Whether you are delivering, once, twice or three times a season, the way you plan and execute the development and production of your collection needs to be both documented and shared internally, ideally from the start.
I recently worked with an accessory company who had grown quickly and organically over the past 2 years to a stage where they successfully managed an online, and retail business. Their product was very strong, and they had a polished leathery future ahead of them, but as they’d grown they’d failed to document their timelines and processes resulting in a vulnerable position without an internally shared knowledge base and virtually no formal planning. The knowledge was in the heads of the management with no consistent planning tool in place for the team below them to follow and implement. What this meant was that the leadership team, instead of the team of assistants, were driving the day-to-day workings instead of being the face of the growing business and tending to the business development side. They were creating the bottleneck for their own company.
This is not a unique position. It happens a lot with companies as they grow from one person into a team, heck, I’ve done it myself, often finding it easier to manage the process myself instead of delegating it down to my team. But believe me, it is a false economy and it will come back to bite you. There are, of course, simple processes that you can implement which can alleviate this problem. I’m sharing some below:
Make a list of assumptions for each departmental process which can be shared as the companies grows. These assumptions should include timelines for trim, fabric, washing, manufacture and shipping by location. It should also list the timelines relating to company process: proto reviews, concept building, range plan creation etc. With this list anyone can make a simple plan to determine a time and action. Without it and no one know how long each process could or should take. These assumptions will be used in the next point:
This matrix/linelist is a document that should contain all the styles you are developing, (by style name, fabric, colour, factory and by product group). At the beginning of each season, build the clear and simple document that lists the details of your whole collection and treat it as a one stop shop for all collection information. Add in the financials (cost price, retail price and margin), the delivery drops planned, and also the production planning with milestone dates for fabric and trim buying and you have a complete and very detailed document.
By adding in the product planning section and the delivery drops, and by using the assumption sheet in point 1, you can build out a data driven set of reminders and milestones to enable more strategic bulk raw material procurement and seamless manufacturing order placement (with buffer time included). The pain of spending 2 hours of data entry can save you days of confusion, late deliveries and cancelled orders. Yes, it is time-consuming to build this out half way through a season, but so is having to find a second source for trims or materials when you have missed a deadline to order and your production is jeopardized.
Ever heard of the phrase, “A problem shared is a problem halved”? Have at least 2 people in the company that can manage or at least articulate these processes so there is a sharable system. If you are a team of 3 people, at least 2 of you should know how long every process takes in the company. If 1 person is travelling, the other can manage the ordering. Keeping the information in your head and not shared will damage the growth of your business.
So, whether you are starting out, or at the next level growth stage, look at your development, procurement and production processes and ask yourself:
- Are your timelines documented?
- Is there a document in place that lists the collection details with milestone reminders to help you plan?
- Is it in a shared drive and available?
If it’s a no to all to 1 or more, you may be causing a bottleneck.
For more information of product development, planning and production, check out my book Blue is The New Black.
My consultancy Co-lab54 specialises in strategic product development for fashion companies.