Why Do PLM Selection Projects Fail?

Why Do PLM Selection Projects Fail?

Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) software solutions continue to mature and evolve significantly and have been proven to drive substantial benefits. The ability to stay competitive in today’s challenging markets demands a higher level of innovation and enhanced capabilities that PLM enables. Without greater PLM collaboration and cooperation across the enterprise, keeping up with the competition will not be possible. Despite the imperative to implement strong PLM solutions across your business, many companies continue to fall short and fail to deliver the needed PLM value.

The need to devote substantial time and resources and the financial investment required for successful PLM implementations has not made its way into many companies. Without a diligent and enterprise-level effort to select and implement a PLM solution, there can be more failures than successes. Additionally, there is a need for early cultural change management or the adoption of new technology by most users. Given these challenges, we can understand why many PLM selection projects fail to deliver the anticipated value.

There are many reasons why PLM projects fail, but common mistakes tend to crop up repeatedly. For your benefit, I have gathered the most common PLM selection mistakes that I see from companies trying to adopt PLM:

  • Limited knowledge of your own critical requirements
  • Believing that an out-of-the-box solution will solve your problems
  • No buy-in from top management
  • Cultural change management

There are more, but these seem to be the “biggies.”

Limited knowledge of your own critical requirements

The scope of a PLM solution and the required functionality varies greatly from company to company. In fact, even within the same company, you will often find conflicting functionality needs and requirements often unknown to most users.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution because of highly individual and often conflicting needs. That is why companies need to know their own critical requirements when selecting a system. Otherwise, they will not know what their business needs are now and into the future.

Unfortunately, many companies have relied on the software vendor’s experience and “best practice” solutions. These are drawn from the vendor’s experience providing technical solutions to industry challenges. In other words, it is an external interpretation of a challenge. The vendor will claim they have what it takes - a “best practice” solution - but be aware that it is still their interpretation.

If a company spends no time understanding what their own best practices are, the PLM projects will likely fail. At the very least, the value will be less than what is needed.

If you do not know your company’s best practices or core competencies you need the PLM solution to support, how can you implement or even pick a solution? Spending time determining what processes and capabilities are required for a PLM solution will pay big dividends when it is time to select a PLM solution.

If you choose a solution with a set of best practice capabilities without knowing your own critical requirements or workflows, then how would you know whether these capabilities are supporting your business well enough? This will also require input from many other business organizations to determine what works best across the enterprise.

We recommend knowing what you need before engaging with a PLM solution provider. If you go to buy a used car and do not know what you need, you will likely get a lemon. This simple rule applies to most life situations when evaluating PLM solutions. Unfortunately, many executives seem to forget that fact or want to take the easy route that might cost less and be quicker.

Believing an out-of-the-box solution will solve your problems

This may sound naive, but companies that do not know which critical software requirements they should forward to a software vendor are putting too much faith and trust into that vendor’s expertise.

We have seen this in start-up and established enterprises: a lack of clear processes to support the core competencies in the company. In every case, that leads to an unhealthy amount of dependency on the software vendor’s past experiences and “best practice” solutions for your industry.

Most vendors know this and often take the lead by serving “best practice” processes inside their respective offerings as a solution to unclear processes. If you have not already determined what you need, the PLM solution provider will make their best guess and give you their generic answer.

In many cases, as users get to know the system, they may find that functionality has been oversold. Functions they really need may not exist or may only be partially implemented. Necessary customization may be too difficult, time-consuming, or costly to implement. This is especially true considering that many PLM vendors today encourage users to “de-customize” their solutions.

As time goes on, it may become clear that the wrong vendor was chosen. New versions may be delivered late, lack promised functionality, and have quality problems. Maintenance and upgrade costs may become unacceptably high as customizations are needed to support the business.

I strongly recommend that you have a clear overview of your business-critical processes and how they should be specifically supported by a software solution.

No buy-in from top management

Top management may be a source of problems for reasons such as lack of commitment, leadership, support, and patience. The biggest problem with this is that executive leadership should be among the leading supporters of PLM solutions since they will benefit greatly from its success.

However, top managers have many other things on their agenda, and PLM complexities are often poorly understood among the management team or board members. As a result, they don’t fully understand why all that time and money should be spent on PLM. They may also expect that you can “just” buy a solution to fix the problems in the company, which will be relatively easy to implement.

This misalignment of expectations at both the top management and board levels that PLM is a quick-fix solution is often the reason why PLM in certain companies never fulfills its full potential.

As your business constantly evolves, so do the requirements and changes to the PLM system in order to continue supporting your business processes. This is why you need a flexible PLM solution that can change as your business changes and support the business now and in the future.

A PLM initiative is a continuous journey that evolves over time and therefore requires a long-term commitment from all stakeholders, especially top management, and the board.

Cultural change management

A challenge that I see often is the need to deal with cultural change management when selecting and implementing a new PLM solution. Often the new software is chosen by a select team of experts and then delivered to users by surprise. Once the new software is in the hands of the users, any problems encountered are usually blamed on the new software.

With a little planning and foresight, you can make sure the PLM users are not only happy with the new software, but they are begging for more. The new capabilities, the improved access to information, and the enhanced collaboration will inspire your users and make them advocates for the new PLM solution.

To improve PLM software adoption, I recommend the following:

  • Involve users early in the selection process as much as possible
  • Provide constant updates on what users can expect and the fantastic new tools they will have once the PLM solution is deployed
  • Provide a good amount of training, both from the vendor and from the expert users at the company to hold the hands of new users and get them up to speed
  • Provide a hotline for problems and a strong resolution of any issues that are uncovered by users as the new PLM software is deployed
  • Deliver some level of custom PLM capabilities that help the new users feel that their issues are important


Selecting and deploying a new PLM system is not simple. Choosing a PLM solution is an extensive and complex project that requires the involvement of many experts across the business. You must focus on PLM as a business solution, concentrating on processes and activities, AND you must focus on the IT system, its architecture and implementation.

Below I have gathered a few basic recommendations that can help you select and implement a PLM solution successfully in your business.

My recommendations:

  1. Know everything there is to know about the core competencies and processes within your company and how a PLM software solution should support and elevate it.
  2. Obtain enough information about what a PLM software solution should be able to do for your company. Do not become totally dependent on the vendor’s knowledge and experience as it might not be to your advantage.
  3. Prepare top management and help them realize the importance of having a PLM system at the top of their priority list and what it takes from them to make it a success.
  4. Provide fun and delightful information to your potential PLM users (also free pizza) and get them on board with the new software well in advance of deployment and involve them in the selection process, when applicable.

Don’t forget to take a look at our PLM Selection Guide where we have collected a great amount of detail on how to prepare and execute a PLM selection project.