PLM Interest Group














Professional PLM - The Debate


If you value your career as a PLM practitioner, and the work that you do in PLM, then you will be looking for recognition of this from your non-PLM colleagues.

If you are hiring new PLM staff, or paying for a consultancy or systems integrator to give you PLM advice and support, you want to know the calibre of the people you are choosing from.


There is a need to establish some level or benchmark of internationally-recognised professional performance in PLM.

The way forward could range from formal methods of training and qualification, to PLM becoming a genuine profession, alongside engineering, law, and accountancy.


There are many issues to be debated, and collective decisions to be made. Some PLM practitioners value the freedom of working without assessment, and wonder whether there is a need for change at all. Many others will feel that it is time for their work to be valued and respected by their colleagues and employers.

The PLMIG is leading a structured discussion process which has brought out many important points, as described below.  Follow the debate, and add your views via the link at the end of the page.



Disappearing Role

The impulse that has given rise to this whole initiative is that the role of the PLM Manager in user companies is disappearing.

For many years, PLM Managers have felt undervalued.  Colleagues do not understand the complexity and importance of the role.  Senior management seems unaware of the benefits that PLM brings to the business, and of the contribution that the PLM Manager makes to this.  Now this apathy means that more and more companies are adopting PLM without any specialist PLM Manager in place at all.

This is having a massive impact on PLM viability.  If an organisation believes that their new PLM system will solve all of their problems, it is hard to explain that they will need a qualified person to run it.  And even harder to explain that many of the underlying 'As-Is' problems could be fixed by this PLM Manager before the IT platform even arrives.

This in itself should be a driver for a move towards PLM professionalism.  And then, of course, there are many other types of PLM practitioner for whom professionalism is just as important.



PLM as a Career Move

However much you enjoy working as a PLM practitioner, you need to bear in mind that it is part of your career, and will be the first thing under scrutiny in your next job interview.

PLM management includes the work of an engineer, business analyst, data scientist, project manager, operational improvement specialist, culture change expert, senior line manager, and director/VP. You must be able to do all of those things, but your next potential employer may fail to understand this - particularly if your next move is outside the specific area of PLM.

How can you receive credit for your achievements if the interviewer does not really understand PLM?  How can you show the progression that you have made if you have no formal qualifications?  And does the fact that fewer companies are hiring PLM Managers mean that your current career is something of a dead end?

Perhaps career paths migrate are migrating from internal roles at user companies towards vendors and integrators.  But even here there is a risk that "PLM advisor" looks like post-sales IT support, rather than the business-oriented role that it should be.



Starting the Discussion

Given the above-mentioned warning signs and career implications, the PLMIG contacted most of the main players in PLM training and certification to ask for their views.  For consistency, they were all asked four questions:-

  • how would you summarise the aims of the training and certification that your initiative provides?
  • do you think that the PLM industry should organise itself as a profession?
  • if so, what steps do you think should be taken to achieve this? and,
  • do you have any general or specific comments of your own about 'Professional PLM'?

The initial responses were very interesting and are summarised below.



No Need for a Profession?

Nate Hartman of Purdue University looks at the whole question in a different light.  He says:-


"I have always considered PLM as a methodology or framework for how a company may work or conduct its business.  I have never thought about it as a profession, even though we have certificates in PLM and MBD from Purdue."

"PLM is a methodology by which other professions will do their work. It is those other professions that need to evolve to embrace the tools, methods, and data forms brought about by the evolution in technology and practice.  The difference today is that they have access to digital product data that is arguably more accurate, which moves faster, and moves farther than at any other time in history."

"I believe we will continue to have designers, analysts, manufacturing planners, supply chain specialists, etc.  They will simply do their work differently as a result of the digital information architecture available to them.  If PLM practitioners were to try to become professional, they would likely gain more traction by initially aligning themselves with current professions."

"This would be similar to the quality and operations philosophy movements in the 1980s – 2000s.  People received certifications, but fundamentally, they were still manufacturing engineers, supply chain managers, designers, etc."


This is a sensible argument.  Rather than having a specific new profession, PLM practitioners could work with existing professions so that they update themselves to incorporate modern PLM aspects.  It would minimise overheads, and save PLM practitioners having to become officers of a new professional body.

The counter-argument is to ask how PLM practitioners would organise themselves to liaise with these other professions?  How would they agree amongst themselves the standards or criteria that the other professions should adopt?  And how would they maintain this integration into the long-term future?



The Beginnings of a Profession

Possibly the most advanced initiative to formalise the professional elements of 'PLM practice' is running in Germany, with Fraunhofer and a group of industrial partners.  The key feature is that the examination and certification is completely separate from the training element.

Richard Baumann of Volkswagen Group (one of the industrial partners) explains: "There are two initiatives regarding PLM expertise which we have to distinguish: PLM education and PLM certification.  In the area of education, various different activities are taking place.  Fraunhofer has established a PLM professional training that basically reaches the level of a university add-on course of studies.  Companies like Volkswagen Group and Daimler have started to establish their own PLM education programs.  PDM/PLM System vendors run their own internal education programs. All of these aim at the specific requirements of PLM."

"Quite separately, the Fraunhofer Personnel Certification Authority has recently established a certification process for PLM Experts, called the 'PLM Professional Certificate'.  Technically the certification process complies with ISO 17024.  Content-wise a board of experts defines PLM knowledge fields and skills and examination relevant procedures and content.  Certification regulations are publically available.  As of May, 2017, four examinations have taken place, 37 of 51 candidates passed and received certification."

