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Two of the most important things to know when planning a journey are your current location and your destination. Just ask any sailor who has sailed the high seas. You cannot set course if you don’t know where you are and where you want to go. The same is true for a PLM project: Its successful outcome depends largely on having a thorough understanding of the current situation, including existing practices, processes and tools in use and the detailed, specific needs of the entire organization.

Why is it then that so many companies skip this part, i.e. the determining the current situation and the company’s needs, and go straight to the execution? The simple answer is probably that we all know what’s broken and don’t really want to waste time regurgitating and documenting everything. The more truthful answer is often that we don’t really know what exactly is wrong and it would take significant time and effort to determine and document the current state and issues and it is much more interesting and rewarding to define a new way of doing things. But both answers couldn’t be more misleading.

First of all, not everything is broken. The company has been in business for years after all and is generating revenue, otherwise we wouldn’t be considering this project. Many of the things the company is doing work well actually, and it would be futile to try to change everything. Not only would we do too much work, we would unnecessarily burden and maybe even overwhelm the organization.

Secondly, some things can most likely be done better and more efficiently, but it is much easier to identify those things and change them when everything is properly documented. It also makes it easier to plan a phased approach to implementing the new solution in an effort not make the required changes smaller and more digestible.

Thirdly, having a detailed understanding of our current situation will allow us to make better decisions about and prioritize our needs. Areas that are more important to the business but in which our practices and processes are more deficient will likely have a higher priority than areas with lower importance.

And fourth, everything looks great if we don’t know what we need. So the software vendors will gladly sprinkle us with their Pixie Dust and show us everything their systems can do, but if we haven’t exactly documented and prioritized all our needs we may never know which solution is the best fit and we tend to want to do too much instead of focusing on the really important areas.

So no matter whether you are using PDM or PLM or nothing at all, the first step in implementing a new solution or an expansion to the existing one is to do a thorough assessment of the current situation and document in detail the existing practices, processes and use of tools. The next and just as important step is to determine the detailed needs of the entire organization with regards to PLM.

The information obtained in these first two steps will provide a solid foundation for future activities. It will allow selecting the right system, developing an implementation strategy and roadmap, justifying an investment in PLM, and helping explain the changes to affected employees and aid them in the adoption of the new solution.

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