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FORTUNE FAVOURS THE agile

Nov 23, 2020 – Álvaro pin, head of growt at HATCH 

Supply chain challenges, sustainability concerns, and global travel restrictions. 2020 has forced companies all over the world to endure these disruptions, with many facing different fates. Change – and the uncertainty it brings – hasn’t always been a good friend of fashion. The industry has, for the most part, been procrastinating on some of the issues it has needed to solve for decades. Nowadays, how fashion brands embrace change has taken on a whole new perspective.

During this unprecedented year, fashion has finally woken up from its slumber, embarking on a digital transformation to survive and slowly finding its way to navigate change management, even in the toughest scenarios. While it looks like we’re headed in the right direction, we also wonder: “what are we really going to change?” It took a drastic shift to get us in motion, but will it be enough to keep us moving? What do we need to do to keep the momentum? Who can we learn from in all of this? 

The technology industry has undoubtedly been an inspiration through all of this in providing new ways of communicating, collaborating and doing business. Of course, the tech industry also didn’t see the pandemic coming, so what has enabled them to embrace change? How have these companies coped with the demand and what can we learn from them? How are they able to adapt so quickly to such sudden changes? They have made change part of their business strategy. Let’s dive right into it.

A brief history

Let’s get one thing clear: the technology industry hasn’t always worked the way it does now. In its early days, tech teams struggled to follow the pace of the market forces. Business/consumer/customer needs evolved faster than software developers could handle and by the time a project was completed the original requirements didn’t meet the needs of the business anymore. In addition, new challenges arose during development that forced teams to go back to the drawing board, causing even bigger delays. In offsetting this rather rigid way of working, many software companies realized that an overhaul in their work processes was needed. So, instead of staring blindly at planning and processes, they pivoted to smaller workable steps and getting minor, but quicker results, and evolving from there. They truly had a digital mindset.

Fast forward to today and companies like Netflix, Spotify and Uber have become mainstream because of how their services are set up and how agile the teams behind them are. What can fashion learn from this? Here are the seven principles that helped tech companies grow that fashion can embrace today.

In case you missed our Webinar on How Digital Transformation is actually a Human Transformation the full recording can be found here. 

1. Plan for the unknown

It’s hard to plan for new things. Especially with digital and innovation projects where the outcome is uncertain, planning can be both time consuming and counterproductive. Instead of trying to plan out exactly in detail what the future will look like, plan for the unknown. Let your organization learn as it moves forward by allowing your teams to implement new learnings as they discover them. This principle can help overcome the starting block: not knowing where to start. As you progress, you’ll unlock new learnings that will make the process smoother, faster and overall more valuable.

2. Take one step at a time

When planning for the unknown, it makes sense to take smaller steps forward so you can put your learning muscle to work. Not only does this make learning easier, it also minimizes risks during the implementation/development process, while incorporating new learnings along the way into your process. Taking smaller steps can also be a great way of motivating the business around progress, something that can be diluted when projects move in longer timeframes. Companies that embrace change can better adapt to new insights, no matter how drastic they might be.

3. Share your progress

It is nice to share results once you reach your desired destination, but when they're far in the future, the risk of losing buy-in from the rest of your business grows. In fashion the long lead times in the value chain often generate silos between teams that actually need to work closely together. Tech overcame this with continuously sharing progress in the context of milestones. This can not only reduce the number of assumptions in the process, it also creates enough communication touchpoints to avoid the surprise of changes coming your way too late in your progress.

4. Collaborate 

What does continuous communication unlock? Collaboration. We’ve been there: big global brands with complex matrix organizations and teams spread across the world. Collaboration isn’t easy and it often fails if communication doesn’t happen often enough. So how does Tech break these silos? By creating interdisciplinary teams. Now, this may seem like a farfetched concept (marketing, merchandising, sales, design in one team?!?), but there are ways where we can put this into practice. For instance, create a go-to-market task force that encompasses merchandising, marketing and sales members to drive your sales season off to a good start. Grounding everybody’s needs and challenges in one team can make the process move easier into the future. And it helps determine how everybody plays a role in achieving a successful sales season.

5. Reflect on what you did 

We get it. The next selling-season is already at your doorstep, and now may not be the time to look back, but to move forward. However, without taking the time to reflect you’re bound to make the same mistakes. Or even worse: let challenges become harder and harder to solve. Tech teams are used to reflecting on the work they did and how they did it regularly. All the time even. Not only looking to improve the product, but also constantly looking for ways to improve their collaboration. Without reflection, all your learnings can end up on a wishlist instead of actually improving the day to day.

6. Focus on value

Wouldn’t it be  cool to have your entire digitization project full of AR, VR, AI, ML and Blockchain features?  While it might sound exciting and definitely press-worthy, focusing heavily on features and technology-for-technology-sake often leaves the most important question unanswered: how are you adding value to your business? When prioritizing what needs to be done, make sure you think of the value it adds and for whom. And this is not just for the end-user, but for the business as a whole and all of its stakeholders. Identifying and measuring value is one of the hardest, yet one of the most vital steps to take on any innovation and digital project. It’s cool to have AR, yes, but much cooler to be able to leverage AR and cut  your go-to-market costs in half, right? 

7. Build trust

This may be the last, but it’s definitely not the least. There are often many people involved in driving change at an organization, let alone a big global corporation. While this is great as it creates consensus across the organization, there’s a risk you may enter an “opinion war” that leads to nowhere. How tech teams overcome this is by leveraging data. Bring data into your decision making process and nurture a culture where opinions and data can coexist and be challenged. This can unlock many situations and avoid scenarios where HIPPOs (highest paid person’s opinion) overrule any decision made.

HATCH Webinar How Digital Transformation is actually a Human Transformation

Start where you are

If there’s one takeaway from this article, it is this: start today. No matter where you are as an organization, now’s the right time to move. Embrace change by starting with your why. Understand why it is important for you to start moving. The pandemic has created a paradigm where change, no matter how painful, is better than the alternative. This is the right moment to start driving a culture change within your brand. Learn how to embrace change and turn any challenge into an opportunity to grow. Then, no matter what happens in the future, your organization will be ready for it. For wholesale, the rules of the new era are slowly coming into place. In 2021, the industry will continue the wholesale digital transformation journey it started in 2020, making it smarter and more sustainable along the way.