“I think that the industry has a culture problem in that were very resistant to changing," said Ed Gribbin, president at industry consultancy Alvanon

“I think that the industry has a culture problem in that we're very resistant to changing," said Ed Gribbin, president at industry consultancy Alvanon

With the road to implementing new technology often a daunting prospect – be it 3D design and virtual prototyping tools or product lifecycle management software – some of the tips for managing the process include clear communication, honest expectations, and good old-fashioned patience.

The old adage "there's nothing more reliable in retail than change" is true, says Nicole Jones, director of product development technologies at US plus-sized clothing brand Lane Bryant. And change is something Jones, who has been involved in five product development management (PDM) and product lifecycle management (PLM) implementations over the last 20 years, knows all too well.

"Everybody will think that it makes their job harder initially, that it's more work for them. Some of the hardest things with PLM implementations is what users don't know. And what they don't know they start creating "doomsday" scenarios [for] in their head of why something can or can't do something, or when something is going to get implemented, or "oh my gosh my job is going to completely change," she said during a presentation at the recent PI Apparel (Product Innovation Apparel) event in Berlin.

No quick fix

Speaking to just-style on the sidelines of the event, which took place in the city's Maritim ProArte hotel earlier this month, Jones adds one of the biggest change management challenges she finds is getting users to understand that the system isn't going to solve all of their problems overnight.

"Our development process in retail is anywhere between four weeks and 52 weeks depending on the product category, so a lot of the time benefit is not realised for almost a year after the fact. And that's really a challenging message to provide to the business – that you may not see it now but it's going to pay off, or yes you may be doing three more things today but it saves somebody downstream three weeks' worth of work – and that real time benefit isn't necessarily recognised immediately."

Time, it seems, is also a key element to managing the implementation of 3D design tools successfully. Keynote speaker Simon Kim, chief strategy officer at CLO Virtual Fashion, adds the importance of giving users the time to learn and adapt to the new technologies.

"We have seen many instances where designers who are going to training workshops drop out of training because they have to step back into the office because of the amount of work they have to do," he explains.

"Successful adoption actually works inside out, it starts from the people who realise that 3D could be beneficial to their process, and they are so passionate about it that they tell their colleagues. This is how the innovation should be spread out in a company; it's the most organic way of doing it. So give them time to learn and successful adoption will happen."

Similarly, Ed Gribbin, president at industry consultancy Alvanon, believes that while "3D technologies have the potential to reshape the way the industry does business", the full effects may not be felt for cycles to come.

Cultural change

Speaking exclusively to just-style, Gribbin says the resistance to change comes down to a culture issue in the industry.

"I think companies have been able to get away with inefficiency because they have been able to source cheaper and cheaper product around the world and [now] they're coming to a tipping point where they can no longer do that," he says. "So they're realising that if they can't find cheaper products, they have to increase their profitability by being more efficient. But it requires a lot of cultural change in organisation and it requires a lot of leadership, so I think that it's a real challenge in the industry."

Gribbin adds that those who are "winning" set an example for those who may be struggling.

"Culture and leadership are the two issues, and also education and professional development. Associates today have been in the company for a long time and they get in a rut. We've set up a whole division that does training and education to try and bring people up to best practice in what's going on in the industry today, and we think that that investment in human resources is absolutely critical if you really want to affect cultural change in a business."

For Alexis Kantor, vice president of apparel and accessories, product development at US department store retailer Target Corp, despite having a "really, really solid" roadmap and strategy for what the company's 3D design technology needs were, the biggest pitfall was people simply not being ready for change.

"We did not give it enough credit for how much our culture would be resistant to change," she explains. "I think what we could have done was to put an emotional roadmap underneath of where we were going to hit our biggest pitfalls of people just not being ready.

"Even though you go online and you purchase stuff yourself and you never see it and you're confident, [when] it [comes] to a business decision where these same people who just probably the night before were on their computers buying a great shirt online, are saying "I don't know, I didn't feel it yet, I'm not sure, is this the way the fabric is going to look, can you be sure", you name it there were a bazzilion excuses and really it came back down to our culture and whether we were ready for change."

Despite being the number two retailer in the US, Kantor says Target "really, really needed to rethink our own processes, our own tools and our own mindsets because that was a huge piece of it".

She says: "I wish that everybody that we work with has to think about how they enter into every meeting with a growth mindset, because if you are fixed and determined that something won't work, it's not going to work. So find the people who believe, show small success but don't underestimate the culture."

With the benefit of hindsight, she adds, if the team could go back and rewrite its original strategy, it would have segmented its strategies – like it does now.

"People's willingness to see kids' product was really different to their willingness to make decisions on ready-to-wear," she explains. "We've done a fully virtual kids for boys milestone meeting where we reviewed the final product virtually, but we knew that the women's business wasn't ready for that."

Duty to share

According to Kantor, a breakthrough moment for the company was a meeting with Coach regarding the company's own experiences with 3D.

"One of our best experiences was meeting with Coach and the transparency that they provided," she explains. "[Now] we feel like it's our duty to keep talking about our learnings and sharing our story. Nothing that we've shared means we're going to derail our business, it just makes us better – we are all looking for the same thing. This is just our leapfrog moment."

And it's point with which Jones agrees. "The more communication you have with your users the better," she adds. "It's about communication and sharing information and talking to your associates."

She adds there will inevitably be "bumps" during any implementation process, but keeping the lines of communication open and having conversations with users and setting expectations around that communication is "critical."

Similarly, Anastasia Charbin, chief marketing officer at product lifecycle management (PLM) solution provider, Centric Software, says: "When implementing any major new technology that will be used by a group, communication is key.  People need to understand what changes are ahead and how they will play a contributing role to the success of the project. Project roll-out should be designed so that teams feel a sense of contribution and satisfaction as to goals met and accomplishments. Getting up-and-running quickly is important to keeping momentum."

Indeed, Kim believes the whole industry should share its stories because: "3D touches every concern we have and everyone in the process, from the beginning to the end. 3D is not a visualisation tool, 3D is a new language in fashion."