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Recipe for Change Management


In their second guest article for us this year, Manner Solutions explores change leadership to support PLM. Here, Michael Robinson, Co-Founder & Principal, along with his colleague, Barbi Jo Orlando, Director of Change Management at Akamai and a Board advisor to Manner Solutions, discuss how change management helps drive adoption of PLM and ultimately, helps organizations realize business benefits.

Just recently, my team and I were outlining the scope for a project that would change the way teams aligned and communicated around product development. A key component of the overall scope was change management. When the client saw this, he asked, “Why do we need change management support?” Not surprised by this response, I explained that without change management there was a high likelihood that this implementation would fail. Change management would ensure that the investment in this solution receives maximum return by preparing your people for the change. I then shared some statistics:

  • Projects with change management are 6 times more likely to meet or exceed their objectives than projects without change management (Prosci)
  • Effective application of change management increases the success rate of organizational changes to as high as 96% (Prosci)
  • Only 25% of transformation initiatives were successful over the long term (Willis Towers Watson)

Now I had their attention.

In order for a change to be adopted, employees need to understand the following:

  • What the change is
  • Why it’s happening
  • What the benefits are (for them personally and the organization as a whole)
  • How it impacts them
  • How they will be trained so they can do their jobs

When it comes to employees, it’s important to build awareness of the change, create understanding of what it is and what the impact will be. We need to create excitement, engagement, and prepare them to function in the new environment. Employee buy-in is essential to project success. To achieve this, a robust change strategy is required. You can implement a new system on time and within budget, but if stakeholders fail to adopt the new solution or ways of working, your project is a failure.

We take a similar approach to an Agile implementation to help teams adopt PLM and PDM applications. We do not use the term Agile or it’s related components of Sprint, Scrum or Kanban. Instead, we used words like “test, measure, refine” to help teams experience change through iterative phases. We developed a change management strategy comprised of knowing our audience, articulating the vision, building trust, collecting and engaging feedback, and keeping teams positive Ultimately, these ingredients ease fears and encourage business ownership and user adoption.

Know your Audience

In my experience, implementing a PLM application impacts several user groups, many of which are highly creative. They come with predisposed notions around change. Many come with prior work experience that ultimately informs attitudes and behaviors towards change and adopting a PLM system. Thus, we have taken an approach that I heard over the years – “understand why and when someone would change to communicate why they should change.”   To do this, engage all stakeholders and speak to them in dialogue that they can understand.

Here are 5 questions to consider helping understand your audience:

  • How does each audience react to change?
  • What is their professional focus?
  • Are they a captive audience?
  • What’s in it for them?
  • How will each audience help you operationalize and achieve the vision / goal?

The more you can understand about your stakeholders and how they may react to change and the vision of a new PLM, the easier it will be to win hearts and minds. You can tailor communications to a specific audience and communicate why they should change. Evangelize the benefits most relevant to them: work will be less tedious and/or manual, fewer errors, and less fact checking to validate the information. The future state will give them more time to be strategic, and spend time doing things that are more meaningful, both inside and outside the office.

Create and Articulate the Vision

When introducing the future state of a new PLM in use, it is critical to clearly articulate what this investment in time, resources and funds will do. It should be 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. We usually create a simple visual that shows:

  • Vision – strategy of what the future state looks like after change has occurred
  • Mission – inward focus on what the business does
  • Values – principals we stand for

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, 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.

Build Trust

As you embark on the journey to change behaviors, mindsets, and habits to create a new workflow, you’ll create new relationships and build trust that will in turn drive open and productive communications. A while back, I came across a great article in Forbes, written by their coaching council, entitled, 12 Ways Managers Can Establish a Trusting Relationship with Employees. Here are 5 that we recommend:

  • Tell them your name, not your title – Focus on the person in front of you and get to know them. You want people to know you are a person first and a consult / change agent second
  • Ask your stakeholders / users what’s most important to them – Inquire what is most important to them – both in work and personally. Find out how they like to receive feedback and prefer to communicate. Acknowledging and acting upon their preference will help build trust.
  • Listen effectively – Ask effective questions, then listen to the response and drill down with further questions to create a meaningful dialogue. Repeat back what you’ve heard and ask if you have their point of view right.
  • Build people up in any situation – Celebrate victories with the whole team.
  • Do not claim to have all the answers, even it you do – Don’t be a know-it-all. Be inquisitive and ask lots and lots of questions rather than supplying answers, even — especially — when you know the answer.

Engage Feedback

It’s important to create an environment that encourages a dialogue around the future state and the requirements and needs to make it successful. One way to do this with a PLM implementation is by creating open forums around reporting and data needed for these outputs that in the current state are done manually in Excel, Smartsheet, Google Docs, etc.

Start these conversations with the various stakeholders, talking about the fact that the fashion industry is always evolving. Teams are working the past, present and future as they could be working to wrap up Spring floor sets, focused on Fall deliveries and planning holiday markets. 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 even after that, unfortunately) – we see changes in color, print size, fabrication, silhouette, quantity change, delivery, cost, and so on.

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 effective or accurate as long as the data is up to date – which it rarely is because changes are happening constantly. These changes are rarely communicated effectively across cross-functional teams, leading to significant mistakes that have real financial impacts.

PLM users share their needs and help shape the future state. I don’t believe in implementing a system and forcing users to make it work for them. Instead, pulse the rollout of UI and reports and engage feedback and inspire excitement. Users see how the PLM will offer a normalized (common language) reporting output. Once users see the data 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 immediately, and reporting is updated for all users. This is a powerful shift in good “change” and easy for users to embrace, as they were part of the conversation to tailor the future state.

Mindfulness – Keeping in the Blue

Back in 2016, I was working on my ICF certification. I was working with Susan Whitcomb at The Academies and I was introduced to the concept of the Blue and the Red zones. When we are in the Blue we are operating from a place of strength, positivity, creativity, connection, and collaboration. But when we are in the Red we are operating from fear and ‘fight or flight’ mode. I often share Susan’s chart [found below, with permission] with individuals and teams and simply ask what zone are they in today? Or, I will send friendly reminders to stay in the Blue.

In closing, invest in change management – both the time and expertise. They can help the business case and solicit support from peers and colleagues. They can help shape the vision and drive the change and teams towards the future state. Your change management team can help demonstrate the value of creating a pipeline for style metadata that will allow executives, teams, and individuals one source for truth around product development. Change management will help the project team and executive sponsors “understand why and when someone would change to communicate why they should change,” taking teams from the unaware to becoming stewards of the future state.

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.