“The biggest lesson in my career has been the transformation of my team when I metamorphosed from a manager to a leader. With a CEO who believed in me, I found my wings to fly,” says STIHL’s head of IT, Therese Chakour-West.
“After a 12-month career break, I returned to a new CEO who was very supportive and empowering. His passion for people and his strategic vision ignited a fire within me. I realised that I too had a passion for leadership and for developing people and motivating them to achieve their goals and dreams. One of his first lessons was happy people are productive people,” she tells CIO Australia.
Chakour-West’s CEO taught her that leadership was not about being in charge but looking after those in your charge.
“I learnt that you don’t need a masters degree to be human. I learnt that it was ok to show compassion in the workplace and be authentic. There is nothing my team want more than for me to be just ‘me’ in the workplace and no-one else.”
These days, Chakour-West is head of IT in Australia at global power tool manufacturing giant, STIHL. In 2018, Chakour-West and her team unveiled a fully automated product launch process (PLP). This has automated the management of and streamlined the end-to-end process of launching STIHL’s outdoor power equipment into the Australian market.
In Australia, STIHL does not manufacture any products. They are imported and distributed through a network of 600 specialist dealers and the launch of a new or superseded product to market requires a touchpoint by every department in the business. This commences with product management to supply chain, marketing, finance, sales and IT.
“Previously, PLP was managed very poorly using multiple Excel spreadsheets that were created by people involved in a launch to track their own tasks and deadlines. There was next to no accountability by individuals nor any transparency into the status of each task across the business.
“Such poor management caused delays in the launch of products to market because deadlines were missed and critical tasks not completed. Without a single source of truth, it was impossible to determine which of the multiple spreadsheets was the reliable source of information,” Chakour-West says.
The new PLP has automated more than 75 tasks across three product launch types and impacts 40 different roles. Having already established its global award-winning digital workplace in 2015 dubbed ‘The Shed’ on a Microsoft SharePoint, the company used K2 (digital process automation software) to create the solution.
The solution provides a visual health check for each product launch that has a proposed date (traffic light reporting indicates the status of each launch); it generates documents, such as a new product launch information sheet, based on templates to support each launch type for the distribution to the dealer network. It also includes a task manager for the product management team to update task details; and a task list to access all the tasks assigned to a user in a single location.
“There is no other solution like this across the group,” says Chakour-West. “We have established best practice in the group and the parent company and other STIHL subsidiaries are looking to adopt it for their respective product launch processes.
STIHL has already enjoyed cost reductions as a result of less time spent unnecessarily following up tasks where bottlenecks are known, and reduction of double handling of stock to check it has been received in the warehouse.
“According to our estimation, the saving in terms of wasted administration time equates to around 12.5 weeks,” says Chakour-West.
“With early risk detection, sales are not unduly impacted and launch to market is quicker. The potential loss of sales due to a delay can cost the company almost $500,000 per annum based on one months’ loss of sales for one item of major equipment so the impact to the business where there are delays to market can have a significant impact on revenue generation,” she says.
The product management team are far more efficient as they no longer have to assign tasks and continually follow up. Searching and following up the most up to date information across multiple spreadsheets is no longer required. With a more proactive approach, air freight costs are reduced and stock is shipped via sea (air freight is four times more expensive than sea freight).
“Culturally, people are now held accountable and bottlenecks identified early and addressed immediately. The morale around the process is exceptionally high because people are being kept in the loop on new product releases and are being notified proactively.”