What we did
Struggles before every shift
Prolife Foods has grown from a family-run business – operated out of a house in New Zealand – into a global fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) company that focuses on providing high-quality bulk foods to its customers. In Australia, the organization sells its products inside more than 700 grocery stores around the country.
Merchandisers for Prolife Foods are part-time field staff who travel from store to store, tending to the bulk food sections that display and dispense product. They replenish stock, clean bulk food bins, record wastage, and submit the orders that keep the containers full of product. They also unpack delivered stock and stash it in the back of the stores. And once or twice every year, they do stock-take [inventory] activities. But these field staff were facing challenges that significantly hampered their ability to work efficiently.
When the merchandisers arrived on-site to start their shifts, it could take up to an hour before they were able to begin work. Often, they had to hunt down a scanner gun – a tool that they competed with grocery-store employees to use – and then find the correct password to unlock it. Sometimes they also had to ask for access to a back-office printer, to print off order forms with the correct barcodes for the company’s frequently changing stock.
Other difficulties included lack of insight into products that might be unavailable at the warehouse, lost slips of paper, and errors because of changing barcodes or outdated order forms. And merchandisers weren’t the only ones affected – all these challenges meant staff in the corporate office lacked visibility into stock loss and supply chain issues too.
The company could deal with the bothersome aspects inherent in manual, paper-based processes when they were selling product in 100 to 200 supermarkets, but “we’re in more than 700 stores now, and that scale is harder to manage without a digital solution,” says Nigel Williams, general manager of Prolife Foods. “We were at a stage where we needed a way to get information out to our team in real time – and get the kind of feedback that would help us make better business decisions.” So the company contacted Slalom for help.
The app is really user-friendly and very intuitive. Adoption with staff has been seamless.
The case for user-centered design
The Prolife Foods team wanted Slalom to start building an app immediately. When we recommended beginning with some user experience (UX) research, they were cautious. “Involving end users means the project is a bit longer and a bit more expensive – but it also makes the end result much more successful,” says Jen Glass, a managing director at Slalom.
To ease concerns, Slalom held a workshop with the company’s regional managers and potential solution users and did some “day in the life” journey mapping that surfaced new issues – things that influenced the app’s design. Together, Slalom consultants and Prolife Foods completed a discovery process that allowed us to create wireframes and early prototypes that illustrated the value of a UX approach. “We wanted to make sure the solution we designed would work for them in the field environment,” Glass says.
Distilling a lengthy manual activity into a simple digital flow that’s also accessible for low-tech users can be a challenge. But it was a challenge our teams were more than ready to meet. Says Williams, “One of the things that impressed me the most was the Slalom designer’s ability to interpret what we were saying during our user interface design meetings into something visual.”
The Slalom and Prolife Foods teams looked at the biggest challenges for the corporate staff and the merchandisers, prioritized the issues, and concluded that a minimum viable product (MVP) built around the order submittal process would have the biggest impact for the business. Our UX designers also spent time in the field with the merchandisers. “People got really excited as we talked,” says Andrew Lamont, a principal at Slalom Melbourne. “We showed them a prototype and asked them how they worked. Being a participant in the process was something a lot of them enjoyed. Everyone felt valued.”
It gives me a lot more comfort and peace of mind that we have better control over our supply chain out in market.
From ideation to launch in six weeks
“We didn’t have time to boil the ocean, so we thought about how to make the solution as simple as possible for users, and for Prolife Foods to maintain and improve going forward,” says Pol Lavery, Slalom engagement lead. To keep costs down and help speed delivery, Slalom used Microsoft Power Apps – a technology Prolife Foods already had licensing for and was familiar with – to build the solution. Because the cost of maintaining tablets was too prohibitive, our team recommended a “Bring Your Own Device” approach so that merchandisers could use their own phones to place orders.
The finished Power Apps app has stock-taking [inventory] capabilities and a geo-location feature that tailors the stock shown within the app to the products that sell within the exact store where the merchandiser is working. Prolife Foods staff can also pull up a previous order as a baseline for producing a new one – a user-requested feature that saves additional time.
As a stakeholder, Williams appreciated how Slalom included him and his teams in the process. “It was a very collaborative approach,” he says. “The Slalom team stick with you all the way and deliver on what they promise.”
The MVP pilot involved only 10 people, but the user-centered approach paid off. Says Williams, “The app is really user-friendly and very intuitive. Adoption with staff has been seamless. We’ve rolled the app out in stages, and by the first quarter of next year all 750 field staff will be using the new solution.”
A solution that scales
Armed with the new app on their own phones, the field merchandisers have more autonomy, are less stressed, and no longer waste time on those pre-shift hunts. Daily and weekly tasks such as ordering and stock receipting are easier, faster, streamlined, and more accurate. All this means more time spent on consumer engagement activities, like product sampling. Merchandisers know exactly which stock is available at the warehouse before they place an order, and the corporate office staff know when supply chain hiccups (such as late deliveries) occur. Corporate staff can also update product barcodes within the Power Apps app and don’t have to rely on the field staff to print 750 multiple-page order forms every time stock and barcodes change. With the new Microsoft Power Platform solution, the company’s operations are more environmentally sustainable.
Paper has also disappeared from the stock-taking process – an endeavor that used to require multiple steps and take weeks. “We just completed our first stock-take using only the app – no paper – and it went really well. This has been the quickest turnaround that we’ve had getting data from a stock-take analyzed,” says Williams. “It gives me a lot more comfort and peace of mind that we have better control over our supply chain out in market.”