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How to Conduct a Product Trial on Safety PPE and Workwear from Start to Finish

There’s a lot to think about when conducting a product trial, but don’t let that scare you! A successful trial can be very valuable. In this instance, the definition of success is to have a tangible result from the trial. Regardless of whether that means you buy the product or conclude that item is not for you. In this article, we will cover how to begin, carry out and finish a product trial, with a little bit of “what happens after” sprinkled in for good measure.

With over 30 years of experience delivering solutions and right-fit products to clients, we understand the importance of providing the right garments for your workers. A successful product trial can achieve this for your company and employees. We’ve taken the best bits from our experience with product trials and condensed them into a clear and streamlined process for you. 

The sections are as follows:

If you are not yet ready to begin your product trial and require further guidance, check out our article about the factors you need to consider when purchasing PPE workwear before you begin.

How do I start a PPE workwear product trial?

Starting the product trial can be the most daunting part. With so many people to take into consideration and planning to undertake it might seem like there is no clear place to start. 

We suggest the following process: 

Select the employees that will partake in the trial

This step is one you will need to give your full attention to. Our ideal representation begins at 5% of the staff who will be required to wear or utilise the product should the trial be successful. If your workforce is quite small, we would recommend going with our rule of 5 people or 5% – whichever figure is bigger. 

This is where the selection process is so important: 5% (or 5 people) is not that much of your workforce. So, it is important to make sure you select employees from a range of job roles, personality types and professional seniority. 

How do you do it? 

Step 1: 

Engage with managers first to determine which groups of people they believe would be most likely to be good participants. 

Step 2: 

Hold a meeting with all of the staff who would be affected by this change. In this meeting you will discuss the product trial: 

  • What products will be trialled
  • How many staff members are required to make it a success
  • Why there is a call to change the workwear they currently wear
  • What the trial will look like
  • What will be required of participants
  • What the possible outcomes are

Step 3: 

Following this meeting, leave employees with a way to contact you (or whoever will be managing this product trial). A simple sign-up sheet is always a winner here, but it is always good to encourage direct contact with any questions your employees may have. 

Step 4: 

Select your participants from the sign-up list, and communicate to all staff who were invited to the initial meeting. 

Arrange a team meeting specifically for those trialling the products

In this meeting you will:

  • Inform staff of the process ahead of them
  • Give a time scale for the trial with clear, pre-planned dates for when you will meet in between to touch base
  • Issue the method statements to the employees and ensure they understand what is expected of them. 

The method statement should include what criteria you will be trialling the product against. It should also include a representation of what questions you want them to answer at the end of the trial. 

  • Once you have issued these documents, run through them. You may need to ask your employees to sign the documents agreeing to take part under the terms and conditions agreed upon.

Issue the PPE to the employees

This is the best step! Once you have the products, you can set them free to be used in their intended habitats. Give them out to your participants and ensure they all know when you will be meeting next to discuss the trial. As well as giving participants the items, you will need to ensure they have also been given a copy of the care instructions. Go through these with them to ensure understanding. 

What are the care instructions for the employees participating in the trial?

This is an important step because:

  • If participants don’t know how to care for the product, the product can get damaged. This will not be a fair trial of the product.
  • Correct care instructions, like washing instructions, can help an employee understand what a garment will look like after washing; will the colour stay the same, will the shape change etc.
  • At the end of the trial, workers will be able to compare how worn (or not) the garment is compared to their current/previous work clothing.

What communications should go out to the employees taking part in the trial?

Your employees must understand what it is you hope to achieve from the trial. They need to understand the measurements of the trial, the factors they should be focussing on during the trial period, and the level of feedback they will be expected to provide at the end of the trial period.

Setting expectations with your employees before the trials begin is a great way to ensure you get quality feedback that you can trust.

Clear and regular communications in the form of meetings, emails and information packs are essential to ensuring you and your product trial crew are on the same page throughout.

How to run a product trial

You’ve got your trial up and running – great! Now there are a few things we recommend you do to ensure your trial is still on track. A product trial is not like a wind-up toy, you can’t just turn a handle and watch it go; there are a few small but effective ways to ensure that your team are still on track. 

  • Regular follow-up sessions weekly to check in with employees about immediate concerns to address. Any initial feedback given is to be retained as part of the trial process. You may need this later. 
  • Continue to ensure the product is to be rigorously tested for the environment it is intended to be used. For example, if the product was a hi-vis jacket intended for foul weather, there is no point in having the employee go inside the cab when it rains. Rather, they need to stay out in foul weather to test if the product lives up to its technical requirements. 
  • Give clear and honest progress reviews to all members of staff who will be affected by the potential change in workwear. This can be as simple as a 5-minute update meeting at the end of the day, or a short email of bullet points. Transparency is key here. 

How to finish a product trial

You’ve reached the end of your product trial and want to know what your next steps are. Great! 

This is when you gather the results from your participants. A standard questionnaire is a good way to make sure that the answers you get are easily translatable to data. This means using metrics such as scales and yes/no answers as well as opportunities for employees to leave their comments. 

How do I collate trial results and what do I do with the trial results?

