Project Mobile Sales (MS), is an initiative to replace a manual invoicing system with an automatic, mobile one. It involves mobile phones and printers to that download sales and distribution information from an ERP system, controls stock exiting and entering the depot, invoices and credits customers on-the-go. It removes many manual steps which are prone to human error, and significantly speeds up information flow and accuracy.
Project MS was already implemented at two bottling companies from different countries: Uganda and Zambia. The first implementation in Uganda took 6 weeks. There were still many shortcomings that needed to be addressed.
I joined the project at the end of 2014 to assist in driving it. At the time, Botswana had a bottling company scheduled for Project MS. I faced the challenge of having to immediately implement the current version to a new company. Confidence from stakeholders were low due to difficult implementations of the past. The bottling company from Botswana had infrastructure challenges, leading to power and network failures. The first bottling company took 4 weeks to train 10 sales people, and the second one took 4 weeks to train 20 sales people. There were many additional hours of remote support and visits.
At the time of writing, we have cut down the implementations to 2 weeks for a company with 40 sales people. Current support averages 1 hour per month per company.
Strategies deployed to tackle fundamental flaws in the project:
Software Analysis and Design
- Data validation: Solving complex problems would often require testing the whole system from start to finish to determine where information was lost. We added validation steps that would stop the process if any data failed validation. This allowed us to identify and act on problems before they reached customers.
- Simplify: The steps that a sales person (who was often very uneducated) had to take was overwhelming. The process was changed to follow a linear set of steps, that guided the sales person through the process.
- Information System: The server database structure was confusing and broken. The local database on the mobile phones suffered incompatibility issues. In the immediate term, we fixed several fields to reflect the correct information and removed redundancies. In the long term, we completely redesigned the server database, and changed the mobile database type to a much simpler one.
- Stakeholder Cooperation: We put focus on establishing strong relationships with each stakeholder. This boosted stakeholders confidence in the project, which in turn strengthened cooperation and allowed us to make decision with more ease.
- Change Management: Client staff were very resistant to the change. We focused on benefits of the project, and empowered top staff members who embraced the change. This created acceptance in others. Once they saw their peers enjoying the benefits, the majority felt more inclined to change, and laggards feared being left behind.
- Improved Communication:There was a gap between what companies expected and what they actually got. We focused on bringing clarity to requirements, establish trust, establish urgency, and request sign-off on each component of the system.At the time of writing, the project is scheduled for deployment in three more bottling companies across Africa over the next few months. This equates to a 40%-50% growth.