Planit Enterprise: Focusing solutions on woodworking
Our roots are in woodworking. Here are some lessons we learned licensing and partnering with a vertical software company.
Our Small Business Software Toolkit, BusinessMaster, has deep roots in woodworking/ custom cabinet manufacturing. We took the framework we had developed previously throughout a series of installations, and then began to standardize it over 12-18 months in a growing, dynamic woodworking shop.
The previous installations started in a custom machine shop, and then migrated through a molded cable assembly facility, and a disposable medical cable start-up. Each step incorporated unique elements of business process management. Most of the focus had been on Labor Collection/Job Costing (Machine Shop), MRP (Cable Assembly), and Work Order management (Medical Device start-up). The last organization was an executive management team already clear on their objectives, and designing the whole organization to be ISO 9001 certified.
The implementation into woodworking brought new dynamics into play. There are 2 main categories of cabinet manufacturing, custom and "modular".
- In modular cabinets, the end products are part number based, consistent products built to a more classic BOM (Bill of Materials) scenario. This is similar to the Cable Assembly and Medical Device companies.
- In custom cabinet manufacturing, the end product is a mix of products, some similar, and others potentially completely different than any other products previously made. This is essentially project based manufacturing, where the materials, the labor, the specifications are all associated with a project (or set of sub-project we call phases).
As BusinessMaster progressed in adapting and responding the unique needs of the organization, a framework took shape, and we began to reach out to other woodworking companies who implemented the small business software toolkit. Eventually, Planit Solutions approached us about licensing the software we developed, and begin to sell it as an incorporated part of their woodworking solutions.
The next 3 years was a huge learning curve, and here are our observations.
Eating Elephants is Hard
BusinessMaster had become a very broad and deep solution by this point. We had modules addressing most of the key elements of small businesses. The "suite" of modules were marketed, sold, installed, and supported as a whole concept.
The result was unnecessarily complex. We had significant flexibility in installation and implementation where we could identify a specific need of an organization and alter the installation and support. However we still were unduly influenced by the context of the whole program. Most organizations benefit from focusing on one or two main elements and mastering them.
- The breadth and depth of the program allowed for constant expansion and benefit.
- Trying to implement several different layers of software defers the return on investment, and impedes momentum. It simply becomes too hard/too much to achieve.
Simple Not Sexy
We go over some of this in our article here. We noticed that the most powerful solutions in terms of overall performance we the more boring, simple, rudimentary ones. Most users love the idea of finite capacity labor scheduling by work center, but the real power was often just having shared, up to date contact information, or the most recent vendor used on a Purchase Order for an item. It was lots of simple, direct data that had the biggest impact in the day to day war for profit.
- Taking advantage of every small, simple solution regardless of how boring puts immediate benefits to work. This creates the proper foundation for the more sophisticated, specialized elements later.
- Focusing on the more sophisticated pieces without the proper foundations leaves profit on the table, and frustrated users in the dust.
Evaluate first, Install Second
Technical evaluation is key prior to implementation. The customer may want solutions x, yet they might not be ready to support it. If the right players are not in place, the solution wont succeed. Taking an honest evaluation, and targeting the areas the client is ready to do, rather than aspiring to do, is the only realistic way to help the client achieve what they want. Throwing the client into unsupportable changes without advising them before hand is a disservice to the client.
- Evaluate what IS, not what SHOULD BE. Base your go forward plan on what can be sustained, and grow from there.
- Chasing a vision of what could be without proper strategy and evaluation is leaping before looking.
There are more ideas than we have space to present. Essentially what we learned by working with Planit was:
- Market research was left up to the sales team, who wanted/needed new products to sell.
- The market DID need business process management.
- No one realized up front that the majority of the potential customers were unable to support such a large bite of technical solutions, even though they WANTED to implement them.
- The solution was as much business process development, training, consulting, as it was software. For example, many organizations needed to understand the WHY of Purchasing and Purchase Orders, as much as they needed a WAY to make Purchase Orders.
We learned a lot working on the Planit Enterprise product. It allowed us to help a lot of woodworkers, and at the same time adapt and refine our products even more. We still support and customize Planit Enterprise customers, and find that the woodworking industry is full of some of the smartest, most innovative organizations out there.
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