Active in roadmapping, but encountering difficulties? During a webinar on Product Line Roadmapping by Paul O’Connor of The Adept Group, a majority of participants indicated that this was their case. It may be of interest therefore to touch on some issues I noted recently after discussions with luxury goods executives who develop product lines of jewelry, decorations, scents, cosmetics and toiletries, in fact an extremely wide range of luxury consumer articles.
Developing and Launching New Collections
Generally speaking, the producers of luxury goods launch these as collections, several times per year, covering all or some product ranges for demographic segments such as men, women or children, and for various geographies such as Europe, Asia, America or, for example, all international airport shopping centers. Price levels of the various collections may vary significantly. Apart from function, the product types are further differentiated in categories such as size, color, material, scent or decorative themes, animals, plants, Gothic images, abstract patterns, etcetera. The final list of stock keeping units (SKUs) forming just a single collection can run to dozens or even hundreds.
The choice of collections to be launched is based on strategy and laid down in the marketing plan. The marketing plan lists the collections and sets them out in a time-based representation, typically covering the next three to five years. For example, on which date will we launch a new collection of eau de toilette for teenage girls in Asia or a new collection of silver circus animal pendants for children in Europe?
The marketing plan is therefore the highest level of the roadmap for luxury products.
Planning Complexities at Detailed Levels
Once the decision has been made to develop and launch a collection, a large number of detailed activities are planned and executed. The various SKUs need to be designed and production set up. Normally, this is covered by the Stage-Gate process and involves a complete list of SKUs, an overview of who will design them (specific artists may be named) and where they could be manufactured. Currently some SKUs are handled as a single project, whereas some projects cover a whole list of related SKUs, identified by names, numbers, and images.
Just as complex is the preparation for launch: packaging needs to be designed, legal rights covered with respect to safety, warnings, and intellectual property. Luxury goods always require great attention to advertising and to the availability of point of sale (POS) materials. When the launch occurs on the indicated date, films, posters, samples, and special gift versions need to be available on the spot, at every international airport duty-free shop, for instance.
Each of the items involved in this development and launch preparation involves sub-projects of its own, with many planning documents. Developing just one POS film can be a complex sub-project. The result is thousands of Excel overviews, image files, PowerPoint decks, and in some cases MS Project plans.
Planning a specific POS film, for instance, may apply to just one or to a whole a set of SKUs within the collection. Managers will come to meetings with hard copy overviews of activities that apply to one or more SKUs, including different data elements, and write comments on them. Although they may then hand them to planners or project leaders to incorporate, this can inevitably lead to the existence of parallel copies, leading to questions like “Whose plan are we working on?”, “Which version is it (date, status?)?”, and “How are we incorporating new details?”.
Maintaining this variety of files is currently time-consuming and would normally require a central database. My discussions with these companies were accordingly centered on the possibilities of Sopheon’s Innovation Planner, which can produce unambiguous visual overviews such as meeting agendas, reports and portfolio overviews. The collections set up in the marketing plan can be hierarchically linked to the detailed development projects covering the various SKUs as well as the launch preparation activities involved.
The Way Forward
The most important issues to be resolved are to:
- Get all planners to design and use standard planning models for development and launch.
- Agree on a fixed set of agendas and reports that could be generated automatically.
- Update the information directly in the software, preferably during the meetings.
Working on these topics is time-consuming and progress is slow in some areas. However, leading these to a successful conclusion would create a shared vision and encourage one shared language.
More efficient, less time-consuming data-processing would mean that meetings would be better-prepared, risks spotted in time, decision-making, and post-analyses improved.