Planning logically Featured

8:00pm EDT July 26, 2008

Mike Edenfield keeps his employees in the loop, but for Logility Inc. to succeed, they need to keep him in the loop, too.

When the president and CEO of the supply chain management software developing company meets with employees, communication runs both ways.

“Sometimes, there are decisions made or actions taken where, on the surface, it’s not self-evident as to how that supports the company’s strategic objectives,” Edenfield says.

It’s his job to explain those decisions, and it’s the employees’ job to help Logility improve on its record fiscal 2007 revenue of $43.8 million.

Smart Business spoke with Edenfield about how to get employee input and how to use it to set your company’s priorities.

Q. How do you sort through the feedback you receive?

Sometimes, you get very detailed, specific feedback that might not be appropriate for that type of meeting. Depending on what it is, their manager will get back to them, or I’ll address it right there, depending on if it’s something to address in that forum.

If it’s feedback like, ‘Why aren’t we spending more money on this product than the other one?’ we have a business process that handles that. So we’ll describe where we are in that process and why we made the decisions we made. Many times, they are involved in that process, as well.

Usually our customer service personnel have great suggestions on how to make the system easier to use. They know what customers are struggling with, what’s hard for them to understand, where we need to improve.

We have a product review board, which meets on a regular basis. We have representatives from customer service, from implementation services, from sales and marketing. I sit on that board, our VP of R&D sits on that board, and we have a senior product director who sits on that board. So we get input from all aspects of the company on where to take the product.

Q. What are the benefits of getting input from all aspects of the company?

We get plenty of suggestions, not only from our people but from our customers. Everybody has a different perspective depending on their role in the company.

For example, if we just listened to customer support, they would be focused on how to improve the product on a day-to-day basis. They might be considered tactical and will help the customer.

But if we just listened to them, what we wouldn’t have is where to take the product strategically. What’s coming in from the marketplace in terms of industry trends that we need to support?

We get that from our consultants, and, quite frankly, our sales and marketing team does a good job when they’re calling prospective customers of hearing what they’re looking for.

Then we have to balance it. We have to keep our existing customers happy in terms of tactical things. However, management really wants strategic enhancements. We have to balance both, because if we don’t make the strategic enhancements, we won’t be able to continue to invest long-term in the product.

So, in that committee, we have a process where we rank things and decide that way.

Q. How does the ranking process work?

Our new releases take anywhere from a year to two years to develop and roll out. When you look at all the suggestions we get, we might have 200 tactical suggestions from customers.

Then our sales and marketing team might come in with 300 suggestions. Then our R&D organization will say, ‘Microsoft has come out with new technology that we have to incorporate because they’re sunsetting the old technology.’

The R&D organization gets all of those things and puts some ballpark numbers on how long each of those will take. Let’s say it will come out to 50,000 man-days of R&D. We’d schedule it out for how long we want it to take, and we’ve got 10,000 man-days to allocate to it.

First, we get the scope of how much time we have, how many man-days we have to apply and the total number of days we have requested. Then we quickly go through a first cut on the strategic things. Then we specifically go look at the customer requests that are more tactical, to make sure we have enough of those in there to more than satisfy the customer base. So that might get us down from 50,000 man-days to 25,000 man-days. Then we’ll start debating as a team what the critical ones are.

Q. How do you decide what the critical priorities are?

There will be some pretty healthy debate there, like, ‘We need to have this. Our competitor has it, we don’t, we have to have this.’ Or, ‘This is a huge trend coming. If we don’t do this, we’re going to miss this window to go after a segment of the market.’

We have a lot of different types of discussions like that. But we end up agreeing as a team as to what the priorities are. ... Once we decide, we’ve decided, and we’re done.

HOW TO REACH: Logility Inc., (800) 762-5207 or www.logility.com