Superior Planning Leads to Big Wins
Two sporting events I watched this weekend held a subtle, related interest for me in their planning and execution and their similarity to product lifecycle management (PLM) software: Jimmie Johnson's win of his second consecutive NASCAR championship and the New England Patriot's trouncing of the Buffalo Bills.
Bear with me, because this is a stretch, but you'll get my point.
The New England Patriots—the first football dynastic of the 21st century—is about teamwork, collaboration, relentless planning and preparation, and—of course—graceful execution. Coach Bill Bellichek doesn't get caught up in the platitudes of his team's performance (10-0 and the only undefeated team in the NFL) or the fact that the Pats have won three of the past five Super Bowls. No, he focuses on each game in front of him, prepares for each opponent, and develops a game plan that capitalizes on his team's strengths and his opponent's weaknesses. That was demonstrated with near flawless execution Sunday during the Patriots' 56-10 win over Buffalo.
What does this have to do with NASCAR? Johnson and his team, Hendrick Motorsport, follow the same philosophy. The only difference is this NASCAR team is based on mechanical precision where the Patriots are a virtual machine (OK, that's the joke—go ahead and call me out).
Both teams' planning-and-execution philosophy is synonymous with product lifecycle management. Johnson actually credits his team's use of Siemens PLM software with shortening car and engine rebuild times, as well as expediting his team's transition to NASCAR's car of the future platform. (Check out: PLM Makes Jimmie Johnson Go Fast)
PLM is an amazing culmination of the digital design process and applications. Born out of CAD/CAM design software, PLM enables enterprises of all sizes to quickly manipulate design plans and specifications, substitute and test materials and collaborate on marketing and cosmetic issues. The revolution in speed has enabled many companies to cut their product redesign times from weeks and days to hours, saving millions of dollars in design and development costs as well as speeding time to market.
PLM isn't new technology. Most major manufacturers—General Motors, Ford, Toyota, General Electric, Airbus, Boeing and others—use PLM in their design and engineering/ What is new is the continued penetration of PLM in the midmarket. Most major PLM vendors—Siemens, PTC, Dassault Systemes, Autodesk—have made significant improvements to their midmarket PLM packages, opening the capabilities of this software that was once reserved exclusively for the enterprise.
PLM technology got a major boost last week when IBM announced a significant investment in PLM by creating centers of excellence to promote the technology and educate end users to its power. IBM partners with many of the major PLM vendors—most notably Siemens and Dassault.
The real magic in PLM—particularly for smaller companies that supply major manufacturers with parts and products—is collaboration. PLM is the bridging mechanism that lets engineers from disparate design teams around the world work in real time on the same designs in the same language. Because the software tracks all changes, teams can manipulate designs, see the impact of design changes and how different components will interact, and send amended instructions to appropriate teams in an instant.
PLM isn't flawless. Some argue PLM could have prevented the toy recall crisis. Had American toymakers used PLM to communicate design plans and specify materials to their Chinese factories, lead paint might not have entered the production process and contaminated millions of units. Yes and no: It's one thing to specify materials; it's another to lack physical checks and inspections on finished work.
And, of course, PLM isn't very good when it comes to non-durable goods, such as software, as Boeing recently discovered. The aircraft manufacturer was forced to delay production of its Dreamliner 787 by at least six months because of integration problems with the plane's navigation software.
But if you look at how Johnson's NASCAR pit crew uses PLM to track and adjust every component of its cars and engines, or how General Motors has used PLM to raise the quality of its cars to the highest they've been in years, you can see the potential and limitless flexibility of this software.
With that kind of precision, manufacturers can develop product plans and execute with the speed and efficiency of the Patriots' steamrolling season over the rest of the NFL (told you I'd get back to that). What would that be worth?
Lawrence M. Walsh is the editor of Baseline magazine and a rabid New England Patriots fan. Tell him what you think about software that reduces the complexity of engineering and design at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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