Implementing PLM is a risky business. Whilst no one can reasonably deny the need for a way of managing the huge amount of data that is involved in product development, there is however a lot of debate as to how effective PLM is as a solution to the ever increasing complexity of successfully getting retail products to market. For starters, PLM is notoriously hard to evaluate return on investment as many of the benefits fall into the subjective category and are hard to quantify. Secondly, as the current market stands I don’t really feel that any PLM provider has yet “nailed it” – there is no one perfect solution and each and every one has their pros and cons. One of the problems is each and every client has their own unique way of working and their own challenges they are trying to address. They also have their own individual limitations, be that due to legacy systems or complex merchandising and sales channels, a couple of a myriad of examples. So whilst PLM providers can strive towards developing “best practise” solutions, the inconvenient truth is that whilst one best practise, process designed, functional solution may work for a reasonable portion of the market, there are always clients where the shoe just doesn’t fit. Selecting the right PLM solution in the first place, configuring it in the best possible way, finding the right workarounds for the inevitable gaps and getting it live successfully is no Cinderella story. Unfortunately all too often, after a lot of wasted time and money, the PLM system remains a pumpkin.
Implementing PLM successfully is all about understanding the risks and pitfalls in advance, identifying what you actually need, knowing how to find your best match, successful communication, knowing on what and when to compromise and how to find suitable workarounds and finally how to make your ongoing relationship with PLM last the distance post go live. You don’t want to have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince – this is why you need an experienced independent PLM consultant working as part as your internal implementation team to play cupid. Let me elaborate further.
Understanding the Risks and Pitfalls in Advance
Most people who have participated in any enterprise solution implementation will have their own horror stories to tell. Every step of a PLM implementation presents its own set of risks and challenges and as the old saying goes prevention is better than cure. Having an experienced PLM consultant as part of your internal project team will not just bring experience from one project but from many different projects from many different clients – there is no better way to learn than from others mistakes and successes. Yes, your external PLM implementation partner will bring just as much experience but they will not be delving into the detail in your business until the process workshops, after official project kick off. Proper risk analysis and prevention needs to be done much earlier on in the process by someone who can fully integrate into the business and can get “under-the-hood” to fully assess your current process, system and human resource maturity to identify potential problems so that strategies to avoid them can be put in place in advance. For example, if it is identified that additional human resource will be needed to free up key people to participate in the PLM project then time is required to source and train that support. Indentifying this after project kick off when you are working to tight go live schedules to remain in line with the start of the new season will be too late.
Indentifying What You Need
Having an expert join your internal team early on is also incredibly beneficial in helping you to identify how PLM can realistically help you achieve your business goals and exactly which parts of PLM you need to focus on and which parts you can ignore. They will be able to help you put together a detailed RFI that is one hundred percent relevant to what you need so you are asking potential vendors exactly the right questions for your requirements. Without this detailed knowledge of both your business and also PLM your RFI is in danger of being too high-level or of asking questions that are not relevant or specific enough.
Sometimes PLM vendors will even offer to help you put together an RFI – this should be avoided as they will obviously favour questions around areas in which they excel and gloss over areas where they don’t. Agencies offering or selling “best practise” RFI’s should also be treated with trepidation as what is best practise for one company won’t necessarily work for yours and may also miss unique requirements that are essential to your business.
Finding Your Best Match
As I stated earlier, there is no one perfect PLM solution. What works well for one client may not for another. Some solutions demo very well, whereas others simply appear to demo very well. What looks good on the surface may not be so pretty in the detail. Having spent the early part of my career demoing PLM software to potential clients I can tell you that the smooth, polished demo or even proof of concept that has been tailored especially for you will be at least part illusion. It will likely have taken an enormous amount of prep to build and probably had some poor sod staying up all night before the demo desperately trying to sort out issues. I know every trick in the book to make a solution look WONDERFUL and how to flow around weak or broken areas and can tell you, without question, that having someone on YOUR team that can see through the smoke and mirrors come demo time and know the right questions to ask to really understand the functionality on offer is hugely beneficial in helping you to avoid picking a pumpkin.
Unfortunately implementation partners, be that independent ones or ones from the solution provider themselves, fall into two categories – those that listen to the client and try to deliver what they need and then those that tend to “do” an implementation to a client, thinking either they know best or to make life easier for themselves. I’ve worked with both. Either way having a PLM expert that also knows your business thoroughly ‘on your side’ significantly helps bridge any communication gaps and avoids misunderstandings of your requirements during the solution design phase.
When the first draft of the system configuration is presented back to the business your internal PLM expert will also be able to quickly evaluate the solution’s suitability for the business needs – saving a lot of wasted time as inexperienced users are less likely to pick up on issue areas. However proficient an implementation partner is, they simply don’t have the time defined in the project plan be onsite full time and with your users getting to know the business in this level of depth.
Going the Distance Post Go Live
Most implementation partners and solution providers are going to offer you post go live and ongoing support. Whilst a portion of this in the immediate aftermath of go live may be onsite, the majority of it will be remote. In my experience, users can require an awful lot of hand holding in the initial weeks, and even months after go live. The most effective method of hand holding is done onsite, so someone is there with the users ready to assist them moment they forget how to do something, realise they have missing data or are faced with a dreaded error. Nothing endangers a project more than user acceptance post go live and if users are having to wait for answers they get frustrated very quickly and tend to revert back to the old way of doing things so their schedule is not delayed.
Remote support, particularly when provided by the solution provider is also delivered by a dedicated support team, not the individuals that were onsite during the implementation. Whilst they will have been briefed on the system configuration, they will not have the detailed knowledge of your process, understand your day to day terminology or be familiar with your users. A successful system configuration is intricately tied to the process therefore standard support tends to only really be effective for technical issues.
Having your independent PLM expert remain with your during the go live transition period, someone that knows the process, the configuration, your terminology and your users is support gold.
When to Bring in the Independent Consultant
As I’ve already alluded to, the sooner the better. As soon as you identify you need to make your product development process more efficient bring in an expert. There are even cases where a company may think they need PLM whereas in actual fact there may be smaller, more focused, less complex and cheaper solutions available that will solve your issues (something that most PLM providers are unlikely to suggest!). Either way it pays to have an expert on your team right from the get go to help steer you in the right direction.
What to Look for in an Independent PLM Consultant
There are two main criteria that are essential:
- Experience in implementing PLM
- Experience in retail, apparel and footwear
Another highly beneficial point is someone that has worked on both sides of the fence – if you can find someone that has previously worked for a retailer and been part of a PLM implementation but has also worked for a solution provider you will be getting the best of both worlds. As I previously mentioned, someone with experience working for a solution provider will be well positioned to help you navigate the sales speak and demo tricks and will really be able to “get under the hood” of any potential solution you are considering.
If you are considering PLM and would like independent advice on where to start then please do get in touch. You may also want to check out our other articles in this series: