Love, Death and PLM

In her latest piece for WhichPLM, Lucy Blackley shares her thoughts on people as a product, how their lifecycle and wellbeing matters more than the consumable product itself, and how the empowerment of people and investment in technology can create a better working culture that only supports and promotes the end products of a brand. Lucy is a PLM and Product Development expert, and sits on WhichPLM’s Expert panel.

Technology is transforming retail, and old-fashioned retail business model chains are crumbling daily. PLM can deliver the power and information that businesses require during such a complicated and fast changing commercial environment to aid teams small, large, and scaling on keeping a grip on their working lives, and eliminate it leaking into their personal life.

Software solutions in today’s working environment should not be a luxury. The smaller, independent solution providers need to promote the scrapping of that notion, and make PLM available to all, no matter what size, and at a price that’s more affordable, for efficiency, streamlining, employee wellbeing, and stress reduction.

PLM in the product design industry is scarce, especially for the SME sector, and even more so for startups. However, there is a shift in power to independent brands that are innovating technologically as of late, slowly pushing out brands that thought they were too big to ever diminish. We need to bring forward the benefits of PLM along with the current retail shift, and promote wellbeing as a synchronised link with technology.

Workplace wellbeing relates to all aspects of working life, from the quality and safety of the physical environment, to how workers feel about their work, their working environment, the climate at work and work organization. Workers’ wellbeing is a key factor in determining an organisation’s long-term effectiveness.

The overwhelming nature of the product design industry and its many complex components can create a sense of vulnerability in a team. As much as there is a sense of team within an organisation, the retail and manufacturing industries can create an underlying competitiveness amongst colleagues. From who has the most work to do, to who is staying the latest, and from who can get things done at the fastest pace, to who has the most knowledge on a subject.

Competition is a healthy part of any industry and should not be dismissed as bad. It is important to realise that, without creating bad blood or tension, you can compete within the community. Competition is more about our own work being developed and improved than putting others down. If we remember that we can use healthy competition to strengthen the market and keep growing and learning from each other.

However, the problem lies sometimes within a process framework on how a task should be completed. When we restrict people by instructing them to work in a way that isn’t efficient or natural to them as an individual, we can create an environment of vulnerability amongst team members. Product lifecycle management has the potential to benefit all of those involved. A team can work efficiently as individuals within the team, enabling them to express themselves, and potentially teach each other new formats, while ensuring information is delivered in a consistent structure through a PLM system that management can receive in a uniformed manner.

It’s a win-win situation to allow a person to be themselves within their working environment, and enables innovation that is a requirement of any brand moving with the times; but in order to move with the times, innovation and creativity must be at the heart of the people that get that product from concept to shelf.

Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change. – Dr. Brené Brown

For a company to embrace the change that comes from moving with the times, a brand must encourage vulnerability within itself, and look beyond current, possibly dated processes, and dive deep into the future of product lifecycle management. Although a scary move, that vulnerable move could make more than just a shift in the process, but one that improves the culture, allowing for further innovation, more creativity, and a positive change.

We, as people, long to belong in some way, shape, or form, and this translates to the workplace as well as in our personal lives. We spend an awful lot of time in the workplace – 40+ hours a week. We work as much in 5 days as we sleep in 7. It would be impossible to function without sleep, and it is impossible to function when we don’t get joy from our working and living environments. By function, I mean that we can’t give our full authentic selves; we can’t give 100%. Our productivity is reduced dramatically.

Culture goes bottom up, but to consistently keep that culture alive and thriving, investment must come from the top down, financially, but more importantly empathetically, seeing and understanding how it works from the side of the people that do the leg work within the products creation.

Live versus living

People are busier than ever in both their working and personal lives, and unfortunately, most manufacturing job roles include the additional overhead of a glorified administrator. The right PLM allows users to reduce their administration, and speed up their concept to shelf timeline with ease and visibility.

In today’s world, where technology is taking the planet by storm, it is confusing to myself and many others as to why company leaders are reluctant to invest in technology that can aid their teams resulting in an overall improvement in their business. Many companies don’t feel the need to invest because their team are ‘on it’, or so they think.

More often that not, these company ‘leaders’ don’t engage with employees and aren’t asking the question “What do you need from me in order to support you?” which is where teams feel that they don’t matter, and that their purpose is to solely churn out product, that brings in money, allowing them only to live.

Live, and living are two completely different things. To live is to purely exist inside that environment, but when you allow someone to be living, it will bring a whole different level to that person, the people around them, and the spaces that they enter.

