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Calbee UK Project Management: How to lay an egg without a chicken

No one builds a house without a plan, and no one implements ERP without one either, do they? Calbee UK needed to do just that, and here we explain how Waterstons were able to help.

In summer 2014 we were approached to help a brand new company, Calbee UK, set up from scratch. Calbee Inc is one of the largest and most recognised manufacturers of savoury snacks in Japan but relatively unknown in the UK snack market. Calbee UK was to be the first wholly owned subsidiary outside Japan.

We were delighted that Calbee chose to partner with us so that we could be part of developing this exciting new venture. From day one we’ve been involved in a whole host of activity, whether that was setting up laptops for the first members of staff, leading edge creative design and implementation of their IT infrastructure or setting up their communication and collaboration systems.

Early on in our engagement we were asked to guide Calbee through a system selection process, which provided particular challenges as there were no business processes to describe or define. We worked closely with the Calbee team to identify the most suitable solution and a combination of the ERP system Tropos and Coda Financials was chosen. The next step was to project manage its implementation within a very tight deadline.

Which comes first? The system or the process?

In most system implementations there is a clear understanding of what the system will be expected to do and a clear view of what is going to be modelled in the system and usually structures exist for the chart of accounts, finished products, raw materials, customers and suppliers. This time, there was no existing information; new processes and structures had to be designed. Our project manager was able to draw on his sector knowledge and experience of the industry and comparable projects to set up the processes to be modelled in the systems.

Understandably the small project team were busy creating the company; refitting the factory and commissioning the new production machinery, so it was important that Calbee had someone they could trust to reliably get on with the job and ensure that systems were implemented on time and on budget.

It was critical that the processes were flexible and agile; ably demonstrated by the fact that as the manufacturing processes were physically tested and amended so the systems (particularly Tropos) had to change as well. By go-live day we were working on the eighth revision of some of the Bills of Material and, interestingly, version 8 looked more like version 1, than version 7! Objects had to be tweaked and the structures amended and tested far more than in a standard implementation and yet there was less time in which to do so.

We learnt that it was necessary to keep the exceptions offline and to model only the most common 80% or 90% of scenarios. The most important characteristic of the team was patience and a willingness to change quickly. Expectations had to be well-managed and good change management was even more important than usual in such a quickly evolving environment.

Priorities were set and then refined. Decisions were made to defer some areas of functionality until they were required but others were mandatory from day one. For example, lot control and traceability was a must but barcode scanning for stock movements could be deferred. This way timescales and costs could be managed and when future volumes indicate a benefit from increased system capability then enhancements can be rolled out as ‘phase 2’ and beyond.

In some situations, as the company was the first European subsidiary the small amount of data held by the business became a definite advantage. It was possible to see the trees as well as the wood. It also meant that there was no talk of bespoke, no trying to force the system to model arcane or esoteric practices as is so common in implementations where users are wedded to a specific methodology or way of doing something. Here we had a blank sheet which was being gradually coloured in, then rubbed out and re-coloured in, but there was no time or inclination to go off the page.

Care was taken to ensure that no decisions were made which would be irreversible and this agility was one of the benefits of the chosen solution. Where there were several ways of executing functionality (which was common throughout the system) we used a common sense approach. Having to wear many different hats during the design phase, we put ourselves in the end users’ shoes and chose the simplest and most intuitive approach.

There is still work to do, but Calbee UK are using the systems; the production is modelled in Tropos and the monthly accounts produced by Coda. All of this was done quickly and efficiently. It was hard, but collaboration between the Calbee and Waterstons teams has remained unparalleled and the enthusiasm for the project and the overall vision for the business has never dimmed in either team.

So when it comes to the chicken and egg question, the answer is put best by Waterstons’ Project Manager Steve White; “This isn’t a case of chicken and egg, we’ve actually built the chicken. It’s still growing but with a bit of luck it will soon be laying us a golden egg”.

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Hear Andy Bates, Lead Consultant in AEC and Dan Burrows, Executive Transformation Consultant speaking at DCW 2019

17 October 2019 , ExCel London

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