Software tracks steps

By Mel Duvall  |  Posted 2008-01-09 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.

The software has been set up to track each step of a product's development, from idea generation through to shipping, and to store documents related to each part of the process. Meyer calls up an example of an interactive toddler toy currently in development. Typically the first phase of the process involves creating a three-dimensional sculpture of the toy in foam or plastic based on a concept the designers have rendered in Adobe Photoshop. Next, an in-house audio engineer decides what sounds the toy will make and creates flow-charts of how those sounds will be produced when certain buttons on the toy are pushed. Eventually, those sounds and logic will be encoded on a computer chip.

The next step is generating packaging, which is done even before the toy is produced, because buyers at Target, Wal-Mart and other retail chains want to see how the toy will fit on store shelves. Then comes tooling, where the dies and molds to manufacture the toys are made, followed by pre-production, where the toys are produced and sent out to labs for safety testing (lead paint, sharp edges, loose parts and so on). Last but not least: production and shipping.

This particular project was launched July 30, 2007, and if all milestones are met, the interactive toy will ship March 30, 2008.

The Upshot

The Project Insight software has provided Funrise a better understanding of how long it takes to perform certain processes and a means to track those processes. In the past, project managers tracked their own projects using a variety of tools, from Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Project to simple notepads. Consequently, it was difficult to determine exactly how long it took to, say, design packaging for a new Gazillion Bubbles toy or define best practices. The software has helped the company determine process length and best practices and allows project managers to program in alerts so they're notified if processes fall behind schedule.

Using dashboards, a product manager can immediately see which projects are on schedule and which are falling behind. "From a management standpoint, it allows you to look across the entire development portfolio and see exactly where you stand," says Meyer.

The direct result: In the past, the company found that approximately 70 percent of its projects were completed on deadline. Now, that percentage has increased to 85 percent, with more gains in sight. In addition, the company is now managing the development of about 30 percent more products with essentially the same resources. And the software's document management capabilities mean the designers and engineers have better access to information. For example, the system stores images so designers can search for all Disney-licensed toy images. If a toy is experiencing problems with a sticking button or switch, engineers can search for "sticking switch" references and see all previous problems and solutions.

Project Insight vice president Cynthia West says Funrise is a prime example of the market the company serves. Many of Project Insight's customers are looking to move up from Microsoft Project or Excel spreadsheets but aren't ready to adopt full-blown PLM suites, she says.

Companies can choose a hosted version of the company's software, which begins at about $250 per month for an entry-level version, or install the software on their own servers. Funrise opted to install the software on its own systems because, says Meyer, it has the capacity in its server farm and likes having control over proprietary information.

Other Project Insight customers include American Honda, J.D. Power and Associates, and Target.

Meyer would like Project Insight to improve the reporting capabilities in the software, which he says offers a variety of canned reports but doesn't make it easy to build custom reports. Still, he says, the project management software has been a major step forward for Funrise.

"From an executive standpoint, it gives you the confidence that you truly have a handle on what's happening in the company," says Meyer.

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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