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Building a Vision & Business Case for a PLM Implementation


In their fourth guest article for WhichPLM, the team at Manner Solutions explores the value in creating a business case for a PLM implementation. Michael S. Robinson and his colleagues, Amy Hockenbrock and Erin Muller, share their first-hand Change Management and PLM experience in developing vision statements and engaging stakeholders to join the PLM transformation journey. Manner Solutions provides clients with strategic business process efficiencies, database applications, and a specialized change management counsel for the apparel businesses.

We have worked in several different industries throughout the course of our careers—in education, financial services, communications, consumer packaged goods and fashion. Each of these experiences had its own pros and cons. Some were more structured than the others, but they all had silos and pockets of information that were hard to use due to manual workflows and politics. But, it seems that these gaps and locks of information are more evident in the fashion houses that we have worked in for the past 12 years. We’re not surprised by the lack of investment in the technology and process. As an antidotal – there was one company that had spent more money on flowers than IT and another that had built a billion-dollar business in Excel. Granted, these experiences were from many years ago, and both firms have since invested in significant business transformation to move teams and processes out of a manual, disconnected state. Today, these groups work in normalized environments and continue to focus on breaking down silos and connecting systems and processes to create a pipeline of information that helps all cross-functional teams to follow the style as it goes from each stage of development to execution to consumption to post-mortem to archive.

What about those fashion houses that are still working in a manual state? Trust us; they are still out there. We know of large and small fashion companies that still manage product development on Excel, Smartsheet, Google Docs, and other primitive foundations. They want a PLM system, knowing they need it to connect the dots between various teams and provide a pipeline of product development knowledge for merchandising, marketing, sales, and other downstream groups focused on customer and consumer engagement. We are not minimizing the cost, business impact, change required, and disruption a PLM implementation will create, but the business challenges with digital, new shopping behaviors, evolving retail formats, and other economic factors like the weather and politics and so on reinforce the need to make this critical investment now. So, if you are still contemplating the need for a PLM system, here are some insights to help you build a vision and business case for change and product development transformation.

Today, our professional focus has been cross-functional collaboration through change management providing improvements in business process, applications, data and asset management, and organization design. We focus on helping highly creative teams work faster, smarter, and friendlier by driving change and introducing IT solutions and relevant business processes. This article will elaborate on concepts and ideas on how to pull the trigger on a PLM implementation.

  • Setting the Vision: Follow the Style – Create a Pipeline
  • Managing Change: Evolution not Revolution
  • Speaking a Common Language: Normalizing Style Metadata
  • Visual Cues: Images Tell the Story
  • Actionable Data: Dynamic Reporting

Setting the Vision: Follow the Style – Create a Pipeline

Employing a new PLM needs a change in vision. You are driving a large change, and the organization needs a picture of what things will look like after the change takes place. It should be easy for teams and people to understand and should be communicated in 60 seconds – intellectually solid and with emotional appeal.  It should align key sponsors like IT and the business units (i.e. design, production, tech) and encourage the future state behavior.

When we start a PDM transformation, we know that people don’t accept and embrace change at the same pace. Resistance is inevitable! However, if you know your audience, you can win hearts and minds – “Understand why and when someone would change to better communicate why they should change.” Your vision will bring about less tedious work, fewer errors, and more time to be creative and strategic.

One way to help executives and teams see the value of the PLM system is by sharing a vision that breaks down the silos.   Think of each group – design, production, tech, merchandising, marketing, sales, customer services. The current state has them working on unique manual processes and files. Thus, each creates its own silo, but when you turn the silos on their sides and connect them, you have a pipeline. It is a pathway to follow the style metadata, imagery, and status as the product goes from concept to prototype, the market, sales, customers, and ultimately, to the archive or is dropped along the way. Think of the power of this pipeline if we’re working in an ecosystem that is dynamic and normalized. It becomes actionable truth for product development.

Managing Change: Evolution not Revolution

People react differently to change. Fast movers are innovators and visionaries. The middle majority are pragmatic and conservative, and the last movers are the skeptics. More often than not, we deal with these folks who worry that the future state will add time to their busy days, strip away creativity, and possibly make them fail or look bad. To help captivate our audiences, we live by the motto, “Evolution, NOT Revolution.”  Communication is key in making change, and it plays a huge role in how people will receive change and adapt to it. Thus, to move the skeptics from fearing the future state, our simple motto reminds them quickly that the transformation is a process. Ultimately, this helps us to understand why and when someone would change, leading to better communications on WHY they should change.

Speaking a Common Language: You say “to-maY-to,” and I say “to-maH-to.”

