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Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)

ALCL 110


Alternate Definition

PLM is an evolving set of business principles, processes, and supporting information technology systems and tools used in the management of modern, complex systems and products. PLM shapes how an organization manages its people, processes, and products, promoting the collaborative and disciplined management of product information throughout the lifecycle. As a business approach, PLM utilizes role-based access and capabilities to manage and protect authoritative system data and models. CIMdata, an independent PLM management consulting and research organization, offers this commonly accepted definition:

  • A strategic business approach that applies a consistent set of business solutions that support the collaborative creation, management, dissemination, and use of product definition information
  • Supporting the extended enterprise (customers, design and supply partners, etc.)
  • Spanning from concept to end of life of a product or plant
  • Integrating people, processes, business systems, and information 
Alternate Definition Source

CIMdata website

General Information

MIL-STD-31000B also provides a definition of PLM: "The process or system used for managing product-related design, production, and maintenance information. PLM systems are typically software applications designed for the purpose of lifecycle management of a product." (para 3.1.26)



PLM and related concepts such as an Integrated Data Environment or Integrated Digital Environment (IDE), "Tech Stack," and "Digital Engineering Ecosystem" (DEE) focus on the management of data, specifically the product definition data embodied in the Technical Data Package (TDP).  For digitally-designed systems and products, this includes three-dimensional (3D) computer-aided design (CAD) digital models, two-dimensional (2D) drawings, associated lists, specifications, standards, etc. which comprise the Authoritative Source of Truth, the system's configuration controlled digital baseline (see DoDI 5000.88, para 3.4a(3)(m)).  

When developing the acquisition strategy (AS), the Program Manager (PM), in conjunction with the chief engineer and Product Support Manager (PSM), as well as the data management (DM) and configuration management (CM) teams, should ensure requirements for product data (including necessary data rights) are identified early in the life cycle and appropriate contract provisions are put in place to enable timely, properly marked and formatted data deliveries.  To enable efficient Government management of delivered data, the Integrated Product Support (IPS) Element Guidebook recommends programs identify or establish a system to "create, store, access, manipulate, and exchange digital data," including the data which represents the system's Authoritative Source of Truth (ASoT). Therefore, programs which manage digital system models should:

  • Plan, program, and budget for the establishment and maintenance of product data throughout the life cycle;
  • Establish a PLM or equivalent system to manage digital data; and
  • Plan for and establish methods for access and reuse of product data by relevant Government and Industry organizations (e.g., stakeholders, Product Support Integrators (PSI), Product Support Providers (PSP), etc.) that perform life cycle support activities.

(Note: Program-unique PLM systems are generally discouraged due to the high infrastructure cost and impact on access, sharing, and reuse of data across programs and stakeholders.)

The three fundamental concepts of PLM, as reported by CIMdata, include:

  • Universal, secure, managed access and use of product definition information;
  • Maintaining the integrity of that product definition and related information throughout the life of the product or plant; and
  • Managing and maintaining business processes used to create, manage, disseminate, share and use the information

PLM systems are focused on managing product definition data, specifically 3D digital models and related product information.  Whlie the automotive and aerospace industries have utilized PLM systems for decades, PLM adoption within DoD did not gain significant momentum until the early to mid-2010s, and adoption further accelerated with the publishing of the DoD Digital Engineering Strategy in 2018.  Prior to that, product definition data was stored in other types of systems, such as the Joint Engineering Data Management Information and Control System (JEDMICS), which now supports a variety of model formats.  Or, data was stored in program- or organization-specific IT systems.

In terms of program size, "covered systems" (e.g., ACAT I programs and their equivalents) have an implied mandate in DoDI 5000.88, Engineering of Defense Systems, para 3.3g(3) to secure "digital models and computationally consumable data, created from engineering, analysis, test, modeling, and simulations" for collaboration and life cycle management.  By extension, this mandate makes sense more broadly for all "born-digital" systems (systems created using digital engineering processes) and digitally-engineered modifications regardless of ACAT level.

MIL-HDBK-539, Digital Engineering and Modeling Practices, provides guidance on PLM capabilities, including the benefits of a PLM system to maintain the integrity of product data throughout the lifecycle, manage and secure access to product data, and manage and maintain processes to create, modify, maintain, report, and distribute information.” (para 7.2)

Data Sharing and Collaborating

Prior to model delivery or establishment of a PLM capability, programs may choose to use an IDE to share and collaborate on system models.  While generally inefficient for managing large file size, complex digital model product data, an IDE with a “lightweight viewer” (software that allows users to view, but not author 3D CAD) may serve as a useful (but temporary) solution. 

