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Developing PLM Talents: from Formal Certification to Learning by Doing

Lionel Grealou PLM Talents 4 minutes

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Image Credit: PEXEL

Developing PLM skills typically require resilience and a powerful dose of front-line experience due to the multi-disciplinary nature of such engagement. Organizations developing their PLM talents seek to combine a number of criteria which can be influenced by the type of the organization and its context. For example, OEMs and alike organizations would focus on skills related to business analysis, technical and enterprise data governance, project and supplier management, whereas service providers and vendors would rather focus on requirement discovery, data analysis, value creation, stakeholder management, business change, education, technical governance, data migration and technical implementations.

In this post, I discuss how to organically develop PLM talents, from formal certification with platform editors and accredited suppliers, to direct project hands-on involvement—a.k.a. “learning by doing”.

Nurturing internal talents to learn “PLM” skills will obviously depend on the required expertise, project opportunities, individual background and motivation, as well as a number of organizational and factors.

  • Acquiring new knowledge can be done formally through certifications (when they exist!); these can surely help align to certain industry or practice standards. Though, like with any formal education, practice is key to learn how to apply knowledge and transform it into “skills” and “insight”.
  • Experimenting is essential
  • when learning PLM related skills as there are so many inter-connected perspectives coming together; and every project is different.
  • A recurring question refer to aligning to preferred individual and organizational learning style when developing PLM talents; culture also influenced how people learn PLM in a given setting.

Making a career out of PLM

PLM is becoming a business commodity: manufacturing organizations need such solution to manage their new product introduction and development deliverables and collaborate with their supply chain. Like with any role, and a fortiori in the field of PLM, there are multiple elements coming together from a business, technology, change, process, data and people perspectives.

There are also diverse PLM roles to consider: from business consultant, analyst, process expert, technical expert, solution architect, project manager, etc. Each role will have its own PLM flavor and balanced skill level across all perspectives. Most PLM projects will bring extensive learning and knowledge about how an organization operates, its culture of change, its current challenges and vision for improvement. A career in PLM consulting can also bring vast experience across a number of organizations, with exposure to numerous and diverse client initiatives.

Navigating through such variety of scope and across different functions brings opportunities for PLM professionals to develop industry expertise. PLM professionals must develop strong interpersonal skills to communicate across functions and seniority levels, always keeping in mind the expected business outcome and value.

Acquiring new knowledge: the PLM professional dilemma

Unfortunately, there are no formal PLM body of knowledge or university programs that deliver the full package. This is certainly due to the fact that there are not formal recognized standards about what PLM means. Some refer to “PLM as a strategy”, and clearly it is not a unique “one-size-fits-all” strategy. A number of universities teach “PLM elements”, though they don’t call them as such.

Others (like me) also refer to “PLM as a practice” as it encompasses many aspects, including but not limited to a strategy or set of strategies—the Oxford dictionary refers to a practice as “the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method, as opposed to [only] theories relating to it”. Again, there are multiple practices, sometimes strongly linked to vendors and their “PLM platforms”. Many PLM courses and certification are provided by vendors and their education partners, though they often (always?) link to a given technology.

A number of agnostic PLM-related courses are also available on learning platforms, but they typically remain at the awareness level and rarely dive into details at advanced levels. Many of them also focus on digitalization and the IT platform perspective, rather than the PLM discipline as a whole. Hence the dilemma: how much can someone experienced or new to PLM learn more about the discipline through formal education and accreditation? Can an existing PLM expert expand his or her knowledge and expertise through a formal curriculum? The answers are probably limited.

By design, PLM knowledge is rather contextual and therefore more likely to be acquired through experience—joining the dots between a number of sub-disciplines which might be learned as part of formal education or a degree. Also, there are potentially many differences from a given PLM role and another which mean that there are distinct “career paths” across the PLM discipline and scope.

Experiential learning cycle applied to PLM

In 1984, Kolb introduced a model to characterized how people learn across the following cycle or “learning styles”:

  1. Experience (do something)
  2. Reflect (think about it)
  3. Conceptualize (make generalization)
  4. Plan (use the learning from previous stages above)

Everyone is different, so we learn differently—also it might differ depending on the subject and context. It is always a balance of active experimentation and reflective observation, combined with experience and problem solving / analytical thinking. Clearly, the same applies to PLM.

Combining formal PLM platform knowledge and marrying it up with some formal training and practical knowledge from business process, requirements, organizational design, change management, configuration, customization, coding, enterprise data governance, stakeholder management, data quality, education, continuous improvement, vendor relationship management, etc. is what constitute PLM! Developing PLM talents requires defining the relevant “development path” and having a clear understanding of the multi-disciplinary scope and learning styles related to the discipline.

What are your thoughts?


  • Kolb D A (1984) Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

This post was originally published on Momentum-PLM on 2 December 2020.

Disclaimer: articles and thoughts published on v+d do not necessarily represent the views of the company, but solely the views or interpretations of the author(s); reviews, insights and mentions of publications, products, or services do neither constitute endorsement, nor recommendations for purchase or adoption. 

About the Author

Lionel Grealou


Lionel Grealou, a.k.a. Lio, helps original equipment manufacturers transform, develop, and implement their digital transformation strategies—driving organizational change, data continuity and process improvement, managing the lifecycle of things across enterprise platforms, from PDM to PLM, ERP, MES, PIM, CRM, or BIM. Beyond consulting roles, Lio held leadership positions across industries, with both established OEMs and start-ups, covering the extended innovation lifecycle scope, from research and development, to engineering, discrete and process manufacturing, procurement, finance, supply chain, operations, program management, quality, compliance, marketing, etc.

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