When the term “Planet Lifecycle Management” first occurred to me during the anxiety-filled months of the COVID pandemic, the environmentalist in me was offended by the Product Lifecycle Management business professional I have been for much of my career.
How arrogant of me to think that we humans can ever manage nature – either a microscopic virus or an entire planet – like it was some engineered and manufactured product!
Then I considered that what we were already doing to the planet was more mismanagement, than management, in the new era of human-created Anthropocene. This mismanagement comes from our unsustainable use of resources that results in dumping over 50 gigatons of planet warming greenhouse gasses, like carbon dioxide and methane, into the atmosphere every year.
The undisputable rise in greenhouse gas levels is warming the globe, acidifying oceans, causing extreme weather, degrading wildlife habitats, spreading disease, thawing permafrost, raising geopolitical tensions and risks tripping irreversible tipping points, all as documented in the latest UN IPCC report on Climate Change.
The “M” in PLM is often for Mismanagement
PLM consultants routinely tell their clients that every product manufacturer or process producer executes some form of PLM, whether they are consciously aware of it or not. The lack of a PLM business strategy, implementation plan, or supporting software solution is in fact one, albeit negligent, form of PLM. Even when the “M” in this case is also for mismanagement.
Humans are well underway with our Planet Lifecycle Mismanagement – the other more important PLM – because we have had decades of warnings to start managing our resource utilization better by reducing GHG emissions from the burning of fossils fuels.
Many politicians and media pundits have made this far more complicated and controversial than it needs to be. The climate science is clear; we know what we need to do, why we need to do it, when we need to do it and what will happen if we don’t. And thankfully, we now have many technologies emerging to do much of what needs to be done. We, however, still lack the courage and urgency to act faster.
This too is very similar to the history of Product Lifecycle Management. Some manufacturers only come around to giving PLM executive-level attention, with a sense of urgency and funding, once they have tried everything else. Or they are confronted with a product failure causing bad press – or worse, injury and death – with loss of market good will and shareholder value.
Protecting the Planet Lifecycle
What can the practice of Product Lifecycle Management teach us about better managing, or more appropriately, safeguarding the lifecycle of our planet for the small span of years in that lifecycle that we humans inhabit?
The first challenge is to view the planet as a bountiful product of an awe-inspiring universe. A creation that until recently we humans had no role in perturbing the trajectory of its development. The Earth is indeed a magnificent product of galactic-level natural forces and lucky events. Our home is a life-abundant planet in a diverse solar system within the local neighborhood region of the Milky Way galaxy that has an estimated billion other stars, many with exoplanets we are now discovering, that is only one of an estimated trillion other galaxies in the universe.
As we learned in high school earth science, the attributes that have allowed intelligent life to emerge in our planet’s ecosystem are equally awe-inspiring. They include a having near perfect goldilocks distance from the sun along with the existence of a magnetic field, ample water, life-supporting minerals, atmosphere gases, and an evolutionary life force that propels us forward, seemingly to invalidate the law of entropy.
If there was ever a product of nature worth protecting, and managing by not mismanaging it, it is this one planet that we had no role in creating but have the misdirected power to ruin.
Both PLMs Require System Level Thinking
By appreciating the astrophysical history of the Earth, it becomes obvious that the planet is a system within a multiverse of interconnected systems operating inside and outside of our biosphere. Thinking of the Earth as a system that seeks to sustain and regulate itself as if a living organism or “Gaia” was first postulated by British space scientist and visionary James Lovelock over 40 years ago.
PLM Green Global Alliance co-founder Jos Voskuil writes often that PLM requires a holistic systems-thinking approach. This mindset is exactly what addressing sustainability and climate change will require from both public policy and technology providers.
What can we apply from our experience with Product Lifecycle Management in the modeling, monitoring, and management of complex systems-of-systems? I recommend starting with reading Systems Thinking Can Help Build A Sustainable World from Stanford University’s Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere. Then follow the discussion, interviews, and other events that participants in the PLM Green Global Alliance will be hosting to dive into the intersection of sustainability and systems thinking in the coming months.
The Expanding Scope of PLM
PLM market analysts and management consultants also tell their clients to think of PLM as not a single technology nor a software product. Instead, it is a business strategy that spans products manufactured and services offered over their entire lifecycles from innovation through the aftermarket and recycling. There are a multitude of underlying technologies that enable the core functions, populate the data, and drive the processes which PLM solutions connect, automate, optimize, harmonize, and track.
In examining the applicability of PLM, it’s helpful to recall some of the most important functions and supporting technologies of PLM. These include: process and workflow management, product data management, requirements management, configuration management, cross-disciplinary collaboration, product portfolio management, innovation management, product structure / BOM management, digital manufacturing, enterprise system integrations, compliance reporting, user access and security, and numerous others.
