From product to process, an inception into finding my ‘why’ in another world.
(Part 1 of 2)
Here, Lucy Blackley shares her first exclusive with WhichPLM. Lucy is a PLM and Product Development expert, and sits on WhichPLM’s Expert panel. In this piece, she shares her experiences developing her own PLM system.
The notion of creating a new PLM system was, for me, one of an organic nature; yet at the same time, it was something I never would have thought I needed to do. It began back in 2012 as a concept, with a few core ideas, several sketches, and some Excel workbooks, which aided me in my work. As I went through my work in product development and garment technology for companies I supported as a supplier employee, I learned that although each company works differently, I was able to keep the general format of my creations, with a few tweaks to adapt to that current company’s way of working. There were some businesses that had their own setups in terms of workbooks – which, when comparing, weren’t all that different to my own – but this was far from a choice, or an ideal situation, and more of a necessity due to lack of resources.
As much as I needed the limited tools that I had, there were of course problems that occurred with such a setup. Huge teams were accessing the files and making them available to share, slowing down the workbooks when mass data was entered. Sharing also gave the ability to overwrite and delete with no trace as to who did it and, if not communicating their changes, suppliers were given wrong information, and team members were left in confusion with hours of backtracking to do.
Other issues which aggravated my frustrations were when items were being duplicated, and edited, as well as formulations being altered and not copied through to keep a form of order within the structure of the technical specifications. The lack of systemization and my growing dissatisfaction allowed my ideas to naturally grow, and with each experience I was more determined to further research opportunities and try and push these towards my employers.
My network was something that also scaled over time, and I found the same topics of dissatisfaction recurring at every event and gathering I attended when ‘talking shop’. Many would stress, “It would be great if that was automatically taken through to X”, “It’d be wonderful if there was a way to be notified of Y”, or, “The way we’re working in Z is slowing down my productivity”. It was comments like these, combined with my own experiences, that set the cogs in motion, and the development of my own solution started to properly form in concept.
Excel was just the catalyst for my mission, and wasn’t exclusively the problem. My network and I have had access to several services through the course of our careers, to aid us in our products’ lifecycle management. Like Excel, the complaints and demand for more out of our ‘solution providers’ continued with similar aggravations to the above, but with the additions of bugs, a feeling of some software providers not understanding the industry’s change and requirements, and a feeling that they were using a system that was created in the ‘80s.
Some of us had been exposed to systems that had been customized to suit the needs of specific companies, and with every update required, a new bug was sparked that affected something within the system and stopped the workflow of the product teams. In some cases, this had led them back to Excel but, with the workload being so high, the organization and structure of the work had broken down due to them being unable to put it back into the system once back up and running. It had become impossible to correlate and re-standardise with an Excel tech pack here, an email there, and a visually impossible tech pack from the bugged system somewhere in the mix.
This being said, it’s clear that not all systems are built the same, and the negative aspects of any discussion had, doesn’t speak for all systems. There are also those companies who have provided an incredibly positive impact on the industry with their innovations – but, sadly, it feels as though there aren’t enough of those companies to aid the scale of the industry.
There are those independent labels that want to remain small, with a high focus on creativity and individuality, and there are those who aspire to grow as big as some of the great fashion corporations that grace our high streets. Although these small businesses and the big game players are different in scale, aesthetic, finance, and business model, all have the same goals when it comes to providing a good quality product to their customer profile, while profiting and being able to grow their business.
The Big Picture
It was these findings that brought me to my ‘why’, and helped me connect the dots to my future within the industry. The dreams of purchasing property in the countryside had come to a halt as I hadn’t been able to rest and had to invest that money saved into developing my own solutions.
I love my work, and can’t imagine any other role in any other industry, but going to work daily and coming back to my own place wasn’t enough for me. I needed more than to own bricks and mortar, I needed a continued purpose in my life, and wanted to continue with my own learning and development, with the hope of providing something of substance.
I wanted to provide a service of an affordable nature in order to be able to help businesses grow, profit, and expand. I wanted to level the playing field between small and large companies, and apply a pitch that provided a fair competition, by providing all with the same core tools to increase efficiency and productivity.
