Successful Software Projects Require a Focus on People

It is well-known that any successful software project includes people, process, and technology elements. One of the things I found interesting about Manhattan Associates’ recently concluded Momentum conference is the degree to which People issues were addressed. Manhattan is a leading provider of supply chain software. In fact, I heard People issues discussed more at this conference than any other that I’ve attended.

In the conference kickoff keynote address, one item Manhattan’s CEO Eddie Capel discussed was a common issue faced in retail warehouses – the tremendous ramp-up in hiring that occurs weeks before the peak picking season kicks off. Manhattan, like many major supply chain software companies, is devoting a lot of attention to the user experience (UX) by working to improve their user interface. But the key interface for warehouse temp workers, most of whom will be millennials, is on their RF guns. Manhattan Associates released an intuitive, new mobile picking application that runs on Android or iOS. The interface is designed to have the same kind of UX as smart phones – something millennials, of course, have a lot of experience using. The screen layout incorporates touch responsive areas and can pull item images to assist in visual identification. There is also a new pack station interface. A better UX can help these seasonal workers get trained faster, so a warehouse manager does not have to start hiring workers quite as early. In short, just as there are people issues associated with a technology implementation, the ease of use of technology affects how productive people will be.

Right after Eddie spoke, I went to a presentation by Keith Nash, the VP of Process and Technology at Lennox Industries. Lennox International is a provider of indoor air control systems. Mr. Nash works in the residential business unit. Mr. Nash spoke about their multi-year journey to transform their supply chain capabilities with the goals of providing faster and better service, while building capabilities to handle much greater production volumes, and doing those things while simultaneously achieving significant reductions in working capital. Several Manhattan applications were implemented as part of this journey. But it is the People issues he addressed that I found particularly interesting.

Mr. Nash said that these kinds of projects used to be called “IT projects.” But Lennox needed to think differently around the implementation of new applications. These are not “IT projects,” they are “business enablement” projects. Business leaders need to step up and work with IT. Success in the transformation was dependent on forming one team. That means that in thinking about the project, the principle of “quality first” needed to be followed. “Quality first” is the idea that the core goal is to implement technology in such a way that the vision and new process requirements of the business transformation are supported. In the past, a budget was put together for an IT project. It is of course very common for IT projects to go over budget because complex projects are tough to scope. Historically, once the budget was spent at Lennox, the project would wrap but the organization would be promised that the rest of the work would occur in Phase 2. But of course Phase 2 never happened.

Mr. Nash said that education, training, change management, and the costs associated with cleaning data and keeping it clean are not costs. “They are enablers and requirements. If these things are not going to be done right, don’t start the project.”

Then the very next presentation I went to was titled “Leading Change.” The two presenters were Terry Geraghty, Chief Human Resources Officer at Manhattan Associates, and Raj Govindarajan, a Senior Manager of Supply Chain Initiatives at ULTA Beauty.

In Mr. Geraghty talked about a framework for change that was developed by John Kotter and published in the Harvard Business Review. This article was based on Mr. Kotter’s research on change at over 100 companies; what had worked, what hadn’t, and why. The following figure comes from Kotter’s article in HBR.


John Kotter’s Change Management Principles

What you see above are the guidelines. But Manhattan, which has a change management consulting practice, has fleshed these ideas out in considerable detail. Mr. Geraghty spoke of building change management planning documents analogous to, and almost as thick, as technical, implementation plans. These plans can run to over a hundred pages. And Mr. Govindarajan spoke of how ULTA had driven successful change by following these guidelines and working with the Manhattan change management practice.

In conclusion, most supply chain professionals know that a successful project is likely to include elements of people, process, and technology, but few of us really devote the attention to People issues that they really deserve. The Manhattan conference was refreshing because they did not ignore this critical element of project success.


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