December 17th, 2013
Behind the Holiday Curtain – Part III: Technology
Mike McLaughlin is Associate Director of Project Management in our Lexington, Massachusetts office. Since his team (Fulfill Demand) oversees plant management software, and his role is to lead developers who write software used to manufacture custom products for Vistaprint customers, the holiday season is a very important time.
Mike shared some insights into the rush – and rewards – of work this time of year.
What is the holiday season like for you now?
At this time of year – once we get to the holidays – our plants are typically running at their smoothest. Volume and consistency help get to a routine. It’s never a dull moment—from making real-time adjustments to the production network to adjusting around the additional volume demands.
The holiday rush, from a Fulfill Demand perspective, is actually earlier on in the year. We have to have everything in before the holiday season actually begins. We have to make sure the plants are as stable as we can get them. We need to make sure employees are comfortable with the processes and able to show and train others before the volume hits.
There is a lot of risk mitigation in my role, and so our focus is shoring up risk for the holidays.
What types of risk are you trying to plan for?
Disrupting the plant is what we’re always trying to avoid. We are building year round and attempt to be minimally disruptive at this time of year. We have to speed up and slow down projects – summer into fall to avoid critical delivery and changes during holiday. Every year the holiday wave gets bigger but the timing is still relatively the same.
Disruptions may be heightened at the holiday when our digital printing volume spikes so we try and dial down the amount of changes we are making to the software. We evaluate the business risk as well as the technical risk of making a change and like to avoid touching anything in digital that would impact the flow.
Is there a need then for close communication and collaboration between your team in technology and teams in manufacturing?
We’re really just an enabler of the manufacturing teams’ abilities. Our work enables the plant to make bigger changes. Different plans have different priorities and we’re trying to balance them all.
As a tech person, I work with the Value Stream Organizations in the plants to ensure the changes they need to Poke-yoke processes remain a priority to deliver. They experience the disruptions first hand and so look to us for insight as to why the system works the way it does. We have capabilities people in the plants to drive real-time, two-way communication.
We’re always trying to keep up with the continuous improvement of the plant as well as identifying ways we can contribute value. Our partners view software as a tool rather than something to work-around and we take great pride in sharing metrics with the plants.
How does the work you are doing differ from other technology roles you’ve been in?
I really like the ownership we have. We own challenges all the way through. I like that it is tangible; you can see your work put through on the floor or in the product – not just in the database. When I was a consultant, it was more about delivery of a project; more of a transaction. Here we have more long-term ownership a partnership with manufacturing. We get to see the betterment of the whole company, not just an individual product.
Will you be able to relax a bit after the holiday season?
Holiday season comes to a crashing halt two days before Christmas. Then the plants exhale and regroup. Soon after, we have to be ready for the post-holiday offset peak. A lot of people order business cards in the New Year so our offset processing becomes the critical priority quickly in January.
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