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Why are we not looking at PLM from a people perspective?

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Here, Lucy Blackley focuses on the individual in relation to selling and implementing software systems. Lucy is a PLM and Product Development expert, and sits on WhichPLM’s Expert panel.

Before taking on my ‘passion project’ of people, processes, and technology, which has slowly over the course of two years become an actual business, I worked as a lead for a team of product developers/garment technologists. As the technical lead for this team it was my responsibility to ensure the daily business was kept on top of, delays were at a minimum, the team were motivated, content, and they were developing within their careers.

As in many large companies, it was actually only the first two of these areas that I felt were being pushed by the upper-management as the workload was so high and the lead-times were becoming increasingly shorter every season. It was, I felt, my job to ensure the team’s motivation, contentment and development was at least as important as the daily business and time management, if not more so. For someone who has dedicated years to gaining a degree in a field that they are passionate about, there it nothing worse than being reduced to a glorified administrator, drained and indifferent, the reality of graduate life having become a far cry from what they’ve learned over their years of study.

It became my goal to ensure they were kept motivated and excited by the industry they chose, which not only gave me a solid, fantastic team, but from a business point of view, this reduced the amount of staff turnovers that would happen – meaning less time training new employees in processes, and more time for established members of the team to apply their skillsets to projects (alongside their daily business) that helped grow and refine the company itself. Equally, the teams felt valued, and gained a sense of ownership to their roles.

As much as these brands are a business, and products need to be delivered, there is a huge frustration from product teams that their admin is forever growing despite the implementation of various systems that are supposed to help them within their role, and reduce their administrative tasks, allowing them to focus on their role, and deliver positive results for the business.

This, however, appears to still be a problem that many have faced for years, in the hopes that over time fashion would modernize itself as an industry and catch up to the standards of the 21st century. But, this is only limited to some fashion companies and suppliers.

Not so quick on the uptake

Fashion is slow in terms of modernization. Despite its constant efforts to deliver product quicker, there are many businesses missing out on opportunities to become faster in all areas of the business, due (primarily) to the budget allocation being pushed towards product when other areas lack a big enough stake in the pot. This includes the PLM systems that will help with tasks assisting the company’s biggest investment: the people who work for them.

There’s nothing more valuable than a strong team, but giving them a system out of the 1980s causes more trouble than it does assistance. Often bugged to death with every update applied, often not connected properly to other systems, and often just a place to add the key info keeping everyone on track of the lifecycle stage their products are at. This is often despite it not being in sync, and manual efforts have to be applied to areas that need the same information duplicating into other fields.

We hear of so many companies that use an Excel line plan and critical path external from their systems, because their systems can’t provide them with enough of a solution that they don’t have to do this mundane task, that is also difficult to keep on top of with the mass workload and fast pace.

There seem to be more headaches and late nights than there are successes for these teams. They often devote the majority of their lives to helping these businesses that don’t seem to want to help them by investing enough into their technology that everyone and everything within the business can thrive.

There’s always a risk in fashion when putting out a product, because if it doesn’t sell, you’re not only stuck with stock that won’t budge, but you’re not able to use those sales and profits to reinvest back into the collections that create a stage for your brand, that creates a following that can grow.

A software system is less of a risk – although a much slower turn-around time than a t-shirt if you want it to actively improve your business processes. More often than not a company rushes out such a system, wanting to applying it right that second, again, meaning the product team will suffer because they have to then add all their work that is in progress to the system, doing double the job they need to do, in a time frame that is given by the company, forgetting/disregarding the fact that they already have a 40 hour week, and they need time to rest up to be able to deliver a solid job within their contractual hours.

Creating that system ‘slowly’ (not that slow in the grand scheme of things, but slower than said t-shirt), allows time for use cases to appear, and for every aspect of the process to be thought out, allowing your team to create and react quicker on product, and potentially being able to clock out on time, enjoy a life outside of work, and come back to an environment that they want to be in. Because they’re getting tasks done more efficiently, while being in the role they originally wanted to pursue.

However, as much as this sounds like a dream (and is for many) there are limits as to who can apply this ‘way of (work) life’. Because sometimes the only funds that are there are only available for the collection – but companies following this thought process are stunting their growth potential by not putting their people before their product. As Richard Branson said; “If you look after your staff well, they will look after your customers. Simple”. I don’t think the RFA industry should be any different. When you push out the tedious amounts of admin by using a system that has been well thought out and implemented carefully, you’re freeing up so much room in the minds of those people that can give customers more than they’ve been able to offer before.

