Buy-in from all levels pivotal to apparel PLM success

18 July 2013 | Features & Interviews | Source: Leonie Barrie

In theory, the decision to invest in a product lifecycle management (PLM) system shouldn't be a hard sell, with well-documented benefits including faster development cycles and greater control over costs and collaboration. Yet in reality, one of the biggest challenges facing apparel PLM projects still seems to be convincing stakeholders and shareholders that it is worth embarking on.

"If you want to get faster and speed up your supply chain, I don't know how you can do it without an integrated information system," says Peter Smith, vice president of the supply chain - EMEA and Asia, at VF International.

"If your business is growing, by implementing PLM you should gain efficiencies and redeploy talent to help grow the brand. And as time goes forward, the rate of growth on your staff should be substantially lower than the rate of growth on your product offering because of the efficiencies.

"So it's a part of efficiency play and, in the fast-moving world we live in, PLM can speed up the visibility across your supply chain to understand what is taking time."

Yet judging by comments from other speakers and delegates at the Product Innovation Apparel event in London this week, getting buy-in from the whole team before, during and after the implementation is not only key to its ultimate success - but is also one of the biggest hurdles the project will face.

"Executive fatigue" around PLM, the "silo mentality" of both individuals and departments who are reluctant to share information, and the need for "motivation and teamwork" were repeated over and over again.

Full buy-in from upper management
"The only technique I know of is full buy-in from upper management, the managing director, the CEO, the CFO, the CIO. If you get that, it usually goes well. This is the big issue with technology," advised Derek Jones, co-founder and managing director at consultancy Walter Wilhelm Associates (WWA).

"You also need to know that when people start refusing to work with the system you have leverage to continue to push that forward," added Walter Wilhem, VP of business processes at Black Diamond, which makes active outdoor performance products, and an advisor to WWA.

He describes one implementation where "a person absolutely refused to use PLM [and] wanted to continue doing things the way they were doing them.

"He came into the office one day, and the person running the project asked 'is this your only copy of your tech pack?' 'Yes it is,' he said. She shoved the thing into a shredder and said 'now what are you going to do?' Luckily there was buy-in from the top."

It might be an extreme way to prove a point, but there are other tactics to tackle resistance to change and the introduction of new technology.

Something for every department
At luxury lifestyle brand Marc Jacobs "we try to give something for every department with each release," explained Elle Thompson, VP of PLM and special project operations.

"To me, output is key to on-boarding new users; our general view is the input does not matter if the output doesn't exist."

The company's proactive stance has seen it change its approach to data entry and the ownership of information in the system. "We were taking 11 steps to create master data and five departments were touching this data; it was taking days to enter it in.

"We shifted the responsibility to design to put this data into PLM - and went to three steps and one department, and saved 3-5 days time by doing this shift and saved a lot of frustration."

New functionality was also added to get users off Excel spreadsheets. By taking data on materials, cut dates and lead times the company was able to put together a buy schedule that gave "a big picture" of when merchandisers needed to commit to materials by delivery.

"Instead of our users doing the work in Excel and then putting it into the system reactively, if they have the output, it's actually proactive, they only do the work once," Thompson said.

And of course eliminating the re-keying of data in the design to production process helps speed up development cycles and control or reduce costs.

Solutions not tools
Advice from Pasquale Coppolella, director of the babycare business area at Artsana Group's Chicco brand, is: "If you want to install PLM, make sure you buy solutions not tools."

The Italian company replaced a combined and outdated PLM and Excel process, integrate its sourcing teams in China and India, and develop a "total look concept" across its apparel and shoes.

Challenges included resistance to the new way of working, and fear among employees that the system would make them redundant. There was also friction between the apparel and shoe teams.

"Solve the challenges as they appear," Coppolella suggested, adding that the company organised training sessions during installation to help users understand the system. Customising some functions specifically for the footwear team also helped get buy-in.

Immediate and short-term benefits of the system have included a 20-30% decrease in development time, cost and margin simulation, and reliable cost information from a single source.

Devanlay, the worldwide licence holder of the Lacoste clothing and accessories brand, invested in PLM software to help improve its overall efficiency and boost global product development, and has around 200 people using the system.

"It is a commitment to work with a single source of information for all from designers to customers," explained Stéphane Gaillard, PLM and business process manager.

"It was important to see this a corporate project and not a PLM project, which was key to its launch," he added. "Users want the tools to help them do better."

Reaches everyone and everything
Should there be any doubt as to why PLM needs the support of the whole team, Pam Buckingham, senior manager of process development and system alignment Deckers Outdoor Group pointed out it "will touch everyone in your company and it will touch every single product."

"Almost everyone in your company is going to be using product information, like product numbers, styles and size information," added Jamie Tantleff, the company's PLM/product improvement assistant manager.

"But that information also goes to some places you might not expect," Buckingham continued. "Our finance team all of a sudden has the ability early in the season to look at financial rollups and pricing way before the line is final.

"Our legal team gets into the system and starts checking product names, and locks them so they can't be changed through the product development process. Our marketing teams are able to contribute and collaborate as the line is being developed. That wasn't happening before."

"We can now see raw material consumption, because it's in the PLM," Tantleff added.

"It's allowed the sourcing team to easily use the economies of scale to negotiate our raw materials costs as Deckers rather than individual brands, and what does that mean? $5m we've saved in leather negotiations alone.

"PLM has given us the tools to create these what if scenarios, and by next year we're on schedule to more than double this number."