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Feb 14, 2018 | 4 min read


Agile methodologies: an essential tool or the latest passing fad?


Anselme Jalon

Deputy Director

A fortnight ago, DKNY unveiled its latest smartwatch. After Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs and Michael Kors, the smartwatch has become this season’s new must-have accessory. More than just a fashion item, it offers a new way to experience time and redefines our relationship with technology.

It is clear that fashion and new technologies are continuing to converge. The dreams of science fiction are becoming reality: Lanvin’s new artistic director is creating a Digital Couture house; Salvatore Ferragamo is using materials produced from recycled furs. At Paris Fashion Week, Stella McCartney and Miroslava Duma presented Fashion Tech Lab, an investment fund and experimental laboratory. The giants of fashion are using new technologies to create engaging and ethical products. And, quite simply, it works because in both these sectors, design and experience are essential. This new way of designing products is transforming the fashion industry To achieve this transformation, an agile and extraordinarily responsive production system is now required.


Reinventing fashion with agile methodologies

Being agile and responsive to apply innovation with greater speed and at lower cost is one of the principles of agile methodologies widely used in the development of new technologies. Originally developed in the field of IT, agile methodologies involve a project-management approach which extends beyond the information technology sector into startups and major corporations alike. This includes large fashion houses and emerging brands.

User centricity: we are entering the era of experience. The key principle in agile methodologies involves placing the customer at the center of the design process. It is no longer about “only” creating products. Companies must now place the customer at the center of their value system in order to create simple and unique experiences. Smart accessories are a good example of this: whether a smart watch or glasses, the idea is to improve or even “augment” the user experience. Of course, to be able to create these types of products, we need to smash the silos and set up a multidisciplinary team – composed, for example, of a Product Owner, a Developer and a Designer – to work on a dedicated product, united in place and time.

Test & Learn: releasing the product as quickly as possible. With new technologies, the design, creation and production phases have been entirely reorganized: the idea is to shorten the development/production/distribution cycle from a duration of several months to just a few weeks. In February last year, Burberry, followed by Tom Ford, broke away from the traditional fashion calendar. From now on, they will schedule fashion shows to coincide with the dates when items arrive in stores, to better serve their customers’ needs. Until recently associated with luxury products, Adidas is launching the Speedfactory which is capable of producing 1500 pairs of trainers per day. Meeting volatile demand becomes possible with the use of prototyping. Operating on the basis of mini-iterations allows customer involvement from start to finish, reducing the tunnel effect and the risk of finding oneself with a product which is no longer relevant.

Feedback: reaching out to your customer. 80% of friction points can be identified through five customer interviews. In other words, to reflect on the issues faced by your users, it is essential to know them, and even to ask for their opinions directly. This is the case with IvyRevel, the H&M group’s ready-to-wear brand, which offers to create a customized dress based on your digital data. Using the API system, an application developed in collaboration with Google tracks your everyday activity and then provides a unique dress design based on your personal data. Nike has gone even further, making it possible to create personalized sneakers live in under 90 minutes, with the Nike Makers Experience.

KPIs and metrics: if you don’t measure it, you can’t improve it. Big businesses already hold an enormous amount of customer data: they simply need to define the right indicators to measure their performance. But not just any indicators: it is always better to have a single measurement than a dozen of them (the famous One Metric That Matters). For the purpose of measuring retail performance, Oak Labs have developed “smart changing rooms”. Recently installed in the United States, they can be used to gather information about purchasing decisions in order to guide strategic choices concerning future collections.


And there’s more…

Innovation emerges in a restrictive context. As we all know, we’re never as creative as in the final week before a deadline. The restrictive context pushes us to devise solutions which did not previously exist. When we lack time and resources we’re obliged to be clever and creative. So it’s hardly surprising that new players are more innovative than the big fashion houses: too much time, too much money and too many people often relegate innovation to a secondary position.

At the end of the day, there is no magic formula: transformation is first and foremost a human endeavor. It is a question of integrating agile methodologies into everyday procedures to adapt to new production and innovation patterns. In practice, this means several things: going back to basics, being more flexible and responsive, and regaining the kind of customer proximity big business have lost because they have become too large, too important, too structured. Ultimately, we don’t need much to innovate: a project team and two pizzas to keep hunger at bay.


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