The Komatsu America Corporation team wanted to make it easier for its customers in the U.S. and Canada to do business with them. For years, the company, which manufactures heavy equipment for industries including construction, mining, forestry, and utility, took orders from catalogs via phone or fax. It was a cumbersome process that didn’t create the best customer experience. But then again, shifting to an online portal wouldn’t necessarily be easy either. What was needed most was solid project management — and not from the tech team.
Robert Jerome, vice president of innovation and technology for Dickinson and Associates, says that having the right project engagement lead on the customer side was a huge factor in the project’s success. “We needed someone who was more than a task manager. We needed somebody who really understood the distributors and could be an advocate for the project,” he says. “Her job was to socialize what was coming, build momentum, and identify the people who would be supporters.”
Dickinson worked with Daphyne Woodard, manager of order and distribution continuous improvement for Komatsu. “Change is never easy,” said Woodard. “To ensure broad adoption of the new portal quickly, we knew we would need to clearly demonstrate the key advantages in ways that resonated with the users. We did that by consistently updating them on the new features so that they were not only anticipating them but looking forward to them. By the time we went live, our distribution partners were asking for it,” she says.
Woodard was also a part of planning, working with each department internally to identify enhancements they wanted to achieve. She also led meetings, training, and some change management initiatives at Komatsu.
The Best Project Engagement Lead May Not Have a Background in Technology
Jerome says Woodard was the perfect choice to be the project’s engagement lead, maintaining a positive attitude even when the team encountered challenges. “You need to find someone who will start positive and stay positive when occasional roadblocks surface,” he says. “Daphyne was committed to the project throughout planning, development, implementation — and even user training, meeting with users at different locations throughout North America to ensure the project’s success.”
Perhaps most importantly, Jerome says Woodard brought a non-technical perspective to the implementation. This enabled her to look at the process through the lens of a user and explain the advantages very specifically — reduced order-entry errors, expedited fulfillment and less time fielding inquiries.
Because Woodard doesn’t have a technical background, Dickinson assigned one of their consultants to act as a liaison and ensure effective communication between their technical team and the team at Komatsu.
“Dickinson was able to put what they know into language that I and my coworkers could understand,” Woodard says. “We could see how the system would affect us and have a positive impact on how we do business with customers.”
Woodard’s success as an engagement lead was also due to her open-mindedness and flexibility, which helped her facilitate change. “Having been with Komatsu for 14 years, I knew the system and had created workarounds,” she says. “I had to get comfortable with the technology first before I could help others appreciate and leverage it as something good, exciting and new.”
Agile Project Implementation
Dickinson, which has delivered numerous digital transformation projects across a range of industries, chose to structure this project differently. Implementation often takes a waterfall approach, starting with a blueprint, building, and then putting the complete system in place. Dickinson instead took a page from Agile methodology, building a baseline prototype, capturing feedback from users, and then prioritizing features to incorporate the next phase. “It put a box around the initial scope as opposed to trying to do everything at once,” he explains.
As a result, Jerome says his team was able to launch the new system for Komatsu, leveraging SAP’s cloud platform, in less than five months. With an industry average of nine to twelve months, “That’s unheard of,” he says.
Advice for Using the Agile-Engagement Approach to Project Implementation
Woodard says it’s essential to establish open lines of communication from day one, even before design. “(The Dickinson team) were total strangers,” she says. “But we sat down and talked and knew we’d be working together closely on a daily basis.”
“You have to have the understanding that you will make decisions together and trust they’ll bring back what you asked for,” she says. “They are the experts in technology, but they allowed me to bring the knowledge I had and lead us into a future where we could better serve our customers.”
Jerome says this approach could support a range of situations where the need to solve a business problem exists. Developing a warranty portal, for example, could begin with the foundation concept of a better user interface and then add features— such as submitting a photo for a claim — in future iterations. Regardless of your application, Jerome advises, “Start small and win big.”