Once you view the planet as a complex product and tightly-coupled system-of-systems, it’s possible to imagine where some of these functions may have applicability. A few of the functions most relevant to sustainability are those that support model-based systems engineering (MBSE), digital twin modelling (DT), multi-disciplinary optimization (MDO), multi-physics simulation (MPS), virtual prototyping (VT) and more recently life cycle assessment (LCA). (You can learn more about these application spaces and the software products that populate them in The PLM Ecosystem Atlas.)
- design more efficient greener products
- electrify transportation modalities
- develop renewable energy sources
- store and distribute alternative energy
- monitor CO2 and methane emissions
- track and report lifecycle carbon emissions
- repair, repurpose, and recycle assets in a circular economy
- remove and sequester carbon from the atmosphere
- improve resiliency of communities and public infrastructures
- model and simulate geoengineering technologies
Progress within each of these carbon-reducing innovations has been possible, in part, because of the technologies which have fueled the growth of PLM markets to over $60B of investment.
As example, PLM Green climate change topic moderator Klaus Brettschneider often speaks about the role of PLM in providing an accessible, transparent, and auditable source of tracking carbon emissions for all stakeholder across the enterprise and its supply chain. This is especially important when it comes to rolling up Scope 1, 2, and 3 carbon emissions to avoid greenwashing over unknowable emissions. PLM solutions are uniquely qualified to provide the data management platform, processes, and transparency to perform a rigorous level of emissions accounting.
On the PLM Green website, our volunteer moderators are busy collecting additional examples and resources which we invite readers to help us with by submitting their own to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lessons Learned from PLM
While many PLM-enabling technologies will prove to have value in keeping the “mis” out of Planet Lifecycle Management, what should be more instructive are the opportunities and obstacles experienced when implementing them on an enterprise-wide scale. That is, the lessons learned from transformations that occur to an organization, its digital processes, and products, which PLM empowers.
Over my own career in PLM I have been most excited by the improved levels of communication, collaboration and innovation that PLM solutions, when implemented correctly, can unleash. This benefit results not purely from technology, but because deploying an enterprise PLM strategy requires the participation from many stakeholders across an entire organization and its supply chain.
As many management consultants and industry executives will attest, achieving that level of cooperation across the enterprise is quite often far more difficult than deploying the actual technology across the business product lines.
In my experience from selling the first generation PDM software in the 1980s to promoting enterprise PLM solutions in the 2000s, the greatest challenges to implementing PLM are rarely in software technologies but in business cultures that resist change, despite being confronted by inconvenient facts that threaten their performance or even survival.
Sound familiar to the hesitation and denial surrounding climate change?
Implementing PLM, especially as part of a digital transformation initiative, is difficult work. It requires a business to critically examine itself by assessing its maturity levels and performance gaps, be open to internal and external input, possess a willingness to change, and not resort to defensiveness and finger pointing when there are inevitable mistakes, delays or failures along the journey.
The reluctance within some sectors of our global economy, elected political bodies, and polarized citizenry to acknowledge climate change, listen to the experts, agree to a common set of facts, collaboratively explore solutions, and then make decarbonization a priority reminds me very much of the early years of justifying enterprise PLM.
So yes, the business and technical experiences of thousands of Product Lifecycle Management practitioners and business consultants around the world are relevant and can indeed contribute to better Planet Lifecycle Management in small and big ways alike.
Green Career Opportunities in Product and Planet Lifecycle Management
This relevancy is just one reason I co-founded the PLM Green Global Alliance with a mission to create a global network of professionals working with PLM-enabling technologies who on a personal level also care about the sustainability of the planet for their children and future generations to come.
Many of our participants are anxious to employ their education, skills, and experiences in helping to address the biggest sustainability challenges and corresponding opportunities, like industry electrification and energy decarbonization, that engineers and entrepreneurs will likely ever see over their careers.
PLM Green Alliance member and university professor Patrick Hillberg has begun to witness his own graduate-level students contemplate these same challenges and opportunities. “Today’s students are in a difficult position”, he says. “They see the climate challenges ahead of them, and they will bring their concerns into the class discussion. But they also have families, mortgages, and student loans. Many also work, or hope to work in automotive or aerospace industries that until recently have not been very green. I certainly see hope in their futures, and we spend much more time on sustainability in the past few years than we did a decade ago, but I also see them as a small microcosm of the challenges that we all face as we transform to a sustainable economy.”
I for one can’t imagine a more motivating and rewarding time now in the latter stage of my own career to be working, albeit in a small way, at the intersection of Product and Planet Lifecycle Management. This I hope would be equally true if I was much younger and a recent graduate, deciding what frontier to focus upon for building a meaningful career.
The PLM Green Global Alliance invites those who feel the same to follow our announcements and discussions on the intersection of product and planet lifecycle management by joining our LinkedIn Group and subscribing to our news by email.