Winning the Smile of the User

Anyone who has worked in the high-tech electronics sector for a couple of decades has seen some big changes and been part of some crazy projects. I certainly have.  And these are the projects that have taught me the most about how to successfully implement technology—and to understand it sometimes takes more time than anyone would like.

Let me give you an example. I was involved in a warehouse management system (WMS) deployment for a hardware distributor back in 2001.  The United States was just coming out of the dot-com bust, interest rates had been lowered, and a lot of people were investing in real estate as a smart way to shelter savings and take advantage of low interest rates.  In Atlanta, things were really hopping because our city had plenty of open spaces for new construction. Las Vegas enjoyed a similar boom. 

My hardware distributor customer was benefiting from the opportunities, supplying lots of fasteners to Lowes and Home Depot. In addition, they had a patented key making machine that was installed in most Home Depot locations. With help from an investor group, the CEO hoped to expand his business aggressively. With the relationships and track record already in place, it was a promising plan. 

They commissioned their first warehouse. The management of the company were hard working Midwesterners who took a hands-on common-sense approach to business. They built a near perfect production-based operations culture, where workers showed up promptly at 6:00 AM work hard till 4:00 PM and then went home. It was much different than the always-on attitude I experienced in the software industry. The company set up a team, hired a great project manager, and an able technical team. Unfortunately, they were starting from zero to trying to get top speed with a hugely complicated system very quickly. We were engaged to implement not only the WMS, but also to integrate with three different types of material handling equipment (a conveyor system to divert boxes; a carousel to hold high velocity SKUs; and a pick to light system for faster picking) along with the Radio Frequency handhelds for picking. 

The company budgeted half a million dollars for the project. Our efforts to connect all these systems ate up a good part of the budget and synchronizing testing took a bunch of time. Eventually, we accomplished everything, and the data center went live. They had spent twice their budget and still weren’t meeting the throughput goals.  Understandably, the client side COO was unhappy and sent a warning letter saying that they would take legal action if the promises that had been made were not met. 

Our senior vice president arrived on site as requested. We got re-engaged and fixed the situation by working really hard. My boss identified all the slow points and made them faster, both from a process and a system perspective. I assisted with implementing all the changes. It took eight weeks to get everything right.  When we left, the users will still not fully happy—the process had left a bad taste in their mouths. 

Fast forward ten months. My boss heard from this client who wanted my company to know how happy they were. We had left them with suggestions for further changes to be implemented. They had realized their adverse situation and worked as a team to fix problems, document standard operating procedures, and incorporate solid training processes. As a result, the team was knowledgeable and functioned like a well-oiled machine. Finally, they had met their throughput numbers which gave them a renewed sense of confidence. They knew what they were doing. This was the first time that I observed how a disgruntled client, with a solid team could turn their situation around.  I can point to several reasons for their success. 

First, the team came together in adversity They worked hard to learn the system, train associates and set up highly disciplined standard operating procedures.  The shared adversity crated strong bonds among all involved. 

Second, they worked hard to understand their real situation. If you had a 1980 Ford, you wouldn’t enter the Indy 500. You would buy or build a car made for the task. The project manager assessed his team and focused on getting the right talent. He assigned clear roles and responsibilities.

Third, the organization understood and managed the change management process. Humans need time to adapt to a change, and also need a lot of hand holding. When they did this as a team, everything came together.

When I saw the smiles on the faces of this client, it felt great. Everyone likes to be part of the winning side. Since then, I’ve had similar situations. A client recently was confused and unhappy during an implementation of our wearable product. Some of the older workers were resistant to change, and the expert supporting our technology has some holes in his knowledge. At the same time, the technology was faster and easy to use. Seeing that, the clients’ leadership supported the change and got their team to pull together. In the end, they found that things ran much more efficiently. Then everyone was happy.

So have you been part of such a project in your supply chain? How did you overcome the challenges? How did you pull the team together? What did you do to make your project a huge success? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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