You know those people who when you ask them how they are doing they respond with “oh, I’m so busy” and they are proud of being busy. I am 100% in support of success. I am 100% in support of being productive. I could care less if you are busy. If you are productive and busy great! If you are busy but not productive, I hope you are ready to make a change.
Narrow and Clarify Priorities
Do you know your priorities? Could your staff explain how what they are working on relates to those priorities? Narrow the list of priorities to a few and make sure anyone in the organization can explain how the work they are doing supports those priorities. I am not talking about general goals such as increase revenue 10%. I’m talking about the three things that must be accomplished this week in order to meet that goal.
Let Your Team Focus
Do you expect your employees or coworkers to read email within five minutes of receipt? Stop. Rarely are issues so urgent and if the issue is urgent you can walk to the team member’s desk to discuss or use the telephone. Multitasking is actually impossible. The more frequently we change train of thought, the less we get done. As Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson put it in Rework “interruption is the enemy of productivity”. Make a cultural change to allow your employees to focus. Encourage meeting free blocks of time. Let employees turn off email notifications. Let people have some quiet time.
Validate and Test Concepts Early
Working in the apparel industry we all know that sometimes designs must be changed and improved. How you go about validating changes and improvements can mean the difference between being busy or being productive. A lot of loops, twists, and turns in your development cycle makes for a more artful flow chart, but that process is hardly productive. Doing tasks over keeps people busy but doesn’t allow them to feel productive. Changing a product a week before production is painful and costly for all stakeholders. If production is delayed, even the customer is impacted. Take a meaningful pause early in the development cycle to review sketches, 3D renderings, or initial prototypes. Allow time in your development cycle to make adjustments following this review.
When people feel like they are making meaningful progress toward a goal, moral soars. Clothing lines don’t make money until they are produced and available for sale. Spend less time planning and more time delivering strong products that your customers want.
Why wait until you have produced a whole line of product to find out what the consumer wants? Products can be tested without actually producing garments. 3D images can be created that look like real garments. Or if you want to test a new graphic t-shirt, use Photoshop to put the new design on an existing product photo. Reach customers via social media or post a customer survey on your website. If you are a wholesaler, send out a quick survey to retail buyers.
Do you have a PLM system? Are you using the system as a product lifecycle management system or a product data management system? A full lifecycle management system captures information from inception to delivery. All stakeholders including your suppliers and manufacturers have access to view and/or edit information. Workflow information such as development calendars and the status of each style is captured in the system and flags notifies if you are behind.
If you are too small for a PLM system, that’s ok. You are nimble because of your organization’s size. There are a lot of inexpensive tools you can string together and leverage. Excel or Google Sheets can capture garment measurements. Adobe Illustrator can be used for 2D CAD work. Pull all of it together into a PDF file and you have a techpack or use a cloud based tool like Techpacker. There are also inexpensive or free project management/collaboration tools such as Freedcamp and ProjectPier.
No one wants to read a thirty page technical package. I certainly don’t want to write a thirty page apparel specification. So how do you convey all the necessary details to a factory in the most concise manner?
Communicate visually. Use flat sketches, construction diagrams, images of trims, inspiration images, 3D images to all tell a story. Ask yourself what images the contact person in the factory needs to create an accurate mental model of the garment. Those images need to be powerful enough to snuff out assumptions formed from previous experience or cultural context.
Do not repeat or conflict yourself. Information in the style specification should not ever conflict and should not be redundant. Detailed construction sketches should not conflict with the style sketch. If a detailed diagram of a pant fly closes left over right but a sketch of the front of the garment shows it right over left, you have a 50% chance of getting what you want.
If a bill of material clearly defines the fabric and trims, do not restate the fabric or trim descriptions on a diagram. Once is enough and reduces confusion. If you change your mind, you will only have to update one item in the specification before reissuing the specification to the factory.
Leverage a standards manual. If information is included in the standards manual, do not add the same diagram or information to the specification. Save effort by condensing diagrams that apply to all garments of a certain type into the standards manual. If you are afraid the factory won’t find the information in the standards manual reference the page or section of the manual or a link if the manual is on-line. The chart below shows information that can be included in a standards manual versus a product specification. If you are starting a new line and haven’t established standards, include all the information in your first tech packs but start saving the information to a library so you can build your manual.
Proof your work. Ask a team member who isn’t as close to the product to look over the specification. Is there anything that is confusing? Are they left with any questions? Once it is proofed and sent to the factory, make it clear that you are willing to answer questions. A twenty-four hour delay to ask a question is better than a two week delay because an assumption was made and a sample has to be recreated and shipped again.
What other tips do you have for creating specifications? How do you save time? Please share in the comments.