“Our new PDM system was supposed to be fully operational by now!”
These are words every IT and engineering manager dreads hearing from their users. While today’s product data management (PDM) systems can manage your product design data faster and more efficiently than ever, there are several common pitfalls to watch out for when implementing a PDM system.
1.) There Are Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen
One problem that many companies face is that multiple departments and managers all want to give their two cents’ worth of input and have their needs implemented into the system before its go-live date. If too many people are given authority to configure the PDM system, it will be bloated and implementation may be pushed back months (or even years) while everyone tries to agree on what is truly important and what should be excluded from the system. Trying to accommodate every single input during the initial, upfront release will only cause long and frustrating implementation delays.
2.) Choosing the Wrong Leader for Implementation
It’s also critical to select the right person to be in charge of implementing, configuring, and maintaining the PDM system from the very beginning. When the wrong leader is selected, whether it’s due to inadequate technical skills, inability to make quick and critical decisions, or not understanding the processes necessary for managing CAD data, a company will waste precious time, money, and effort training this individual and might eventually have to duplicate efforts when the right person is brought in.
3.) Turning the PDM System Into Something It’s Not
A PDM system is simply that: a system to manage data. Although some PDM systems can incorporate engineering change notifications, design approval procedures, and even provide a structure for how projects are stored, it is not a product lifecycle management system. “Stay within the strengths of your software and don’t try to make it to do things it wasn’t designed to do,” said Catherine Smith, PDM applications engineer at engineering solutions firm TriMech Solutions. “Don’t try to force your PDM system to automatically create records in an [material requirements planning] or [enterprise resource planning] system, configure resource management, or create Gantt charts for scheduling purposes.”
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While it’s good to prepare for the worst, don’t overdo it by creating excessive scenarios of what could happen for every possible problem. Too many times an implementation spirals out of control as the implementation team focuses on remote catastrophes that have less than 1% chance of occurring.
Yes, it is a good idea to create backups of your PDM system and restrict access to specific users. However, it is not a good idea to turn your PDM system into a nanny or a prison guard, essentially locking it down to the point where users will not be able to perform their jobs without seeking permission every step of the way. Overcomplicating and over-planning a PDM system configuration is worse than starting simple and adding features once in operational use.
So What Can Be Done?
To stay on schedule and avoid the listed traps, limit the PDM configuration team to a small group of key individuals: someone from engineering, someone from IT, and a decision-maker from the management team who is acutely aware of all required procedures for the company.
Pick the right PDM leader upfront. Choose someone who possesses the ability to complete tasks efficiently and quickly, has a good grasp of current processes, and has qualities of assertiveness (who can continue to direct difficult conversations forward and not get detained while trying to accommodate every single request from multiple department heads).
Finally, learn what the PDM system is capable of doing and what added features are easily within reach. Don’t overcomplicate the software by trying to add features that simply aren’t available without rewriting the source code.
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Remember, most PDM system modifications can be made later, after the system is in place to incorporate other department needs and as more time and resources become available. Understand that there will be human error on occasion, but through proper training and detailed explanations of what the PDM system is designed to do, most major problems can be avoided.
To maximize your chances for a successful PDM delivery, start small with the right people, continue to grow the functionality of your system over time, and train your employees so you can trust them to successfully do their jobs.
Greg Jung has more than 25 years of experience designing medical equipment and electro-mechanical products for a wide variety of industries. He also served in various project management roles and has led global, cross-functional development teams for a wide variety of programs. During this time, he developed several award-winning and patented product designs. Greg holds bachelor and master of science degrees in mechanical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology.