Three Secrets to Streamlining Product Development
“We’re not in business if we can’t deliver boots on time,” says Lauren Newman, Product Development Systems Manager at LaCrosse Footwear in Portland, Oregon, which manufactures premium rubber and leather footwear—including boots for hiking, hunting, military and tactical use, logging and construction, and even fashion and lifestyle.
Newman’s team consists of project managers, who coordinate the development of the boots; business managers, who work with the sales team to hit the right target audiences; and designers, who help make the boots stand out on the shelves. She’s also a point person for other departments in the company. It’s a complex undertaking.
“We’re also building relationships…and not just with customers,” she says. “We’re also talking about the stores that sell them, and the sales reps that make sure that the boots are on the shelves, customer service, our factories, our credit team—a huge group of folks all working toward the same end goal. We have to make sure we can uphold our end of the bargain.”
This diverse and dispersed group of people has had to grapple with many of the same challenges that are typical of today’s product development teams. These challenges include work requests that come in from every possible direction, in every imaginable format; confusion over priorities and project status; and data that lives in too many different places, leading to little or no transparency. All of this leaves less time to get work done, resulting in uneven workloads and teams being forced to work late or on weekends in order to hit deadlines.
With the help of modern work management software, LaCrosse Footwear has successfully overcome these pitfalls by following three essential principles to streamline their product development approach.
1. Build business processes that work
It seems obvious, but it’s easy to overlook those foundational processes we follow to move our work along. But every team must look for ways to:
- Understand and honor project timelines
- Better manage priorities and workloads
- Make meetings more effective
- Make collaboration seamless and in context
Before bringing Workfront on board, Newman explains, “We were really privileged to have a really great group of experienced folks in here with a lot of knowledge, but they all had their own way of doing things.” They even had plenty of “Excel spreadsheet warriors who knew how to do all the tricks.” But spreadsheets aren’t great for collaboration—especially in an industry that experiences relatively high turnover, with people moving from company to company, looking for the best opportunity.
“When someone leaves, you’re left scrolling through a lot of information that doesn’t make sense—even if you can find it,” Newman says. She knew they needed a better way, so they brought in an operational system of record (Workfront) to break down these barriers, and they’ve experienced some really exciting results.
For just one example, LaCrosse holds a weekly meeting with all stakeholders and management, where they check in on every product. Upper management wants the information in bite-sized pieces, because they’re focused on a million things at once, but the meetings would still drag on for at least 30-60 minutes.
That all changed when Newman leveraged Workfront to create a self-reporting check in. “A day beforehand, everyone needs to check their report and see if anything has come up since the last meeting,” Newman says. They’ll flag it, and describe what the issue is, who needs to help out, and where it’s focused. Then, “when we get to the actual meeting, we can sit down, have a conversation, and be done in 5-10 minutes. It’s been a definite improvement, and now we can really focus on the items we need to focus on.”
2. Simplify work with templates
One way to simplify work is to use templates. It’s nothing more than automating repeatable processes. I like to cook, but I don’t invent every single recipe from scratch. If something works out well once, I’ll follow that same process the next time—maybe substituting an ingredient here or there. The same is true for our work processes. People that do the best work don’t have thousands of templates or start every project from scratch. They have about ten templates, and they customize them for the project at hand.
Templates can help us:
- Save time getting new projects off the ground
- Automate work assignments, so people with the correct roles are assigned by default to the appropriate parts of the project
- Clearly see and delineate the entire work process, making it easier to evolve it as needed
“If you’re the type of company that’s following many different processes for different products at different times, my hats off to you,” Newman says. “That’s a lot of work. We’ve found that we’re really kind of following the same processes, time after time. We use Workfront to manage it all.”
The team assembles in a meeting room twice a year to review previous timelines and see where they need to make changes. She asks the stakeholders to review key dates and make adjustments, which they enact in the software in real-time, right in the room.
“Timewise, this is about an hour,” she says. “We’re able to take this timeline and convert it into a general template with a simple click of a button. Imagine if you were having to do this with Excel?”
Newman can’t say enough about the copy/clone feature in Workfront, which saves her literally days of work. In about a half a day, she can convert an entire season of projects—around 100 total—into live projects that are ready to get off the ground.
Now, many organizations I’ve worked with like to believe that they’re different and unique—that their work doesn’t follow a predictable path. But once they dig into it, they inevitably discover that’s not true. Work does tend to follow a very traditional, repeatable pathway in almost every organization. Once you figure out what those pathways look like and the types of assignments you need, you can get to the point where, with a click of a button, you can be off and running. It saves hours, days, even weeks of precious time.
“It’s one person managing it on our end, rather than our entire team making their own individual spreadsheets of all of their projects,” Newman says. “We’re all happy here.”
3. Provide visibility into all the work
I’ve been around the block a few times now. And I can now report from personal experience that eyesight does get worse with age. And believe me, it’s no picnic to be unable to see things clearly. Imagine if I said, “Oh, I don’t have time to go to the optometrist! I’ll just wait and see better tomorrow. I’ll just live with this blurry picture for now.”
It’s the same idea with our work. Sure, we could choose to barely get by with a blurry idea of how our work is going. Or we could simply put on a pair of glasses, and get instant clarity and visibility. A centralized work management solution enables us to:
- Easily report on the work that’s being done
- View real-time, accurate information
- Deliver clear insights and project information to key stakeholders, when and where they need it
Newman can’t count the number of times she’s been asked for this or that bit of data in some kind of report. Thanks to Workfront, she can reply with a quick YES. “That’s incredibly important,” she says, “especially when you have a lot of folks within an organization who want this information, they want it now, and they want it clear.”
Twice a year, LaCrosse upper management meets with overseas factories, to make sure relationships are strong, get everyone on the same page, and mitigate any issues that might have cropped up. One critical purpose of the meetings is to make sure deadlines are being followed by the factories, so Newman provides a series of reports generated in Workfront to showcase the critical timelines.
“If you were building this any other way, it would take a long time to do this,” she says. “But in reality, it takes maybe 2 hours to copy previous reports, adjust them for whatever is needed, and make it happen. The flexibility that comes with really getting to know the system means I can create this really cool report that shows not only what’s on time and what’s late, but also gives some context.”
Newman’s team at LaCrosse no longer has to wonder how things are going at each stage of the process. “In a few clicks, we can see what we’re doing, and if there are any issues, we can make a little adjustment,” she says. And problems are visible months before they reach the point of no return. Work management software has given her team the knowledge they need to adjust as needed, making them nimble enough to find the path forward, no matter what challenges crop up.
“We’re able to really build that trust, build those relationships, and make sure we can keep our promises,” Newman says. “Our process and way of working is our competitive advantage.”