Phyllis and Barnes specializes in office furniture and interior furnishings; it has been in the industry for about eighty years and is still expanding amid strong competition. One problem they faced time and time again was the lack of an efficient workflow within a network of 500 dealers. The long traditions, which remained unchallenged and obviously obsolete, required that dealers write up customer orders, most often by hand, and submit them by phone or fax. Some orders were sent using a DOS-based program that was crudely designed back in the 1980’s. To make matters worse, the batch processing capability of the program was in lack of consistency and prone to confusion.
After orders were entered into a corporate order-management system, they were relayed to a centralized database, which had been poorly managed over the years. Worse still, when customer orders were made incorrectly, someone has to bear the responsibilities or risk an unhappy customer. In one instance, a product line manager omitted a new furniture item while he was updating the central catalogue. As a result, customer representatives throughout the country were unable to place orders for enthusiastic customers in the first week. Employees grew particularly frustrated after Phyllis and Barnes began distributing furniture from a new European furniture wholesaler. The increasing confusion in the ordering process and escalation in workload have gradually deteriorated their morale.
In June 1997, the remarkable drop in business turnover has finally provoked anxiety in the management team, which decided to confront the problem of poor collaboration network within the company. The Senior Operation Manager, Barry Searle, was called upon and asked to resolve what seemed to be every senior manager’s concern: “How do we streamline the order process and make it easier for employees – especially those working from remote facilities – to enter ordering information?”
Barry put together a new development team in an effort to improve the existing workflow. To the three new team members, the assignment was no easy task even in the beginning. The original designer of the existing order placement software was long gone, and the system administrator who performed weekly maintenance had never studied the workflow logic. The development team ended up studying the original software design and formulated a set of new system specifications with the help of several customer representatives. The new system, known as EFOS or “Electronic Furniture Ordering System”, was deployed in December 1997.
To Barry’s dismay, the deployment of EFOS turned out to be an unexpected disappointment. While EFOS was fully tested during development and was technically flawless, several user issues began to surface shortly after EFOS was launched. These issues are elaborated below: First of all, customer representatives showed a great deal of reluctance when asked to learn how to use the new system. They had difficulty understanding why their managers wanted to divert their attention to a new training program, on top of their mounting workload.
Secondly, for those who were willing to learn the new system, they found several important features missing and some unnecessary routines continuing to be present – even though they could be simplied. The problem arose because the development did not expand their consultation effort when drafting the system specification. There was a poor communication between the developers and customer representatives who actually used the system on a daily basis. This is especially true to those representative who work at remote locations.
Thirdly, employees suffered from a loss of motivation in face of mounting workload and constant adjustment to their work rountines. They felt that the effort of restructuring the business was largely disorganized and incoherent. The discontent among the employees has grown into a collective unwillingness to cooperate with the development team. The above issues became even more relevant as the management team decided that they would expand their workforce in the first quarter of 1998. They were urgently in search of an organizational framework in which employees can add values to the company in the most productive manner, while providing more job satisfaction to them at the same time.
The senior management team has shown great concern over the remarkable drop in sales in 1997. The core strategy of the company is always to provide customers with furniture of the finest quality. The CEO of Phyllis and Barnes believes that the products they sell should speak for themselves. He realized that a piece of well-made home furniture, when properly chosen and placed in a house, would not only serve its functional purpose, but also instill a sense of warmth for people who live in there. As a result of his vision, the management team focussed heavily on selecting first-class furniture manufacturers in both North America and Europe. If the management team failed to specialize in this niche, the company would not be able to stand out among its peers and might lose its market share.
The primary goal of the Department of Operations, headed by Senior Operations Manager Barry Searle, is to ensure that inventory control and distribution channels are properly maintained and balanced. Since the sales figures fell, the senior management team requested that all departments have their procedures reviewed. In this way, they hoped to pinpoint what were the key factors that caused the shrinking sales.
Shortly after the request was made, Barry began interviewing inventory managers, logistics officers, and customer representatives. What alerted Barry most was the ordering process, which was intensely disputed among customer representatives in different branch locations. Barry immediately recognized the urgency and reported several highlighted issues to the management team. If Barry failed to address the bottleneck issues in the ordering procedures, Phyllis and Barnes might continue to fade in the market and his career would be at risk.