A true understanding of employee roles from the top, and an expression of empathy need to become a common practice where it moves people to bond, connect, and feel a part of something much bigger than them. This eventually allows people to realise their full potential because they feel that level of support from all around them, allowing everyone and everything in the business to successfully be bigger than they could possibly have ever imagined.

When a person who is seen as someone of ‘power’ opens up to their people, it breaks down the hierarchy border that is sandwiched between leading positions, and the team members that they lead.

Enter PLM

What many teams are wanting is an understanding from their leaders that their role is complex, and time consuming, and that their over hours are often not because they want to work over time, but because if they don’t their workload will become impossible to manage, and there are fears that there may be consequences should they not be able to keep on top of it all.

This is where the likes of technologies such as product lifecycle management systems can come into play, and it starts at the top, but is definitely not a decision that should be made from the top alone. Starting at the top means to realise there is a need for change, and investing some time and research into finding the right solution for the business model, and most importantly the team. By investing in solutions, a leader is not only showing their team that they care about their wellbeing, it is also being responsible for the future of the brand and all that is involved in a company scaling.

Whether a company is a start-up, SME, or a much larger corporation, scaling is somewhat of an exciting time for any company, albeit a little terrifying for all involved. But it is often when the major scaling part is over that leaders look into solutions. They see that the company has available funds for such investments now, which gives them the freedom to explore options to help accelerate the business even further.

When a leader is leaving the office at 9pm in the evening, and about to turn the lights off, but stop as they yet again notice the light from a monitor still glowing at the back of the room, and It’s something that has been a recurring moment for an extended period of time, this is when you need to stop and ask those committed people, “What do you need from me?”

A person may say they need an extra set of hands, which is more than probably true, and the result of this is often a freelancer for 6 weeks. Two and a half weeks is taken for that person teaching the freelancer the processes of the job, which gives them three and a half weeks of support before it goes back to a build up in the over-time again.

A freelancer may seem like the logical solution, to help bring down those mundane, often-duplicated admin tasks that overtake the main role of the job in most industries, but as we all know, admin isn’t just for 6 weeks, it’s for life. It consumes us daily.

An extra set of hands is great, but it’s not cost effective if that person isn’t remaining in the business. 2.5 weeks of that freelance contract were spent away from the main core of the work, in order to train someone.

By combining core PLM functions with industry specific UX and UI, PLM can deliver a platform that is intuitive to use whilst providing business insight and project transparency in the native language of the companies implementing it. With the right PLM for that company, users have a wide range of tools to support them, keep them on track and reminding them of upcoming deadlines via production workflow overviews.

Creating a positive culture

You have to spend money to make money, and spending that money on a long-term solution as opposed to a short-term one – such as hiring temps – is the only way to really tackle reoccurring burnout within your teams.

It allows a team to be expressive in their own working way with a solution that is versatile to the different ways that personalities work, in order for them to be at their most efficient. And it really resonates with creative people. It gives them the freedom to work in a way that suits them but enables the business to receive the results in a consistent format. It is flexibility within a framework, and it provides a sense of satisfaction throughout. It gives them a sense of freedom, and also a sense of belonging, a feeling that they are part of something, and can be themselves with restriction.

Encouraging people to feel supported in the long-term is the overall success story for any culture; it is a place where people will want to stay, and grow with the company, be part of a family, and be committed.

A culture that doesn’t provide this isn’t looking at the bigger picture, and only observing the here and now. A business concentrating on the people around it and working out how it can provide support for them first can eliminate hiring for the sake of keeping up with sales and workflow.

Ploughing people into the business is something that’s going to happen to growing companies, but if a process isn’t defined, it’ll cost more in overheads than is likely necessary. Additionally, it’s creating jobs for the means of churning out product. Proper planning can eliminate the feeling of people lacking purpose, and add soul to a structure and its output.

Selling something to make money in today’s retail environment isn’t going to progress a brand, and only cheapen the consumer experience. We have to offer up a feeling, and if everyone in that organisation isn’t on board with that, the spirit and the soul of that product loses meaning and can lose value.

As Carmine Gallo says in his publication of ‘Talk like TED’, “Aimee Mullins is not passionate about prosthetics, she’s passionate about unleashing human potential. Science shows that passion is contagious, literally. You cannot inspire others unless you are inspired yourself.”

We should all be unleashing human potential by supporting and applying wellbeing to the workplace, highlighting and campaigning the importance of time off outside of work increases employee engagement. Many of us love our work, but we need time to engage in other activities and interests outside of work as well as to connect with loved ones, whether that’s friends or family.

To work, eat, and sleep on a loop of 5-6 days a week is a drain and, although at times it is done, if we don’t recuperate and take time away from our roles, entering the office feeling fresh with a clear vision isn’t going to benefit us, or the brand itself.