The other day I was reading a recently published Apparel Magazine and Gartner research report entitled “PLM For Apparel 2014: The Next Stage of Alignment Begins to Take Shape.” There was a plethora of interesting data points in the study, but one in particular got me thinking.

There was a question that asked the respondents about the primary benefits they either had achieved or hoped to achieve through the implementation of a Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) strategy or technology. The top ranked benefit was process standardization.

Of those companies that had already implemented PLM, greater than 80% of them claimed to have achieved this benefit, with over 50% ranking it as the primary benefit they had realized. And of those companies that were looking to implement a PLM solution, nearly 70% hoped to achieve process standardization, with 45% claiming it to be the primary benefit they are seeking.

What I found most interesting about this particular finding was the irony in the fact that the largest benefit that apparel companies either had or hoped to achieve from a technology solution was process improvement.

In the world of retail consulting, we frequently use a model to assess improvement opportunities at our clients that separates these opportunities into people, process and technology components.

  • In the people bucket, for example, we might work with clients to re-define roles and responsibilities, write new job descriptions, introduce new roles, or change reporting structures. None of these necessarily require supporting changes in technology.
  • In the process bucket, we might identify inefficiencies in current state processes, clarify dependencies, and re-align activities to be performed in parallel, thereby shortening the overall process duration. Again, this type of process improvement can be performed without the use of technology.
  • In the technology bucket, we might evaluate a client’s systems to identify performance issues that inhibit employees’ productivity, or we might look to identify best practice capabilities a client is lacking that can be supported through readily available packaged software.

My point is that each of these types of initiatives can be performed independently and drive significant benefit to our clients. However, the fact that apparel companies are looking to PLM solutions for process standardization once again confirms our experience that PLM projects are not just technology projects. They are organizational transformations and all encompassing.

PLM initiatives provide not only the benefits I described in the technology bucket in terms of enhanced productivity and new capabilities, but they also have significant people and process components. Roles and responsibilities frequently must be shifted. New positions may be created. Business units within the organization that formerly operated in different manners can now follow the same processes.

Based upon the study findings, this last point about process standardization is what people are most excited about when it comes to PLM solutions. However, utilizing technology to force people into a standard way of working that may be different from how they worked in the past can feel restrictive. Initially, it may also feel inefficient as people become accustomed to the new system. The end result will be worth it, but companies must be prepared for the change management activities that will be required to ensure successful adoption.

PLM and process standardization do indeed go hand in hand. However, expecting that a PLM solution will solve all process ills is shortsighted. The most successful PLM projects tackle process design first and then configure the technology to support the desired processes. Your consulting partners will tell you this, and the software vendors will tell you this as well. So before jumping into a lengthy technology implementation to address process concerns, first consider a stand-alone process improvement initiative. PLM technology will drive significant benefits, but standardizing broken processes will severely limit its efficacy.

– Scott