Before Covid struck, I was supporting an offsite manufacturing startup with their software product development.
The startup needed software to help optimise their manufacturing process of modular homes built with Cross Laminated Timber (CLT).
This post outlines how the 3 of us in the software team designed & built a no-code solution for capturing replenishment requests from the factory operatives in order to keep them doing what they do well – manufacturing.
Close Customer Collaboration
How far is it from your sofa to your front door? That was the distance from us to our customers, the factory operatives.
This closeness gave us the incredible opportunity to discover what challenges the operatives were facing so that the solution we delivered actually solved their problems, not compounded them.
We also had access to the CEO & the Operations Director (responsible for the manufacturing). We were able to interview them to understand what their frustrations were & what kept them up at night!
Before we could get anywhere near a solution, we needed to explore the problem space.
We started by building a value stream map to understand how materials & information flows within the company.
One great realisation that surfaced immediately was that we could quickly get to shared understanding using manufacturing terminology due to our understanding of Lean software development ideas (remember where these come from?).
The operatives are trained Lean practitioners – we could hold a conversation with them in their language, which really helped to build rapport & get to the real challenges they were facing.
After mapping the value stream in the office, we went out onto the factory floor to see the material & information flows for real.
This gave us the opportunity to identify the gaps between the expected & actual flows as well as identifying some low hanging fruit in the processes we could go for.
There were some immediate improvements we could make without software using our Lean experience & fresh eyes on the problem.
This included putting up Magic Whiteboard in prominent places (like in the team canteen & by their workstations) for operatives to provide in-the-moment feedback. This feedback was also visible to & replayed back to management.
At the same time as we were investigating what software could help us solve some of the other challenges, our 4th member was rolling into the team. This team member suggested we look into no-code development platforms.
We eventually settled on Glide. as it seemed to offer the simplest solution & get us feedback on our ideas the fastest (& it was free). Glide updates & consumes data in Google Sheets, using configurable UI components to present that data in a mobile representation of the data.
Within 1 day, we had a working prototype app which we could take to our customers (the factory operatives) for feedback.
Glide gave us the capability to demo a working solution to the operatives & weave their feedback into a new version of the solution within hours.
One example included an appreciation of the different flows for different tasks. Whilst on the factory floor, I updated the Glide app to build in the flexibility the operatives needed to complete their tasks.
This rapid iteration helped build rapport & trust between the software team (us) & the operatives. They appreciated we were there to fix the system, not fix them & this really helped with their willingness to adopt the solutions.
We could also disprove our assumptions in minutes. I can’t tell you how much I love being in this space – it’s a fantastic opportunity!
People, Processes Tools
Throughout the development of this product, we adopted the principle of understanding people, process & then tools.
This paid dividends in not only developing the solution to actually solve their problem but also smoothed the adoption of the software & related changes in the flow.
Trying to implement a tool which disregards the processes which someone has developed over time is a sure-fire way to ruin the adoption of that tool.
The organisation now has several Glide apps running as experiments helping us capture the data required to build a product which will be more resilient & integrate with the suite of other products we are developing for the organisation.
One of the apps has been redeveloped with AppSheet as the data we captured with Glide provided sufficient information to give us confidence that we were on the correct path.
AppSheet gives us more long-term resilience (like version control & better offline capabilities) & scales better than Glide.
Remember, I’m not a programmer (I can read code, discuss design patterns & just about update code), but a no-code development platform enabled me & my teammates to create an app that solved problems for our customers within hours.
That’s the kind of fast feedback, short lead-time, high-value delivery I’m about!
Thanks for reading,