In other words, the examination can be taken independently of the training, and it is possible to fail.  These are key features of any professional qualification.



The Need to Professionalise

It seems that some form of 'Professional PLM' initiative will still be required, even the profession is to be in 'embedded' or 'distributed' mode. Richard Baumann of Volkswagen Group is in favour of a more focused approach.


"In my opinion there is no other way than for the PLM industry to professionalise. At times where digitalisation becomes one of the major drivers in production industry, companies are in a strong need of experts who can organise soundly IT-supported product creation and production processes.  Professional qualifications offer the chance to harmonize education on general PLM practices compliant with the certification regulations.  Certification also facilitates a staffing process for a PLM project with external experts."


It is also possible to take a wider view of who is a 'PLM Practitioner'.  The PLM Institute in Geneva has established separate courses for PLM technical staff and for wider members of the PLM Team.  At Purdue University, Nathan Hartman notes that:-


"Ironically, most students in our industrially-oriented PLM Certificate program do not come from a design or engineering background; they tend to come from areas of an organization that are the consumers of the digital data created as part of an engineering or design function, or they are business process owners."


This is also inherent in the CIMdata approach. Peter Bilello confirms:-


"We see the need for more formal education programs focused on ensuring that all who participate in a PLM implementation project have a strong understanding of PLM concepts and industry leading best practices."


Peter, too, feels that the PLM industry should organise itself as a profession, given the the significant impact it has (or should have) on companies.  He concludes:-


"The PLM solution providers do a good job training people to configure software and universities do a good job educating engineers and other business professionals, but no one brings the technology, business, and project management elements together."



Professional PLM - The Premise

The discussion continued with more support for relying on other professions.

Bryan Fraser of the NASA John H. Glenn Research Center observes that:-


"Experience has shown me that one cannot adequately architect a PLM environment (i.e. - people, processes, tools) without possessing deep, direct experience implementing PLM"; and argues that: "[Good PLM specialists] are not made through coursework, they are born with aptitudes that allow them to acquire and absorb the requisite knowledge."


Colin Bull of SQS feels that the disciplines that PLM covers already have a number of recognised career paths. For example: Requirements and System Engineering, Design and Engineering, Manufacturing and Engineering, Plant Engineering, Service, MRO, Quality, and Portfolio Management are all disciplines with their own careers.

All of which indicates that PLM is a discipline that cuts across many others that have their own professional development paths; and may be difficult to teach as a coherent, widely-applicable syllabus.

The problem with this line of thought is that it is difficult to make it lead to any change in the status quo. Everything stays as it is. And we are not satisfied with the way that it is.

In order to initiate some impetus towards action and improvement, therefore, the following premise is proposed:-

  • PLM is a specialty in its own right;
  • of sufficient complexity that its practitioners should be certified to carry it out;
  • of sufficient value to the business world to warrant its being recognised as a profession; and,
  • steps should be taken to establish that professional status.

This means that, to continue the drive for improvement, we must first establish why PLM is special.



Is PLM Special?

There was feedback on this too, including this point by Erik Løber of BoostPLM:-


"As a professional consultant in the area I meet “PLM specialists” in many companies.  In most cases they have a past as technical assistants in a limited technical area and then after many years good work have been promoted to “PLM specialists”.  However, they often miss a holistic view and overview across the value chain ... and have little knowledge about good practices. So all in all – I am very much in favour of the proposal."


Holger Schrader of ZF is another who is in favour of professionalisation:-


"To my point of view we need a defined competence for PLM. It is absolutely clear that PLM is usually not a core competence within a company. As PLM is a concept, it has to be fulfilled by different functions within a company beside their other daily business. Where this happens with other disciplines, such as project management or human resource management, the professional responsibilities are properly defined."


Holger also makes another good point. A PLM Manager is unlikely to become CEO armed with this specialist but unrecognised responsibility - whereas the other professional specialisms are all valid steps on the career path to the top job.

Stéphane Heno of DCNS feels that PLM practitioners need to be more professional, but is concerned that a professional qualification might focus too much on the IT aspects:-


"For me, PLM is a way to improve business performance by acting on people skills, on methods, on organisation, and even on products, supported by an IT tool. I am afraid that the qualification will recognize only IT tool skills (because they are the easiest to assess) and so will transform PLM Practitioners in IT specialists. In my opinion IT (regardless its cost) is the least important part of PLM business change process."


And he continues with a point that many people will agree with:-


"PLM is too important to let it be done by IT specialists."


In fact, PLM is too important to let it be done by anyone who does not understand PLM. The PLM industry needs to make this clear, and establishing PLM as a profession would be the most powerful way of doing this.



Add Your Input

This debate is likely to affect everyone who works as a PLM practitioner, in any capacity, in any type of organisation.  The discussion needs to be inclusive and to represent the whole cross-section of opinion.

We would like your input on any aspect of this, including (but not limited to):-

  • do you see a need to improve the level of professionalism in PLM?
  • do you think that PLM should have an agreed, common, training syllabus?
  • do you think that PLM should have formal, recognised qualifications?
  • do you think that the PLM industry should organise itself as a profession?
  • if so, what steps do you think should be taken to achieve this? and,
  • do you have any general or specific comments of your own about 'Professional PLM'?

Let us know your views via .

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