  • Through the use of paper or digital form
  • Collation of data into a spreadsheet
  • Your supplier may be able to help you interpret that data. Be aware that not all suppliers are made equal, and some may provide a biased interpretation of the data.

Interpretation of Data

This needs to be done objectively, even for those running the trial. The purpose is to determine whether a product is a better or worse fit, not to determine whether your choice of products will be successful. The purpose of the trial is to test an item before you launch it. Even if you conclude the product is not the right fit for you, this is still a positive outcome because you are mitigating the risk associated with large-scale rollouts.

With that in mind, consider the following when going through the results;

  • Try not to infer meaning from an answer if it is not backed up by solid data. For example: if an employee has marked the comfort level of a garment as 1 out of 5 and has left a comment stating “I didn’t like it”, try not to infer that the employee didn’t like the garment because it was uncomfortable. A better way to deal with this would be to follow up with the employee and ask for their honest feedback on why they did not rate the garment. This way you will draw accurate conclusions instead of inferred ones.
  • Analyse your data with the past context in mind. Here, it is important to take into consideration any other products you have trialled or rolled out. To what extent were they successful? How does this product rank against that? 
  • Analyse data in light of controlled measures and criteria detailed in the trial documents. This is important: does the product meet the criteria you set out for it? Was it tested in the conditions in which it was to be used? 
  • The employee’s interpretation is a fact, don’t penalise an employee for their results or their opinions – that is what you wanted from them! 

Next steps: Beyond the trial

The data has spoken! There are only ever two outcomes to a product trial; you proceed with the product, or you don’t. It is either a better fit or a worse fit product.

This doesn’t mean you dismiss a product entirely, banishing it from your departmental realms never to be seen again. For various reasons, when a product isn’t clearly in either camp, you may need to park it until you can gather more data.

Better fit outcome

Sometimes there is just a clear winner; a product that shines so bright in the eyes of your workforce that you can’t believe you hadn’t found it until now!

But, better-fit outcomes aren’t always this easy to spot straight off the bat. How you decide to score products against certain criteria determines the threshold of good fit and bad fit. Typically we’d recommend anything with a score equal to or greater than 80% as a good fit

At this point, the next step is to build the better-fit products into a business case proposal and ensure that it addresses the key concerns of stakeholders/decision-makers (as seen above).

Worse fit outcome

Finding worse-fit items happens sometimes. Typically we’d recommend anything with a score less than 80% as being a worse-fit product. But, that doesn’t mean it is the worst-fit product.

You have a choice here; you can eliminate this product as an option or look a bit deeper. If you are not willing to give up on the product here, perhaps it hasn’t done badly in all criteria, just in one. The question here is; how much lower a percentage are you willing to accept?

You may be willing to offset some of these lower scores because the product trial as a whole has proven the item has more benefits than your current gear. There may also be a financial benefit like a price incentive, AKA the product is cheaper. If this is one of your most weighted deciding factors, then it is worth considering. For example:

A product may score low on washing/lifetime of the garment, however, it is comfortable and scores very highly in other areas. The price is also right. In light of the rest of the trial being so successful, you may be happy to overlook the lower ranking on lifetime and washing because the product scores so highly elsewhere and your employees preferred it.

If the product is not the right fit for you, your next steps are:

  • Investigate your options for alternatives (involve your suppliers and do your research)
  • Consider whether you can proceed with any other products in the trial if trialling multiple at once.
  • Can you try this particular product separately or will you pause the trial until you find a product that fits better here?

Once you’ve found a product you are happier with, or you are happy to proceed with existing results, you are then ready to build your business case for decision-makers.

How to use your PPE product trial to create a business case

If you are going ahead with a product you have trialled, you will be able to build a much stronger business case to pitch to key decision-makers. This is because you will have the data to back up your decision to proceed with a certain product. 

If you know you are going to be making a business case from the results of a product trial, there are a few things you might want to consider earlier in the process that can make your life easier when it comes to the crunch:

  • Identify key pain points not only for the staff wearing the PPE but for the decision-makers who approve purchasing of PPE.

For example, the pain point of the employees is that they don’t like to wear a particular hi-vis polo shirt because the fabric is too scratchy. 

The paint point of the decision-makers (perhaps Senior Management), is that staff refuse to wear their hi-vis polo shirts. This means they are not compliant with the job they are doing. This can result in delayed project start times and even injury depending on the job and degree of PPE disuse. This in itself can result in injury/death followed by lawsuits. 

In this scenario, you would need to appeal to the pain points of both parties. Highlighting how a product might overcome these issues and present a win for both camps. 

  • Identify key staff members during the trial to provide written testimonials stating why they like and need the product, or why it is better than what they have currently. Testimonials such as this can help sway opinion: ask the source. 
  • Use the data! You’ve gone through all the trouble of getting the data, don’t forget to leverage it. 

If you need any guidance following a trial that you can’t answer yourself, get in touch with your supplier. They may be able to help you out with product information that may also help your business case. These could be on topics such as sustainability or cost vs use. 

If you want to chat to a member of our team about running a product trial with Lion Safety, book a call with our Business Development Manager.

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