Over the past several years, I’ve heard the frustrations of PLM users within these organisations – whether that be frustration towards their employer for not including product teams in the decision process of implementing a system; or frustration towards the software ‘solution’ the company has bought into. When product teams aren’t brought into the demonstrations upper management is receiving from these companies, that 9/10 has never really contributed physically to the lifecycle of an order, this creates a lack of trust, or an “I know better attitude” within the workplace. Nobody knows better than those teams in the daily grind. We should be, when it comes to making these decisions, working from the bottom up to get a system that is in keeping with the reality of the industry, encouraging and creating a feeling of ownership for the real stars of the show: the product teams.

More often than not, this is the case. But as I’ve stated in previous articles, it doesn’t include every company. What we need to be doing as a collective industry is not only inviting real-life users to the table, but allowing technology to work to their advantage; equally we, as suppliers of solutions, need to stop selling items that are one-dimensional in terms of process, clumpy in design, and generally too complex for the time that the product people using them will have. They are not robots, and do not all work efficiently, working in the same way.

Lets hear it for individuality

When it comes to people in general, no two the same, and it’s become baffling that many companies demand that every person works in the same way in order for the process to become flawless, and then be seen as the best way of working on the lifecycle of a product. Working in the same way could be slowing down your teams, as companies are forcing a way of working that likely isn’t natural to some. It may be completely natural to others but over time there’s a growing urge to move on in their career as they feel they are restricted, and can’t give any more to a company than they already have.

This is where I question whether solution providers should be looking into the near future when designing the specs for their tech, and not into the fantasy future where robots have taken over the world. We’re still very much an industry of human workers and, although it’s great to dream that one day we can do things faster than ever, all while kicking back and sipping on an ice-cold margarita whilst the robots do our work, it’s not relative to the present.

Designing around human complexities, which include various methods of reaching the same result, is something that can help our people in product design reach their full potential, remain motivated, and continue to have longevity with the companies they are employed with.

In my previous role, before taking on this PLM venture, I held a lot of team-building events for my team around the subject of MBTI. It gave them a chance to bond, and it often opened up discussions that would create transparency, and an improvement of communication. Because people became more familiar with one another, they understood that the way their colleagues minds worked was different to their own. Their colleagues gained energy from somewhere else, and their motivations and priorities were not in line with their own. This led to understanding how differences are strengths within a team, because all areas are covered; with every weakness someone has, there is someone with a strength in that area to cover them.

As a team they saw how each other gathered information and made decisions which, again, strengthened the team. They also worked out how the other team members worked and that there was no right way.

There’s also the difference in how colleagues like to live their life, which is also applied to their style of working. Are they structured and like to plan ahead, doing everything in a specific order, or do they go with the flow, and get to things as they come? The answer doesn’t matter – all that matters is that they achieve the tasks in a timely manner in keeping with the expectations of the job role. It is what is natural to the person, and both ways work for the people that prefer that method. It isn’t something we should restrict and narrow down.

We should be looking at software in a similar manner, designing simple, despite the content being complex, and applying variety in ways of creatively inserting the data. We need to not rush things out to catch a sale, but ensure we concentrate on understanding the company and the people within their teams, and focus on areas in need of nurture and care.

Like people, no two companies are alike, and although some bear similarities, if we consider and capture the diversity of people, it allows them a stronger relationship with their suppliers and their teams that, like the MBTI, is understood completely.

This way, together they can work through their own strengths and weaknesses and be able to reach our end goals without restriction, remaining their best working selves. Along the way, they can deliver firm results that have been made possible at a rate all because a person is able to have enough time to work on the parts of the role they love, while working in a nature that is true to them.

We’re not quite fully in the age of robots just yet, so let’s not focus on the far ahead future, when there are problems in the present and near future that need dealing with.

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Lucy Blackley Lucy Blackley, PLM and Product Development expert, reporter and contributor to WhichPLM, has a background in the technical attributes to the apparel industry, focusing on Garment Technology, Pattern Cutting, Product Development, Technical Design, and (Industry) Software Design/Direction. While working in the industry, Lucy has aided her technical performance by the use of various CAD hardware, and PLM software systems, and has continued to proceed in this field. She continues to focus on using technology within her technical developments, and is still present within the apparel and production sector, working on her own businesses, as well as working for other companies and educational institutes.