Question mark surrounded by the words and images of Product, Procurement, People, Process and Purchasing
Written by Don Haupt

What Does the “P” in PLM Stand For?

What does the "P" in PLM stand for anyway?

This isn't a trick question. I asked this question during a talk I did at Purdue University's PLM Center Meeting last month. I was met with some laughs and nods of agreement, but there's a kernel of truth behind the tongue-in-cheek question. Lately, it seems that there are a lot of discussions around whether PLM is dead or if the concept is something that people don't want to talk about anymore.

This just emphasizes to me that we need to keep talking about PLM and emphasizing what it truly means.

How CPPD (And C3PD) Fits Into PLM

Back before PLM was really catching on, there was a term in the ‘90's called CPPD which stands for Concurrent Product and Process Development. CPPD highlighted the importance of doing product design engineering and manufacturing engineering process activities at the same time. Back then, there was a cycle where design engineers would toss ideas over the wall to manufacturing, who would send changes back. CPPD was the push to do product design and manufacturing processes concurrently.

Over time, my group at Caterpillar started noticing that there was a third P to consider. So we started calling the concept C3PD (yes, there's a slight Star Wars nod here) to incorporate purchasing and procurement teams into "product" and "process." The idea picked up steam and became a running theme for our teams.

So now we have "3 P's" so to speak: product, process, and procurement. Although we had the idea of "concurrent" with these three concepts, there continued to be a turf war between teams. Who was more important? Who had more authority to make decisions? This feud continues today throughout the industry.

When Which "P" Matters Most

Fast forward several years into the 21st century. PLM started to make its name known in Caterpillar in the early ‘00s. As the term and the concept matured in my final decade with CAT, I spent a lot of time trying to convince different teams that the idea of "product lifecycle management" was so much more than just about "product."

Let me explain. There was and still is a debate in CPPD (and C3PD, and PLM) about which "P" is most important. In my opinion, the debates don't really matter because they're all important. The "product" part of the PLM acronym isn't just referring to a product's design or product manufacturing. It really does encompass people, product, process, and procurement.

The P in PLM Means...

So what does the P in PLM stand for? Is it product, process, purchasing, procurement, or people? The answer to this question is "yes!" It's time for our industry to acknowledge that the "p" in PLM encompasses all these different steps throughout the lifecycle. You just have to turn the different dials up or down depending on where you are in the process:

  • In the beginning of a product's lifecycle, people in your customer base play a strong influence in feeding product ideas and needs into the manufacturing base.

  • These ideas funnel into engineering teams to start product design.

  • Eventually, the manufacturing process takes precedence as a company understands how the product will actually be made.

  • Procurement and purchasing teams take this information into the supply chain as they identify the best partners for a project.

Whenever I speak at events like the PLM Meeting at Purdue, I can't emphasize enough that no "P" is ever more important than any other "P." Every step in PLM and every department is just as important as the other. Depending on where you're at in the process impacts which team's voice is more prominent. That's the true power in PLM's impact across an organization.

About Don Haupt

Don worked with Caterpillar Inc. from 1979-2017 in a variety of roles, including Lead Business Process Strategist and Technical Steward for PLM and engineering systems. Don worked in multiple product development disciplines and product lines. He has significant experience in product design, simulation and validation, engineering processes, and PLM strategy and process, and environment and systems definition. Don’s experience as the strategic technical director for PLM World also contributes to his expertise with PLM. Today, Don is enjoying retirement and serving as a PLM consultant, providing customized technical guidance and counsel for engineering management and engineering design processes. He leverages his deep expertise in Product Lifecycle Management, Model Based Engineering, Advanced Product Quality Planning and many other product design and development processes.