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The Right Steps To Starting A PLM Project

While PLM is a vital investment for many brands and retailers, it’s also a big enterprise decision – not to be taken lightly without proper preparation. We explore the right steps to take before embarking on a PLM project.

Over the last twelve months and into 2023, I have worked with one of Europe’s most prominent brand groups. We continue to discuss and explore a broad range of new and exciting technologies and processes that are being considered and deployed as part of their ongoing technology transformation. In the early part of my tenure, I was surprised, and I have to say somewhat saddened to hear that after a multi-year, high-cost project, the business had decided to cancel its PLM project. The reasons they shared came down to a poor fit for their specific business model. They also claimed that the PLM methods had created extra user administration, which extended their product lifecycle durations.

Sadly, it is not the first time I have had first-hand experience with these problems, and it’s not a matter of a brand or retailer simply not wanting to onboard a new technology like PLM. These same businesses that have rejected a ‘generic’ off-the-shelf PLM solution have gone on to design and develop their technology ecosystems that not only cover their needs but, in many cases, have propelled them into adopting other intelligent technologies. They have also developed their ‘bespoke’ solutions, and as the old clothing saying goes, ‘one size fits all‘, and one method of implementing PLM again “fits all” does not necessarily work for every business or type!

WhichPLM has a proven track record of working at the cutting edge of big enterprises and agile, multi-tenant cloud PLM solutions. We continue to help our clients get the best results from the latest PLM solutions, supported by a library of PLM solution evaluations and landscape research. We examine what our clients want and need to achieve with PLM and which solution best fits their ‘specific’ needs. We support them in defining when they should implement, upgrade, or replace their current solution. Who should form the implementation team, from the vendor and the business? What should the budget be for a PLM project, and realistically how long a PLM implementation should take and where their PLM journey will take them in terms of sharing data with the broader technology ecosystem?

Before moving ahead with a PLM project, I would share some critical steps a business should consider. First, let me state my position on PLM; I’m convinced that a PLM solution, chosen and implemented successfully, can deliver benefits to businesses of any size or type. Furthermore, I believe PLM will enable teams to do more with less and, simultaneously, help lower the risk of a business losing ground to its competition.

Sounds great, but the reality can be quite different if you ‘jump’ into a PLM project without careful and measured attention to the details and pitfalls that come with any sizable technology project.

Here are some ‘critical’ questions you should consider asking yourself and the business leadership team before considering a new PLM solution:

What is PLM? PLM is a software suite that comprises functionality designed to make modern, global product design & development quicker, more efficient, and collaboratively. Whatever your role in a PLM project, you’ll inevitably be asked or will yourself ask the big question: what exactly is PLM? Vendors will tell you it’s a piece of software delivered on physical media on-premise, cloud-installed or multi-tenant platform. An entire industry has been built on the idea that you can buy a discrete application that will solve all your product design & development problems. PLM should cover everything from design to delivery and collect all the data from every process in a single, centralised location, making accurate information available to everybody from designers to sourcing managers to supply chain partners. All from one place, wherever they may be in the world. – Yes, that’s ultimately the goal. Still, the fact is that the statement negates to say that this assumes that the shared technology ecosystems are all di-directionally integrated and share a common dataset. The reality is that achieving this could take time measured in years and will come at a cost!

Do you have cross-departmental buy-in from the board, across all departments, and internal process champions for a PLM project? Have you considered asking your partners what they think, especially as you need their buy-in when considering a successful outcome? – Unless everyone from every department is onboard, including your external partners, you risk the possibility of ‘one bad apple spoiling the project.’

Why do you need PLM? What are the challenges your business is facing now and potentially in the future (one, two and three years), and what is driving the decision to research the PLM market landscape? – Does your business have the depth of knowledge and use case expertise to define the collective (end-to-end) needs of the company, its partners specific to PLM, and the broader technology ecosystems, to then use the combined requirements to shortlist PLM vendors?

Do you have the skills in the business to prove the value of PLM, and have you completed your investigations and arranged to speak to current PLM customers before approaching the PLM vendors? – You will need to measure the current and future state using PLM to determine the value a new solution will deliver to your business.

Does the business have the capabilities to develop an RFI (Refer for Information) or RFP (Refer for Proposal), and how do you choose Which PLM vendors to take part in your RFI/RFP process? Does the business understand the RFA-PLM landscape in terms of qualitative and quantitive measures to create a target longlist of vendors? – RFI/RFPs shared around are most likely outdated and are used to favour the vendor that created the RFI/RFP in the first place!

Have you considered how you will define the criteria for success and how you will measure each of the PLM vendors to arrive at your shortlist? – What will success look like for your business? How are you going to measure each vendor? You might want to consider a ‘day in the life’ script (your detailed business process) linked to a scorecard for each person and team. Vendors will rightly bring their best sales and demonstrators (A-Team) to prove their value, and they can be highly persuasive!

What does success look like in years one, two and three, and how do you measure and manage the implementation milestones? – It’s essential that the PLM project management team should continue to map the value beyond the go-live date and on to multiple years. Measuring the monetary benefits will enable the business to collocate an extra budget for new developments.

ROI (Return on Investment) the benefits of PLM should be plentiful, far-reaching, and often dependent on your business type. However, for every business, vital benefits can (and should) come after a successful PLM implementation. When you think about your company’s growth goals or profitability, have you considered how PLM can help the business achieve its strategic and tactical objectives, and how is the business going to measure and report on PLM’s success? – To arrive at your ROI, you will first need to define and measure your problems – then you will need to research and list the drivers (reasons linked to the issues) – and, finally, the impact that a successful PLM implementation can potentially bring to the business.

