Accelerating your time-to-market: how to start converting this great idea into a business reality
In her first guest post with WhichPLM, Emilia Jevakhoff shares her advice on accelerating time to market. Emilia is the CEO of Winddle, a collaborative solution to manage product development and sourcing operations for Retail & CPG.
Accelerating the time-to-market is a key strategic issue for every player in the retail industry in order to stay competitive in today’s highly reactive and changing global market. No one disputes this.
Once this is said, what’s next? Practically speaking, the ‘’how’’ question remains. So what are the existing solutions to shorten your time-to-market?
Spontaneously, one would think of investing huge amounts for the next decade in the advanced logistics technologies or maybe relocating his whole production closer to his selling points. These are of course interesting plans to analyze. However, they will probably give longer-term results and require heavy investments. We must find ways to improve operational efficiency, satisfying both business and economic concerns: to still be able to deliver products of the best quality, at a fair price, with high reactivity and a measurable return on investment.
An accessible and hands-on approach to this challenge is to focus on the control over the time-to-market process. It is probably stating the obvious but experience has shown that in most companies, a real control over product development process is not so easy to get, whereas it is crucial to manage actively time-to-market.
How could it be possible to shorten a company’s time-to-market if its manager is not able to have a clear vision of its current state and potential sources of improvement?
It’s been said that you need approximately 5 months from your t-shirt design validation to its warehouse delivery. That’s a good thing, but go a bit deeper in the analysis: would you be able to list the specific steps that are creating bottlenecks? To know how different suppliers impact this process lead time? To calculate the average delays in days of your FOB orders? To split this data per product category to identify which one is the highest performer? To measure the improvement from one season to another?
The more control you have over your product development processes, the more you’ll be able to predict and monitor your time to market.
What is your time-to-market process?
Basically, the time-to-market process includes all operations required between a product being conceived and it being ready for sale. You have been executing these operations for many years (your business has been running for a while), so you will for sure think, “This is my everyday business, of course I know how to run it, thanks.”
Bear with me. So many times I’ve heard “Structuring our product development process is not an issue, it’s clear for everyone”. Then, a meeting is organized with the different key stakeholders (marketing, merchandising, style/design, supply chain etc.) to formalize it, which is supposed to be done easily, and it turns out to be more than a mess! Each stakeholder has his own priorities and focus, has built his own follow-up templates, has reworked the standard one, or has found a way to manage his activity, which seems better for his own needs. And all of this, with time, results in questionable and various ways of processing the same operations.
With various teams involved in your time-to-market, it’s crucial to write down your process to validate that everyone is working on the same page, and communicate to your teams what the key steps are your business absolutely wants to be able to control and track. Depending on how mature and complex your activity is, my recommendation to achieve this first step successfully would be to set “acceptable” targets. Do not be over zealous! You will always be tempted to formalize a very detailed and academically perfect process, but keep in mind that the next step is to validate that, from conception to warehouse delivery, your company teams and their external partners are all able to work on this ‘unique’ standard process (your activity may of course required to define several processes according to the managed use cases, but they have to be built according to one coherent approach). So you must find the subtle and satisfying level of requirements that is compatible with everyone’s expectations (both operational team and managers) and operational constraints.
In practice, be sure that each stakeholder has sufficient milestones to monitor his activity as you want it to and, on the other hand, that you are not burdening his work by adding new steps that were not tracked until now.
Get it adopted
The classical pitfall with process structuring is that you spend a great deal of time working on it, challenging your teams’ habits and needs, reaching a satisfying result and then… a few months later when you review the situation, you realize that nothing has changed. Well, there is at least ‘this super nice document’ which describes in details your process, but that’s it. Your teams are working exactly in the same way as before, and all this comes down to pure theory.
–Actually, even if it’s already very rewarding, this first milestone is only the starting point!
Once the process is formalized, the challenge is to anchor it at an operational level, to make sure it impacts the way your teams work. All the stakeholders have to consider it as a new way of working, and not an ideal vision or theoretical advice. It has to become an operational reality.
To make things happen, you have to support them in this change: to give them guidelines about how to organize their everyday tasks, how to build their reports. But your support might be the best one ever, if each stakeholder has not perceived the added value of this change, you will never achieve good results.
And the added value for them is not the same as yours.
Product development implies different functions, and a Designer is not thinking as a Supply Chain Manager does; they are not taking care of the same things, not getting the same direct interest, and neither do you as a Manager! To make sure your standard process is implemented and adopted – and that you will to get the visibility you need on your data -you have to prove to your team that it’s benefiting to them as well. Because the truth is that your employees don’t care much about accelerating your company’s time-to-market if there is nothing in it for them!
They care about getting their work done on a more comfortable and rewarding way.
As a Manager, your role is to federate your teams, to show them that you are asking them to change because you care about their concerns and you are bringing them practical solutions to enhance their everyday work experience.
To align your interests and theirs, ask yourself what they need and want, and you will find the way(s) you have to introduce your process structuration plan. It might be a question of giving them more responsibility in their job, of freeing them from time-consuming tasks, of rewarding them for getting more done, of giving them powerful tools, building user-friendly communication channels, being proud of their company over performing industry competitors…
Measure, Analyze, Iterate
Streamlining your process from conception to warehouse delivery will bring you more visibility on your activity. Controlling it means that you are able to monitor it actively. Set KPIs to track, and to measure month after month, season after season, what the levers are to improve your time-to-market. You did the necessary job to be able to analyze the data. In the same way as the process structuration, this job is not straightforward. According to your teams’ organizations, your business current situation, global challenges… the KPIs you track and the issue you will focus on will vary. Proceed step by step, and continuously question and challenge your figures. Test different scenarios, one by one to be able to clearly analyze their consequences on your time-to-market, implement it, and iterate. Levers of improvement are multiple, as mentioned above; it can be a question of vendor performance, managing your team’s products distribution differently according to each characteristic, understanding why one Merchandiser is performing better than another, being able to visualize and qualify your quality issue. Solving identified problems will make you improve given KPIs, and then move to another lever. This way, you will progressively get more and more precise control of your time-to-market, and improve it step by step with data-driven and actionable plans.
Accelerating your time-to-market is an everlasting, complex and demanding matter. Successfully managing it results in a series of small things brought together. Starting a new year is said to be favorable to change of habits.