By Charlotte Kula-Przezwanski

I think we all know that great apparel brands maintain competitive advantage by consistently executing on time. Executing late, or under constant pressure, is not a mark of creativity. It’s just bad management.

Do you have friends who always run late?

It’s annoying, right? When they keep you waiting, you’re not so eager to see them next time.

So it is with customers. If you don’t give them what they want, on their schedule, they find other brands that do.

That’s why you turn your company upside-down to deliver what they want, when they want it.

What great apparel brands do differently? The best-run companies are fast and efficient, but they are not frenzied. They don’t have to be. These top performers have excellent design, execution, growth, and profitability. They’ve honed their competitive advantage through the consistency of their execution.

Here’s how they do it:

  • They share a disciplined commitment to achieving the few critical milestones that are essential to meeting company goals.
  • They carefully manage their time and tasks between the milestones.
  • They hold each other accountable to meet their deadlines. Everyone. Even their CEO.

These are what I call calendar-managed enterprises (CME). The concept is simple, but the discipline is hard. Why it pays to execute on time, all the time. It’s worth the effort. Companies that run this way have built in time for creativity. They accommodate the inevitable surprises. They operate more smoothly, with less stress, less crisis management. Company morale improves. Costs go down. Customers are satisfied. They keep coming back. Market share increases. Profits increase. Share values rise.

Sadly we all know that missed internal deadlines drain profit from many apparel brands:

  • Merchandise Planning didn’t align demand forecasts with Sourcing
  • Suppliers did not receive style and colour corrections in time
  • Even expedited air shipments arrived late at the warehouse
  • Budget delays occurred because Merchandise Planning and Finance were not aligned

Getting serious about executing on time

Despite the challenges, many companies big and small have begun changing their culture to one that executes on time, all the time. The first step is to identify the single most important timeline for your company. For most apparel companies, it is the cycle from product to customer. Your product-development cycle should become the primary timeline that anchors all other priorities and activities.

With CME, you simply don’t miss deadlines. You always make up for lost time. The more discipline you master, the more flexibility you gain.

CME operates by five easy guiding principles:

  1. Senior leadership sponsors the program and endorses it visibly
  2. Roles and responsibilities are clearly defined
  3. You manage only a handful of critical milestones. The milestones are non-negotiable dates when teams make key decisions to move forward. All other company activities synchronize and defer to these milestones
  4. Each critical milestone and its supporting tasks have a single owner and point of contact
  5. An administrator manages the process by exception. Exceptions appear on weekly reports. The administrator manages corrective actions to keep everyone on schedule

The many benefits of doing so boil down to two words: competitive advantage.

Apparel brands that have mastered on-time execution are formidable competitors. They execute like clockwork, year after year. Their consistency makes possible many of the competitive advantages they enjoy. They experience robust growth, even as other apparel brands struggle.

CME may not be right for all companies. It often requires a big culture change to implement it. Even so, CME has strong appeal. Businesses unknowingly pay a high price for letting their own deadlines slip. They can slash this cost by committing to execute on time, all the time.

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