Could Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) get kids to school in the morning, without a fuss?

Imagine having a process flowchart for getting your kids out of bed and off to school each day. It would probably start the night before making sure uniforms are pressed, lunches are made, and bags are ready. Then the morning alarm would go off and the kids would rise and without fuss get washed, dressed, eat breakfast, pack bags, clean teeth and away.

The journey to school would be effortless and they would arrive with plenty of time to catch up with friends and enter the school calmly and orderly ready for a full day of learning.

If this describes your family in the morning, then stop reading now! This blog isn’t for you.

Having raised three of my own children and now with a ‘gang’ of grandchildren, I feel I can say with some authority, most families don’t operate quite so smoothly! What you are more likely to hear in the morning is “I can’t find my homework”; “the dog has chewed my pen”; “where’s my sports kit”; “I told you before I don’t like those sandwiches”; “I want French plaits today and I’m not going to school without them!“; “I can’t go to school today, I feel sick!”. I could go on.

What I would say is: there are routine activities that must take place each morning – get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth etc. and these could be set out in a checklist. But life is full of unplanned and unpredictable variables that need attending to each morning, often without warning.

Having a clear end goal and outline process is helpful so long as you recognise that each child is different and will probably complete the routine steps in a different sequence and will need a lot of support and encouragement.

The challenge implementing Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) for grocery private brands

For me, this aptly illustrates the challenge implementing PLM in grocery private brands. The brand compliance or specification systems essential common to private brand retail.

PLM is the process of managing the entire lifecycle of a product from inception through to design and manufacturing and onto delivery and installation and customer support. It integrates people, data, processes and business systems and provides a product information backbone for companies and their extended organisation.

But when it comes to grocery private brands with such a vast array of product categories, a ‘one size fits all’ approach just doesn’t work. It doesn’t matter how good the process is or how well a team has thought it through, the world of private brands is too unpredictable and full of variables at a product level for these compliance and specification systems on their own to be effective.

In the same way as trying to have a process flow approach to getting your kids off to school in the morning, so these systems fall short when dealing with high volume private brand grocery. It is a good idea in theory, but less effective in practice. Which is why supplier engagement and adoption can often prove a challenge, especially in private brands.

Implementing PLM is different for food products

PLM was originally designed for co-ordinating a process approach to making cars, aeroplanes and discreet engineering manufacturing where products are made from bills of materials and manufactured and assembled in a predictable and repeatable way. When it comes to food there are a whole heap of differences.

Food products tend to be created rather than designed. They use recipes rather than bills of materials and once a process stage is complete, there is no going back. Once the egg, milk and flour has been mixed into a batter there is no returning to the raw ingredients.

Additionally, as the end product is for human consumption, it means there are many and varied regulations to adhere to, good working practices to abide and full transparency required. Added to this short shelf-life, particularly on chilled and fresh products, all sets a picture for food products that is very different from engineered products.

When you look at private brands the sheer scale of the challenge is immense. Typically involving thousands of products (or SKUs) and hundreds of suppliers all of whom are part of the extended organisation.

Supplier Engagement is essential for managing private brand processes

I am not saying PLM has no relevance to private brands - brand compliance is essential - but the same caveats apply as I used in the example of getting the kids off to school.

Having a clear end goal and outline process is helpful so long as you recognise that each product is different, and the process steps will probably be completed in a different sequence and each supplier will need a lot of support and encouragement to ensure adoption and success.

PLM does have a role to play managing the ‘routine’ processes, but it needs to sit alongside a collaboration and engagement platform covering the extended organisation to manage the variables or when life doesn’t quite go to plan.

In private brand world this is an everyday occurrence. To ensure engagement with the right contacts in the suppliers. To ensure on-boarding in the right way. To support the suppliers. To provide transparency and visibility in to the process.

At S4RB we call this collaborative platform Affinity™, which integrates with the leading private brand platforms such as Oracle ORBC, Bamboo Rose and Trace One. It supports active conversations on the issues of the day, provides all customer feedback in one place and is the fountain of knowledge for guidance and answering queries.

PLM and Affinity need to sit alongside each other as combined systems. PLM provides process management to manage the routine tasks or the business as usual. Affinity will manage the variable tasks which in private brands are in high volume and a daily occurrence; I like to refer to them as business as unusual. 

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Kieran Forsey

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