Another factor to help to build your vision and business case for a PLM is a common nomenclature to normalize the style master. The matter of semantics can be challenging in any scenario. But, we have especially seen this challenge expose itself in the fashion industry. Quite often, once the discovery phase has begun to implement a new PLM, we find that different business units (i.e., Design, Production, Marketing, PR, etc.) are frequently referring to the same information (season, product type, advertising materials, etc.) by different names. Let’s say the Design team refers to the June and July season as “Summer,” but the PR department refers to that same season as “Trans.” You can imagine the confusion when the PR department is trying to send out “Trans” samples to their celebrity clients but can’t figure out why they can’t accurately locate them—within their own company!   Trust us when we say there are so many other examples. We see this happening on a regular basis within companies that are still working with those primitive siloed systems.

Starting to build engagement and support for the change implies engaging end users. Show them the discrepancies in nomenclature and how these lead to reporting and knowledge sharing/transfer. Part of what we do is making sure that all business units speak the same language so that any of the confusion around which season is which, what garment is a tunic or a kaftan, or whether that is a proto or an SMS is removed from the equation. Creating this common language is especially important when it comes to creating and managing the metadata that is collected and stored throughout the lifecycle of a particular style. If the metadata can be first entered into a PLM system in a controlled environment, then there is far less chance for semantical confusion to occur down the line.

Visual Cues: Images Tell the Story

Over the years, I have learned the power of images and how they help creative teams connect the vision with the future state. It all became very clear when I transitioned from financial services to fashion. I had worked on a pilot to demonstrate the future state benefits for the executive. The COO loved the work, but the Designer and Creative Director were dazed and lost in all the data – numbers, text, and charts. It was at that moment when I realized that if I had product pictures—sketches, images of samples, and other product details, trim, embellishments, etc.—the creative types would be more engaged. Since that moment, I have learned to use visuals to tell the story—in-reports, presentations, and communications. At one point, I was the ‘PowerPoint guy’ because people loved how we told a visual narrative to build awareness, train, and inform various audiences.

In our experience, connecting the dots includes the images. And, the ability to provide style metadata to seasonal assets and other images (print and digital) is another benefit to a PLM. Recently, we made a powerful business case for the PLM and connected it to the company’s Digital Asset Management (DAM) tool. Users rely on the DAM as a means to get information on the imagery. But, there was a struggle with identifying the product details. Users had questioned the delivery, price, fabrication, and season; however, after we connected the PLM to append the asset’s metadata, the teams were delighted to see the status of the dropped styles, bulk units, color, and many other project details. We also use the power of reverse pull images flowed back to the PLM so that design and key users could see how styles went to market through print and digital content – social, PR, and advertising. Here, one tool complemented the other, which helps justify the expense, time, and behavior shift teams just spent the last 18 months.

Actionable Data: Dynamic Reporting

One thing we can always count on in the fashion industry is “change.” In many cases, style changes occur on a daily or hourly basis throughout the product development phases all the way up to cutting purchase orders (and frankly even after that, unfortunately), we see changes in color, print size, fabrication, silhouette, quantity change, delivery, cost, etc. When users are working in a manual state and, worse yet, one that is a siloed environment, the impact of capturing the “change” in style data has an ominous domino effect on reporting. Don’t get me wrong, siloed teams usually have fantastic reports that benefit their piece of the pie but often are only as effective/accurate as long as the data is up to date. When the change occurs, the first point is, “is” it communicated, and when it “is,” how many people are touching reports to bring them back up to date and checking over work. It is most likely too many. When the change isn’t communicated to everyone, what happens (or doesn’t) in the manual pipeline?   Minor or colossal mistakes often have financial impacts.

Rounding out the PLM is the normalized reporting output.   Once users see the fruits of their labor and the data that they’ve entered, exported through reports that are easily tailored to suit their needs, they experience their “a-ha” moment.   Moving to a normalized data structure, changes are captured and reporting immediately is updated for all users. This is a powerful shift in good “change” and easy for users to embrace. Even more powerful is giving them report building tools to create report templates for their departments or cross-divisional partners, or for their own needs as they problem solve.

In closing, don’t give up on your need for a PLM. Build the business case and solicit support from peers and colleagues. They can help shape the vision and support the business for the change. Creating a pipeline for style metadata will allow executives, teams, and individuals one source for truth around product development. It will not only benefit design, product development, and merchandising. However, groups like PR, marketing, e-commerce, and so on will have real-time visibility and normalized data to help them continue the seasonal narrative as the product goes from factories to warehouses, distribution channels, and ultimately, the customer!

Lydia Mageean Lydia Mageean has been part of the WhichPLM team for eight years now. She has a creative and media background, and is responsible for maintaining and updating our website content, liaising with advertisers, working on special projects like our PLM Project Pack, or our Annual Publications, and more.Joining mid-2013 as our Online Editor, she has since become WhichPLM’s Editor. In addition to taking on writing and interviewing responsibilities, Lydia has also become the primary point of contact for news, events, features and other aspects of our ever-growing online content library and tools.