Securing PLM investment: preparing and pitching board-level business cases

Preparing and pitching business cases for PLM investment up to the board can lead to a bumpy ride; often more akin to a multi-stage grand tour than sprint.

Securing PLM investment: preparing and pitching board-level business cases

Like road-cycling grand tours, PLM strategies and roadmaps require timely cross-functional teamwork, ongoing expectation management, and adjustments in anticipation of and in reaction to changing requirement landscapes and technical factors.

Published 26 Apr 2023

6 min read. Share via:

Image credit: UNSPLASH

Driving a ‘PLM transformation’ implies building a credible business case. This is also a mandatory stakeholder alignment exercise, as is securing implementation budgets. When it comes to PLM or any enterprise solution, driving top-down clarity (and accountability) is essential. It starts with a clear definition, scope, and stakeholder alignment at all levels, in a combined top-down and bottom-up approach.

Developing and managing a robust and agile PLM roadmap is crucial for successful PLM implementation. Agility is necessary to remain aware of the evolving business needs and adapt to changes. This approach involves ongoing alignment and education, effectively managing risks and issues, and avoiding the need for everything to be perfectly defined upfront. Although leadership teams often agree on the need for PLM (the ‘why’), aligning on the ‘what’ and ‘how’ requires ongoing effort.

Furthermore, PLM is not always seen as a strategic concept by executive stakeholders in some organizations, and it may not reach the board directly. Other priorities or different terminology can also impede PLM's recognition. As a result, preparing the relevant PLM business case and achieving stakeholder alignment can take months of pre-work and bottom-up efforts. To ensure a realistic implementation roadmap, a trusted advisor or 'business integrator' is often necessary to facilitate alignment and maintain accountability.

How to approach the board

Presenting to the board requires political mapping and initial one-to-one interactions with each board member to appreciate individual perspectives in an informal setting. No-one wants to ‘go in blind’ to a formal board review as it can be a one-shot opportunity to make a good impression (risky strategy).

It is important to adjust the PLM story based on how key stakeholders absorb information. Some might want to see details; others would be happy with a high-level vision and simple investment plan. Key questions include: what help is wanted / needed from the board, what’s in it for each of the key stakeholders and their respective business functions, how will they and their teams get involved in driving the change?

The key is to understand how the board makes (or is likely to make) decisions, hence the importance of setting and aligning expectations first. Based on the operating culture and appetite for change, some organizations might prefer to initiate a quick proof of concept or short-term pilot to figure out on-the-fly whether it has value (a.k.a. taking a ‘fail fast’ approach); whereas others might prefer to review an evidence-based discounted cash flow analysis, standing this up with in front of the CFO to baseline expectations.

What to present to the board

Beyond the obvious storytelling exercise, board presentations must be concise and straight-to-the-point. They might bring additional challenges if board members are unfamiliar with the concept or acronym. Furthermore, they might not have the patience to appreciate the definition and detailed scope covered behind the three-letters.

Hence, in driving board discussions, it is important to:

Start with why: what challenges is the business currently or likely to be facing in the future, how would PLM contribute to improve or enable business capabilities, what would be the target operating model once the change is acted?

Define what PLM is, in simple terms: what do we mean by PLM, who are the business owner(s), how does PLM relate to what the business does, how it is contributing to the ways of working across the associated teams, processes, data, and systems?

Position PLM in the wider context, with sufficient evidence as backup: what value will be delivered from it, what are the core hypotheses, how will they be validated and by whom, who will benefit from it, what are the sizing assumptions, what will be the implementation approach and roadmap?

Make them hero(ine)s: which stakeholders are supporters and detractors, bringing forward expected change leaders, what changes will be expected from them, and how will they contribute to driving value realization?

In addition, it is super helpful to relate to proven techniques in bringing these points across without ambiguity, leveraging methods such as value stream mapping, enterprise architecture framework, etc.—to avoid being perceived as trying to ‘reinvent the wheel’ or ‘boil the ocean’.

How to communicate to the board

Board members might have little to no interest in discussing a ‘plan for a plan’ as they would rather review a tangible first-pass roadmap. To support this, the PLM business case does not only have to be financial; the focus is first and foremost on stakeholder alignment, preferably highlighting required flexibility, adaptability, and agility to keep options open. As a matter of fact, quick-start elements might be either steppingstones towards the full solution or a throw away ‘quick and dirty’ interim step.

Additionally, board members might want to hear it from an external trusted advisor bringing with a fresh perspective to the subject; whereas sometimes the same story might be better understood if it is led from an internal source equipped with the relevant stakeholder intimacy… Most likely with a CDO or CTO / CIO to lead the transformation and cross-functional executive alignment. 

In any cases, key considerations when addressing the management board about PLM include:

  • Always position PLM budget in the wider context and define credible top-down ROI assumptions to avoid ‘the myth being debunked’ later at the expense of credibility.
  • Define the relevant cross-functional perspectives, per the agreed PLM scope without overegging it.
  • Avoid creating unrealistic expectations and focus on the budget to start rather than the budget to complete.
  • Run an early blueprint to validate assumptions and architect the solution MVP.
  • Respectfully educate the board about the “how”, and not only the “why” and the “what” of PLM.
  • Define the relevant urgency and priority criteria based on the maturity of the business.

Driving alignment across the business and preparing for change is a capacity-intense activity. However, it is worth investing in it upfront to facilitate execution once the vision has been defined, goals have been agreed, key executives are aligned and committed to the change.

Where is QR_ in all this?

While many system integrators concentrate on the technical aspects of PLM solutions, our consultants and leadership prioritize driving expectations and supporting BOM-related operations, engineering deliverable quality, and wider product data management. Our services go beyond designing and building technical solutions to include process improvement, data migration, ongoing quality optimization, and specialized user support; all areas that can often be overlooked in technical implementation projects. Our focus is on managing the broader scope of business, IT, and vendor relationships, and acting as the business integrator across all key parties, allowing OEMs to achieve optimal results.

PublicationsAccelerateEfficiencyCapabilityEnterprise IntegrationOperational PerformanceLeadership