An Introduction to Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)

PLM should not be seen as a single software product, but as a collection of software tools and working methodologies.

Product Lifecycle Management is a strategic business approach that applies a consistent set of business solutions in support of the collaborative creation, management, dissemination, and use of product definition information across the extended enterprise. It spans product concept to end of life, integrating people, processes, business systems, and information.

PLM spans product concept to end of life, integrating people, processes, business systems, and information. ItM forms the product information backbone for a company and its extended enterprise. It is composed of multiple elements, including foundation technologies & standards (e.g., XML, visualization, collaboration, enterprise application integration); information authoring and analysis tools (e.g., mechanical design, electronics design, software engineering, technical publishing, finite element analysis); core functions (data vaults, document and content management, workflow, product structuring, program management); functional applications (configuration management, engineering change control); and business solutions (new product introduction, supply chain collaboration)—all incorporating best practices and methods.1


The Beginnings of PLM

The arrival of PLM as a significant business process is often traced to the automotive industry in the mid-1980s, when American Motors Corp. (AMC) was looking for a way to speed up its product development process to compete more effectively against its larger competitors.2 After introducing its compact Jeep Cherokee, which launched the modern sport utility vehicle (SUV) market, the company began development of a new model, brought to market as the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

The first part of AMC’s effort to speed product development was the implementation of a computer-aided design (CAD) software system to facilitate engineering productivity. The second part was a new communications system that allowed conflicts to be resolved more rapidly and reduced cost-intensive engineering changes by keeping all drawings and documents in a central database. The new system was so effective that Chrysler, which acquired AMC, expanded it throughout its enterprise, connecting everyone involved in designing and building products. Thus it became the industry’s lowest-cost producer, with development costs half of the industry average.3

The benefits of PLM can be far-reaching:    

  • PLM helps reduce the cost of a product.
  • PLM helps bring better products to market faster, and enables better support of customers’ use of products.
  • PLM enables the value of a product to be maximized over its lifecycle.
  • PLM provides transparency about what is happening over the product lifecycle.4

Additionally, the market developments driving PLM are manifold and growing:  

  • Outsourcing has led to long design and supply chains, dispersing product development, manufacturing, and support activities over different organizations, often on different continents. Managing this truly extended  enterprise is difficult..
  • The functionality of products is increasing, making their development  and support more complex. The advent of “total solutions” as opposed to discrete products exacerbates this situation.
  • The competitive landscape in a global  marketplace is more intense, and is shrinking windows for product development.
  • Consumers are increasingly demanding  customized products, which are more difficult to develop and support than standard products.
  • Both regulation and deregulation are adding pressure. New product and safety regulations (e.g., EU Directives) are increasing the need for oversight and compliance assurance, while corporate deregulation has led to the  breakup of large organizations with well-defined responsibilities. These are now replaced by numerous companies, contractors, and subcontractors with  blurred relationshps.5

Historically, PLM was pioneered in larger enterprises with the financial wherewithal to invest the necessary resources to understand the approach; acquire, implement, and improve the technologies; test and validate the benefits; and establish the disciplined organizational practices necessary to make PLM effective.6

Today, PLM is being leveraged by enterprises of all sizes, as small and midsize businesses face the same increasingly complex product development milieu and competitive market as larger manufacturers.7 Utilization of PLM by small and midsize concerns has shed light on characteristics or needs that are particularly challenging for PLM solution vendors: 

  • Expectations of rapid business impact
  • Low total cost of ownership (e.g., software, services, and support), with low initial costs and low operating costs  of customers’ use of products
  • Extremely low risk tolerance
  • Faster implementation and time-to-production
  • Limited corporate IT resources; limited resources for modifying current processes
  • Importance of out-of-the-box functionality, pre-configured processes, and templates/guidance for achieving  best practices
  • Use of common PC and Web platforms
  • Need for better collaboration across supply and demand chains
  • Need for embedded visualization and  digital mockup ability 8

PLM should not be seen as a single software product, but as a collection of software tools and working methodologies integrated to address single stages of the product lifecycle, connect tasks, or manage the whole process.

PLM encompasses significant areas of process—not just program and project management processes, but also the processes required to manufacture the product or plant, operate it in the field, and dispose or decommission it at the end of its useful life. PLM solutions help define, execute, measure, and manage key product-related business processes. Manufacturing and operational process plans, once viewed discretely, are now seen as an inherent part of PLM. Processes and the workflow engines that control them help ensure complete digital feedback to both users and other business systems throughout each stage of the product lifecycle.9



2.  Hill, Sydney J. “How to be a Trendsetter: Dassault and IBM PLM Customers Swap Tales from the PLM Front,”

3.  ibid.

4.  Stark, John, Product Lifecycle Management: 21st Century Paradigm for Product Realisation. Springer-Verlag London Ltd., 2005.

5.  ibid.

6.  Dassault Systèmes’ PLM for the Midmarket. A CIMdata Program Review, p. 1.

7.  The Best Kept Secret of Top SMB Product Developers: Finding the Shortest Path to PLM Value. Aberdeen Group, July 2008, p. 5.

8.  Dassault Systèmes’ PLM for the Midmarket. A CIMdata Program Review, p. 2.