ROI benefit deliverables: suggest defining your goals based on your measured process maturity improvement objectives. All partners should discuss and agree upon these objectives, including your chosen PLM vendor, and should relate to crucial milestone deliverables, including dates! – Examples of this could be: Lead time reduced by 20% – Headcount reduced by 10% – New Product Introduction (NPI) rate improved by 20%. – Overall reduction in product costs by 10%, improvement in the margin by 5%, etc.

As the business considered the best possible time to implement a solution, do you know ‘how long’ it is likely to take to define the needs, cleanse the foundational data, and create the PLM scope? – Most PLM implementations are part of a more extensive business transformation journey. There is no such thing as being up and running 100% in weeks or months. The reality is that it can take years to achieve the business goals, along the journey resulting in a growing number of benefits for the business; it’s like painting the Golden gate Bridge; it never stops! Designing the end-to-end solution processes and determining a realistic implementation timeline will be crucial. Then you will need to train all resources (internal and external), create internal ‘experts’, implement best practices, integrate critical systems, and move to a successful PLM implementation.

Does your PLM vendor have the required ‘expert’ resources to understand your business sector and type, including its T1, 2,3 and 4 supply chain partners? Among the required skills, do they know the requirements for technology integrations and UI/UX (user interface and experience)? Related to this question, does your business have the internal ‘skilled’ resources to not only project management but to support cultural change management across your supply chain and are they up to speed on measurable best-practice processes? – It is crucial that, as well as your executive board, the entire PLM team and supporting key stakeholders are all educated and on board. Your PLM team should fully understand the project – especially the critical company objectives. Without this, compiling a cohesive implementation strategy will be nearly impossible.

Sadly, I often see that the H.Q. (headquarters, process, and I.T.’ experts’) did everything right when planning their PLM project, only to find themselves delivering a PDM system. – Little consideration is given to their value-chain partners resulting in an exchange of a glorified Tech-Pack via a PDF file, with no real-time or near-time collaboration.

From an I.T. perspective, does the business understand how PLM will be integrated into the rest of the technology ecosystem and potentially your supply chain partners? After 24 years since PLM came to the fashion industry, the reality is that it’s challenging to interface PLM to the rest of your ecosystems. Some vendors make it sound easy during the sales process, but it’s far from easy! It takes time, months or even years to complete, and it can be costly for the brand unless it’s in the interest of the PLM vendor to partner with your internal technology. – Ultimately, it comes down to the value the PLM vendor can see beyond your implementation.

Once you agree on the PLM Project framework and timeline, you should then phase your key deliverables: Phase 1, including documented success criteria complete by [date tbc]; phase 2, success criteria achieved by [date tbc], until each milestone has approved the business should not move on to the next. Far too often, I see companies lowering their requirements due to the vendor’s inability to deliver against the agreed objectives! – My advice is not to go for the Big Bang approach but instead link project success to each milestone deliverable. This way, if things are not going according to plan, you can refocus the attention towards the issues.

Budget: This should cover the upfront investment, the expected ROI, and the time it should take to see these benefits come to fruition in terms of increased margins and profitability. – Remember that it may take several seasons (months or even years) before the new PLM solution can deliver the maximised ROI potential.

The fashion industry is under enormous pressure, resonating from the consumer, NGOs, and governments, resulting in new legislation that continues to drive and enforce environmental sustainability. – Have you considered how PLM might be able to support your science-based sustainability impact measurement targets across your supply chain?

Before implementing a new PLM system, it makes sense to review all current solutions that are in place. Virtually every one of these systems will either be replaced by PLM or will have to co-exist with it via some form of integration. Some of these systems may be new and easier to integrate with PLM, but others may not. Older bespoke systems are likely outdated and may need to be replaced by one of the many PLM modules or other best-of-breed solutions. Still, depending on each system’s architecture and how ingrained it is in everyday working, this isn’t always as simple as it first seems.

‘Example’ generic PLM modules:

Social Media, Trend Analysis, Storyboards – Design Sketches (vector image libraries) – Material Development (Smart Material Scanning/Platforms) – Colour Management (digital colour) – BOM (bill of materials) – Size Management – Sample Management – 2D & 3D-DPC, BOL (bill of labour), BOP (bill of the process), Costing – Sourcing – Collaboration, Sustainability impact –Partner collaboration T1,2,3, and Tier 4.

The examples above are not an exhaustive list of modules typically in a PLM solution!

‘Example’ PLM integrations to consider ahead of choosing your vendor:

External trend services – 2D CAD/CAM (pattern design, marker, making)- NC-cutting (numerically controlled, cutting systems) – 2D CAD – (graphical artworks) – Adobe Creative Cloud (illustrator, in design, photoshop) – Material Market Places (Frontier Cool, Swatchbook) – 3D-DPC (Digital product creation, ecosystem, consisting of up to 10 or more related solutions) – ERP (enterprise resource, planning) – P.O. (purchase order management) – Merchandise Planning (collection, range, financial, materials, colour, sourcing) – Environmental and Sustainability (Higg Index, Made2Flow), PIM (product information management) – DAM (digital asset management) – e-commerce – Track & Trace – etc.

These technologies are not an exhaustive list in a mature fashion business. When considering integration, it is essential to treat this as a separate project, including challenges, use-case, options, cost, and timelines.

In conclusion, the reality is that there are no shortcuts when it comes to delivering a successful PLM project. I have considered what I believe are my top ‘dos and don’ts’ that will help to provide your business team and your partners with supporting insights into what it takes to deliver a successful PLM project. I hope you find the insights will help provide value when considering a new or replacement PLM project.

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