’s one of those tough questions I mentioned earlier: “How responsive are we to changing customer requirements?”

Interestingly, SMBs may be better positioned than larger organizations to enjoy the competitive advantages promised by this new social computing phenomenon. Being more nimble, smaller companies can adopt these new (and in many cases, free) technologies faster, and use them to improve processes, as well as find new markets and more customers (Hmm, as an answer to that tough question, think instant, dynamic and relentless focus groups). But, again, it takes a structured approach to make this promise a reality.

I have no doubts about social product development being the natural evolution for collaboration. At PTC, our “business fitness” program is focused on helping SMBs judiciously implement proven business initiatives. Social product development is an obvious addition to this program, and I’ll be writing more about how you can assess, embrace, and implement these technologies in a way that makes sense for your individual needs.