With the decision taken, as much as my social life took a hit through the long hours of creating a PLM system outside of my main job, I was able to continue working in my role as a product development technical lead, whilst adding another segment to my experience. I was adding software technology to product development for apparel, footwear, and accessories. It was the beginning of another learning curve that has taken me to further find the ‘why’ in my role, and myself.
As a leader of a team, I found my managing style to be that of a ‘serving leader’: being more concerned about my team having the right tools to do the job, ensuring they were content in their roles, could count on me to connect them to the right people, and that I could be a support for their career development. This is something that I thrive in – to help, to support, and to get people where they need to be in order to succeed. My reasons for developing and creating my own version of PLM hold the same serving nature, and it is because of those values I have had the energy to pursue this colossal project, and be determined to deliver something that is flexible enough to adapt to the working ways of a company, and not have the company adapting their working ways to a service they are subscribing to. We have to be as flexible and as ever-changing as the industry itself in order to have any hope of longevity.
2017 was the year of influencers and the social media stars turning various industries on their heads, going out and creating something fresh and new, and competing successfully with those that had been in the industry before these influencers were even born. The space most heavily hit was the beauty industry, but this growing tide has split into various other directions also, and I suspect that 2018 will be no different, with the millennial race aiming to wash out as many opponents as possible, to dominate and deliver.
There was a time when buyers told the general public what to wear but, with the shift in power, it is now quite the contrary – buyers of beauty and fashion brands look towards Instagram and the Internet of Things (IoT) to get what is hot, and to be constantly present in order to succeed.
With this new trending behaviour growing more each day, so did my zeal to join the demand and provide a new service/solution. 4 years of pondering had gone by and it was 2016 when my sketches and workbooks were replaced by wireframing software, and a mass amount of coffee – that sometimes has me fearing if I stop drinking it, my heart may stop, and I’ll drop dead on the spot
My beginnings in this venture were very naïve when it came to understanding the timeframe of such a system and the work involved; so, originally after the concept was drawn up, for development I envisioned all would be complete within 6 months. That was 18 months ago, with a team of 10.
6 months of mocking up wireframes and finding the flaws in the workflow, I submitted an advertisement to build a team and bring the mockups to life. The team of people involved knew nothing of the industry – they were purely software designers, and developers – but had energy and an eagerness to be informed, and venture into the unknown. It is safe to say those hours of user case problem solving, and re-designing the initial ideas only boosted the momentum within the team, and between then and now, their knowledge has developed rapidly and our formed ideas together have only strengthened the system concept.
However, time wasn’t only a factor that I was so far away from, but the cost requirements of this structure have grown immensely over the time of development; with every use case applied, another problem (and its solution) occurring, another cost unexpectedly arising that was necessary to give a good user experience. Budgets ongoingly increased, and additional finances had to be sourced due to my perfectionist nature and the need to provide a product of simplicity (in terms of ease of use) that covered the needs of all. My mission became an obsession on delivering something of substance to all with no exclusion to company size, to be a part of their growth and add to their success and story.
We’re finally at a stage of content with the systems’ features and functions, but on occasion are still flipping them on their heads, intensely testing them, and finding improved ways to enhance the efficiency for users to have an even higher level of productivity from the system. It’s been difficult as to know when to stop and deliver, but the assurance through testing, and providing constant previews to various members of the industry, has given us the reaction we needed to feel confident in the eventual release – knowing that our purpose is beneficial to many, and our goal of serving solutions is of interest to a multitude of brands.
In fashion, we as a collective, cater to all tastes, all sizes, and run across all cultures. I want to stand by the inclusivity of the industry and my goal is to cater and provide to anyone who has a product that needs to be developed, and taken into production. From students learning about the future of the industry they are about the entail on, to small independent businesses, and startups. Medium and larger sized businesses and to huge corporations, whether high fashion, fast fashion, or a specific niche.
The parameters have been set with all company scales considered, and core features that aid the company being available at whatever package is selected. Package creation is primarily based on company scale, and the additional features added to the higher tier packages.
With the system close to completion, and segments in testing, the system’s main website is also nearing its release prior to the cloud based software itself. It has been the most interesting development of my career and a great challenge. I am excited to present this creation, and to provide PLM service and assistance for anyone requiring it.