We were engaged by a well-known high street fashion retailer to map their Value Chain and optimise business processes across the organisation. Through a highly Agile and collaborative approach, we successfully automated, standardised and simplified several manual and time-consuming processes across the company, increasing data accuracy and visibility, upskilling teams, and effecting significant time and cost savings.
This work led to deep insight into how data is shared across the business and formed a foundation for subsequent infrastructural initiatives.
Work was on-going in mapping an organisation-wide Value Chain and identifying major pain points and areas for improvement. Many of these pain points were related to how operational teams had established their business processes, particularly through the use of MS Excel. Operational teams had grown organically over the years and would use spreadsheets to underpin critical business processes, which drove how they managed and communicated information both internally and externally.
A network of hundreds of spreadsheets would connect and process data across teams, acting as templates, reports, databases and make instructions. Several versions of the same spreadsheet would exist for different product lines, with variations and inconsistencies across teams, especially as personnel and systems would regularly change. Manual re-entry of data was common, as was time spent formatting, calculating, checking, collating and re-organising data, sometimes involving external databases and information from emails and other documents. In addition, many users had software and hardware over 10 years old.
There was the potential to save client teams tens of hours per week by automating repetitive and convoluted processes. In order to do this it was important to understand business processes and working environments at both a high and low level.
Through analysis of the Value Chain, we identified numerous ‘quick wins’. These could be achieved relatively rapidly, yet offered significant benefit in terms of time saving, data accuracy and accessibility, team productivity and cost savings. We took a highly Agile approach, embedding a consultant directly among business teams to allow for close communication and feedback. This enabled the consultant to develop a deep understanding of employee roles and functions, underlying processes, documents and systems, and gain a broader insight into relationships inside and outside the organisation. For processes that were complex, highly variable or across several roles and parties, we would map and analyse them to understand the degree of business or technical effort required.
The work spanned across departments (including Design, Wholesale and Production), across roles (from managers to admin assistants), across varying degrees of technical proficiency and business knowledge, and across digital systems (from SQL servers to Sharepoint services). It was important for us to be thorough and responsive in all these environments in order to build effective and accurate tools, engage and empower all stakeholders, and foster collaboration and open communication.
There were four key components to delivering changes which would leave a lasting and sustainable impact: Development, Support, Training and Standardisation. The majority of the work revolved around developing or refining tools to automate multi-step, time-consuming processes, building more efficient and flexible templates, and linking data systems and extending data queries. At the same time, we would standardise spreadsheets across as many areas as possible, building consistency into how teams work. Teams would be supported in transitioning to new tools and processes, alongside more general technical support through close interaction with our hands-on consultant. We also wanted to add a training element to ensure any tools and scripts developed could be supported independently and to encourage continuous learning.
The initiative led to significant time savings (over 100 hours per week across multiple teams), cost savings (in the £millions), and reduced garment production time-scales. In addition, data accuracy, accessibility and insight greatly improved, as was team productivity and confidence, and there was a marked reduction in IT support team tickets. The changes empowered individuals to think more strategically on their ways of working and how they could contribute.
The approach built unity across departments, providing an opportunity to understand functions and targets across the business and how they might align and share resources. Standardising some of these critical processes and documents led to key insights into the limitations of current technical infrastructure and inter-departmental processes and set the ground-work for how larger systems might better structure and automate these processes.