A Toy Company That Means Business

By Mel Duvall Print this article Print

Funrise Toy deploys simple Web-based project management software to streamline its increasingly global development and marketing efforts and get its "Gazillion" projects under control.

Staying on top of the latest toy trends and consumer tastes is hardly child's play. At any given time the designers at Funrise Toy Corp. in Van Nuys, Calif., may be juggling as many as 100 different product introductions.

Keeping track of each project—the company makes toy brands Doctor Dreadful, Gazillion Bubbles, Head Bangers and more, as well as licensed products for Disney, Sesame Street, Tonka and other brands—has been a challenge for Funrise over the years. In particular, there was no clear way for managers to ensure that toy developments were on time and on budget. Add in the complications created by growing sales and distributed development teams in the U.S. and Asia, and Funrise had the makings of its own Doctor Dreadful experiment.

"In early 2004 we reached the stage where our sales were rapidly increasing and a number of projects were falling behind," says Funrise CIO John Meyer. "We were starting to hear from [retailers] who were disappointed they were not seeing things when they were supposed to."

Funrise considered implementing a sophisticated product lifecycle management (PLM) suite to address the problem, but after investigating options, Meyer concluded most PLM suites were too costly or more complex than Funrise required. "You really need project management specialists in house for that type of tool," says Meyer. "Our people are more creative, more artistic in nature."

A search for options turned up a better alternative—a Web-based project management tool from Irvine, Calif.-based Project Insight that has allowed the company to increase the number of projects in development by 30 percent in three years with essentially the same resources.

"We're managing more projects and have much better control over the entire development process," says Meyer.

Narrowing Down the Options

As Funrise's slogan states, the company has been creating fun for kids of all ages since 1987. CEO and founder Arnold Rubin, who chairs the Toy Industry Foundation and is a past chair of the Toy Industry Association, got his start by working as a bubble mixer for a chemical company during high school in 1965.

When CIO Meyer began looking for a new project management tool in 2004, he had two primary goals. First, he wanted the package to be Web-based to support the company's international operations—though headquartered in the Los Angeles region, much of its toy design work takes place in Hong Kong, with manufacturing outsourced to factories in China and other parts of Asia. Second, he wanted the tool to fulfill standard project management requirements without being overly complicated.

After six months of evaluations, he narrowed down the choices to a shortlist of three candidates, then brought in a team of product managers and designers to test drive the options. In the end, the team chose the Project Insight software. "One of the key selling points was that it had document management capabilities," Meyer says. "It was also simple—managers found it easy to use. My concern was getting user buy-in. If it wasn't easy to use, or they couldn't do their tasks in five minutes, I knew they'd find ways to get around using it."

Projects managed by the system can last anywhere from one week to nine months. The one week sounds strange, but as Meyer points out, not all projects move forward. Some are quickly considered and dropped. Wal-Mart might ask Funrise if it can produce a children's playset at a $9.99 price point, for example. After a short evaluation, it might be determined that this would leave the company with little or no profit, so the project is terminated. "The earlier we can kill an idea, the better," Meyer says.

Page 2: Software tracks steps

This article was originally published on 2008-01-09
Contributing Editor
Mel Duvall is a veteran business and technology journalist, having written for a variety of daily newspapers and magazines for 17 years. Most recently he was the Business Commerce Editor for Interactive Week, and previously served as a senior business writer for The Financial Post.

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