Stacey Kusterbeck

A consistent and efficient product development timeline, a single process to reduce redundancy, and a seamless enactment of best practices throughout the company: These are three of the key benefits Warnaco expects to achieve from its recent investment in an integrated product lifecycle management (PLM) system.

Taking a good look at its processes, Warnaco, the $1.8 billion company that designs, sources, markets and distributes intimate apparel, sportswear, and swimwear worldwide, under such owned and licensed brands as Calvin Klein, Speedo, Chaps, Warner's and Olga, saw opportunities to both standardize across all its brands and improve efficiency.

Previously, each brand operated independently, each with its own key performance indicators, tech packs and purchase order formats. With the implementation of "best practice" processes and software, Warnaco now expects to improve the level of synergy between its internal sourcing arm and its factory network.

"PLM will facilitate information sharing between our selling and merchandising offices around the world, enabling us to advance our goal of increasing global collaboration of product development," says Stephan Findikyan, vice president of business operations for Warnaco.

Before investing in a PLM solution, Warnaco's internal business operations team worked individually with its business partners to define processes, roles and responsibilities. They looked at the production calendar and how the company measured up against others in its industry.

"One goal of PLM is to improve our speed to market," says Mike Feliton, Warnaco's vice president of information systems development. "If your calendar is too long, there isn't adequate time to review and act on retail selling data related to the prior year's performance. Reduced cycle times will allow current season selling results to be translated into the design process for the following year."

Timing is right for sophisticated PLM
Once processes were clearly defined, Warnaco set out to select a PLM system, narrowing it down to a handful of the major players with similar capabilities. "From that handful, we moved on to performing onsite software demonstrations for our users. Involving the business owners in the selection process helped ensure the best selection for Warnaco," says Feliton.

Enovia 's PLM system was chosen. "For the first time, there are apparel-specific PLM systems to choose from," says Michelle Garvey, Warnaco's global CIO. "PLM, for the apparel space, has come a long way in the last couple of years. If you looked for PLM software even two or three years ago, it was really PDM-focused. Today there are some really good, sophisticated products out there. We wanted a solution that had proven capabilities in our market space."

The new PLM system was implemented one brand at a time in Warnaco's Sportswear Group, which includes Chaps, Calvin Klein Jeans - Men's and Calvin Klein Jeans - Women's, over a three-month period in early 2008. The PLM system continues to be rolled out across the other business units, with an estimated September rollout for the swimwear group. Warnaco expects its global rollout to be completed during 2009.

"One of the implementation challenges was the lack of process congruence across the brands," says Garvey. "The deliberate nature of our rollout will allow us to respect the individual needs of each business while validating best practices. We will be able to assess what really needs to be different vs. what can and should be standardized."

For example, points of measure will obviously be different for jeans and swimwear. "We also have differences with adoption rates based on brand," says Feliton. If a product is more fashion oriented, the adoption rates will most likely be lower than with a core/replenishable product. However, Warnaco is currently standardizing the method of recording lab dips, sample tracking, fabric tracking and the format of the tech pack.

Best practices and 'guard rails' identified
"The big things we intend to get out of PLM are an improvement in the standardization of process and promulgation of best practices," says Garvey.

Warnaco's new PLM system will be fully integrated with its enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, which was not the case in the past, says Feliton. Warnaco expects to reduce redundant data entry for style masters and cost sheets, while improving the accuracy of data entered into the system. To further improve efficiency, the PLM system will be synchronized with the company's planning tools.

"The important thing for any kind of integration is defining which system owns the data, which system uses the data, and which system or systems are allowed to modify the data," says Garvey. "Our vision is for PLM to be the owner of the style, and the repository of style maintenance, communicating style changes to the ERP retail, and planning systems."

Warnaco is already reaping the benefits of having standardized metrics so that performance can be measured against these. These metrics will act as "guard rails" for the product development process, by specifying, for example, the number of samples, the number of lab dips, and when designs should be completed.

"People do what is measured," says Garvey. "We now have guidelines and guard rails around some of these processes that had previously not really been there. We believe that tracking these metrics will lead to increased compliance."

Stacey Kusterbeck is an Apparel contributing author based in New York.