Batch product development

Something’s been bugging me. I’ve been rethinking my whole process of how we should do product development as I wrote in the Entrepreneur’s Guide. The thing is, in this business, we can generate complete product development -from sketch to approved prototype- in two days. I’m not saying that everybody does or can (depending on internal infrastructure and practices) but it’s totally doable. In this regard, apparel is distinctly different from any other kind of manufacturing and it’s a huge advantage. As I mentioned before, this is how ZARA does it. They’re producing two lines a week.

I’ve decided that traditional product development in the garment industry amounts to inventory. Intellectual capital goods inventory. Inventory that’s been stuck on a shelf, held off waiting for the market calender to ripen. In lean manufacturing, inventory is muda (waste). In other words, traditional batch product development in the apparel industry is inventory. Wasteful inventory. You’ve paid (in either time, money or a combination of both) in advance of need. Now you can’t spend that time or money on something else that could potentially generate revenues.

What do I mean by batching? Well, if you have the book (and you should), you know that all of the styles, patterns and prototypes are developed sequentially but in one big batch, then they’re pre-sold at market (another batch activity) and then they’re produced and delivered which are also batch activities. This is what it looks like:

Batch 1 Batch 2 Batch 3
Product Development Selling   Production

I mentioned this to GrimReader. He says other industries -well, Toyota- have figured this out already. I looked for a reference and couldn’t find it (I’m counting on him to correct me via comments). Whatever. In most manufacturing that I know of, the front end consists of teams working in advance of market dates. Most companies do not develop a product and as soon as it’s done, launch it. Well, except for software anyway. Everybody’s got lots and lots of money tied up in PD. Since we’re so skinny, I think we can do that differently too. By that I mean that there’s some lean concepts that don’t apply to us -and neither do they apply to agriculture or housing. Industries that are closer to the ground have a different set of constraints. For example while the saying “you can’t hire 9 women and get a baby in one month” applies to everyone, it applies to these three industries literally as well as figuratively.

What would this mean with regard to Retail? Well, retail’s been wanting to buy closer to season as it is so that’s a plus. However, they’d have to be checking in with whichever producer monthly to order. Maybe they’d like to order different styles each month? I think this kind of ordering could be done best over the web on a secure site. I can’t see how a sales force could cover this kind of ground on a monthly basis.

And not to say that in launching new products as they’re developed would preclude someone from showing at market on specified dates. You’d just show up on the specified dates with current product in hand. Ideally, you’d hook buyers on the order by month thing. I’d ask my blogging partner about this but she’s AWOL. Busy with kids and business (with 3 kids under the age of eight, she’s got a load). What say the rest of those who retail? Would immediate product launching work for you? What would the problems be? How could the process by managed to facilitate your business?

I’m thinking that batch product development is a bad thing. ‘Course, those of you who don’t run on a market calender already knew that, although you may not have known why. What do you think about this?

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