Since IDEs provide a role-based collaboration space between government and contractor for all types of program management activities, such as scheduling, status reporting, Contract Data Requirements List (CDRL) processing, and file exchange, their appeal for initial model collaboration is understandable.  IDEs are typically based on one or more commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) collaboration platforms, or a platform unique to the contractor.  They typically include federated (or in some cases, integrated) capabilities for requirements management, configuration management, logistics support analysis, etc.  Program offices should specify in their contracts the level, type, and number of government users requiring access to data within the IDE. 

While IDEs may work for small programs or until the full TDP is delivered, a robust PLM capability is most effective and efficient.  Well prior to Physical Configuration Audit (PCA), the customary milestone for delivery of the TDP, if digital models will be delivered, the program office should establish its PLM capability, conduct training and change management activities, and otherwise prepare for model delivery and creation of the indentured product tree ASoT that will serve the system over its lifecycle.  

The Space and Missile Systems Center's Technical Data and Computer Software Rights Handbook (9th edition) identified three principal aspects of a PLM or IDE system:

  • The environment consisting of a web-based platform
  • The data residing within that environment
  • The IP rights the contractor will grant to the program office to the environment as well as to the data that will reside within that environment.

Tech Stack

In late 2020 and early 2021, Dr. Will Roper, then Assistance Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (SAF/AQ), penned two papers on digital acquisition.  In his first paper, There is No Spoon, he coined the term "Tech Stack" and defined it as "all data, models, software, and associated infrastructure needed to create and optimize a system's lifecycle digitally."  In a 3 May 2021 memo, his former office issued updated Digital Building Code guidance defining an "integrated digital environment" consisting of "data, models, and tools for collaboration, analysis, and visualization across functional domains."  Dr. Roper postulated a future state where the government and contractor share and operate in the same tech stack, where "furnishing government infrastructure and tools to industry may seem counterintuitive... [but] when using the same government-approved tech stack, it becomes your evolving baseline, design review, cost basis, workflow manager, test point anchor."  In his second paper, Bending the Spoon, Dr. Roper clarified "owning the tech stack - at a minimum [requires] the government reference architecture by which the underlying models and software are built."  Finally, he stated if industry chooses to operate in their own tech stack, it should be "built to our [government] digital building code for seamless interoperability."

Similar to the Air Force's Digital Campaign initiated by Dr Roper, the Navy is in the process of establishing a Model Based Product Support (MBPS) capability, which includes a PLM suite as one of its three principal elements.

Digital Engineering Ecosystem (DEE)

The concept of a DEE includes "an interconnected infrastructure, environment, and methodology (process, methods, and tools) used to store, access, analyze, and visualize evolving systems' data and models to address the needs of the stakeholders."  The DEE definition closely aligns to the concepts of PLM and Tech Stack (and integrated digital environment), with an explicit focus on managing digital system models.

DoDI 5000.97, Digital Engineering, provides policy on DEEs, as follows:

“Digital engineering uses computer systems for the development, verification, validation, use, curation, configuration management, and maintenance of technically accurate digital models in support of system life-cycle activities.” (para 3.1c). 

“A Digital Engineering Ecosystem includes the infrastructure and architecture necessary to support automated approaches for system development, design, testing, evaluation, production, operation, training, and sustainment throughout the defense acquisition process… and may include, but is not limited to, government-to-government, contractor-to-government, and contractor-to-supplier digital collaboration” (para 3.2b).


PLM, Tech Stack, and DEE capabilities are essential for managing a system’s ASoT embodied in digital 3D models.  Given DoD’s emphasis on innovation and agility, capabilities have primarily been established to meet the needs of individual programs.  However, with the US Air Force's Digital Materiel Management (DMM), US Space Force's Vision for a Digital ServiceUS Navy and Marine Corps Digital Systems Engineering Transformation Strategy, and Army Digital Transformation Strategy, more top-down direction and support is being offered.  PLM systems are widely available as COTS products from a number of vendors, and in 2020 represented a $20B industry.  As of this writing, however, there is no single standard or preferred DoD system.  Readers are encouraged to consult with their Department, Service, agency, or life cycle management command leadership to determine parameters for establishing (or securing access to an existing) PLM, Tech Stack, or DEE.

For more information of Service campaigns and strategies, see the Digital Product Support article.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Commercial products and organizations cited in this article are provided solely to assist Defense Acquisition Workforce (DAW) professionals to better understand the topic of this article. Neither the DoD or the DAU provide any warranty of these organizations or their products whatsoever, whether express, implied, or statutory, including, but not limited to, any warranty of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose or any warranty that the contents of the item will be error-free. The providers and products listed should under no circumstances be considered as being all-encompassing, and is in not meant to endorse the capabilities or products of any particular individual, company, or organization.