Batch product development 2

This is the second of a three -if not four- part series discussing lean manufacturing with respect to batch product development as practiced in the apparel industry (read the first post). This posting (as well as the first) details some potential practices which appear promising for vastly increasing product development cycle time. While unproven, I wouldn’t stick my neck out if I didn’t think there was immense potential with this.

Let’s start with a review of current methods -batch product development- this is how most people are doing it. I’ve put each batch activity into its own time line because not all of these activities are taking place at the same time. For example, Selling can’t start until product development is done

Timeline Batch 1 Batch 2 Batch 3
3 weeks Product Development
6 weeks Selling  

1 month   Production

The time line shown above is very subjective but is based on 3 styles. Now hopefully it wouldn’t take 3 weeks for product development (use the strategies I outlined in my book) but I’ve found the above to be typical rather than not.

Other than product development, most of the selling and production periods are waiting time (muda). Now, I’m not suggesting it is possible to do anything with the above matrix on a micro level -per style- basis unless you adopt Zara’s scarcity model (to be discussed later). The trick will be to release each style as it’s readied rather than the big batching. Therefore, we have to look at it on a per style basis. Three styles would look like this (note I changed the headers of each column to reflect the given activity):

Days Product
Development
Selling Production
2 Style 1001
2 Style 1001
2 Style 1101
2 Style 1002
2 Style 1002
2 Style 1002
2 Style 1003
2 Style 1003
2 Style 1003


Still, the above matrix leaves an erroneous impression; the calender approximates 18 days which -while this is still a vast improvement- does not reflect reality. Each of the greyed blocks should be interpreted as wasted time. In real life, your matrix should look like this:

Days Product
Development
Selling Production
2 Style 1001
2 Style 1002 Style 1001
2 Style 1003 Style 1002 Style 1101
2 Style 1003 Style 1002
2 Style 1003

First compare the timeline above with the timeline shown in the first table; this is 10 days vs nearly 2 months. With this table you’ll see you can be selling Style 1001 while you’re developing Style 1002. Another line down, you can see you’d be developing style 1003 while you’re selling 1002 and sewing style 1001 in production -all at the same time.

Now, I’m not crazy, I know that 10 days is awfully fast for a small company without developed infrastructure. Still, if you’ve developed a Zara-like scarcity relationship with your retailers and have a solid production infrastructure developed, your matrix could look something like the table above. Oh and by the way, the 2 day time slot for production is dead-on solid. In real life, that’s all most styles take. The first day is spreading/cutting/sorting. The second day is construction. Of course, that’s assuming you’ve got all your inputs on hand. Speaking of inputs, there’s additional advantages to this, a primary one being sourcing. If you were ordering goods after receiving your orders, this means you could take advantage of jobbers. Jobbers are very happy to sell you goods they’ve got in stock; your buying calender would shorten drastically.

Now just for kicks, let’s throw in another concept, that of reorders. Retailers want to buy closer to season and they also want the option of reordering styles. Maybe your styles didn’t sell as well the first time around but interest really picks up for reorders. Anytime you can turn over products for which you’ve already done product development and gone through an entire production cycle, you’re going to save money. First, you don’t have to spend the time or money on product development. Second, your reps are selling a known quantity that takes less effort to push. Third, your production people already have experience with the style in question so fewer errors and time are the usual consequence.

Tomorrow I’ll bring up limitations that new companies have with particular emphasis on product development. That’ll hang you every time -you all just think that production is the hard part :)

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