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"Montage brought in the skills where appropriate and nurtured and trained our internal resources, they really believed in partnerships"
Montage and KeyedIn find a Healthy Solution for Innovating Xtend-Life
Christchurch-based Xtend-Life Natural Products (Intl) Limited, www.xtend-life.com is a natural health and skincare business that has become an international leader in tough, competitive markets over the past 15 years. But the creative energy needed for success for the SME also requires the best possible management to ensure the right priorities gain optimum results. Xtend-Life knew it needed better information systems for not just the 30+ innovative projects it has on the go at any one time but also for the way the entire company worked. But how? They found the answers close to home and internationally – Christchurch-based business intelligence company Montage and its best-of-breed global partner, KeyedIn.
Warren Matthews, a human dynamo who had been involved in businesses ranging from finance to building ocean-going catamarans, had a life-changing moment in 1998. He was 51, fit and healthy but, like so many men of his age, was getting up several times at night to go to the bathroom. Warren knew he was at the start of an aging spiral and, unless he did something about it, he wouldn’t achieve everything he wanted in life.
Sensing also an opportunity, he and his son, Lance, began researching natural health, mainly in the United States. They were disappointed with what they found about supplements, although they learned much about the industry. Then a British formulator, Prof A Munem Daoud, who had long experience in multi-disciplinary areas developing pharmaceutical drugs as well as nutritional formulations, put them on the right path.
Prof Daoud’s knowledge and support led to the development of first generation products for what Warren called Total Balance in 2000 when Xtend-Life Natural Products started business.
Warren and his team have since built a large business of exclusive and sophisticated formulas and numerous products for a growing and well-informed international market.
It sets the highest standards. As Portfolio Manager Karen Pearce says: “We source our ingredients from suppliers with whom we have established solid relationships, and can be absolutely sure about the quality of their products. We have a very sophisticated Quality Assurance department and process. Every ingredient is quality tested before we use it and every product is quality tested before we send it out.”
All products are fully compliant with applicable standards and produced in the company’s state-of-the-art multi-million dollar facility.
Manufacturing and distribution are registered with and meet the US Food and Drug Administration’s requirements, including its Good Manufacturing Practices for dietary supplements.
Xtend-Life is fast paced and development projects keep the company thriving. But it needed a well-developed system to manage not only their delivery but also the 20 to 30 new ideas that are generated on an almost daily basis.
New ideas are wonderful for growing a business. But it was a challenge for the team to focus on what was required for the short, medium and long-term and which projects deserved the highest (or least) priority in terms of value or needs for the business or customers.
The projects covered all aspects of the company, from quickening delivery times to customers through Amazon to ensuring its credit card practices were world class to finding the knowledge and understanding for their critically important website.
More than 30 projects can be on the go at once, and this work comes on top of the daily workload for about 45 staff which includes teams for Customer Relations, Production, QA, Finance, Supply Chain, New Product Development and Project Management.
Xtend-Life knew it would find optimum value for all its work if it had a robust means of managing its projects.
Karen was brought on as Portfolio Manager in October 2014. She found information beneath the project work to determine priorities and needs was too difficult to gain. The collaboration tool being used allowed collaboration but not planning.
“When we started a project, we couldn’t see how long it would take, who needed to be involved and what kind of conversations needed to take place around resource priorities.”
She worked with the exec team to understand the requirements for key decision-making and alignment to strategy before looking at available portfolio management tools.
“We are a SME organisation so we needed something that fitted us and was appropriate to our size but which could be scalable because we will continue to grow.”
One of three companies considered was KeyedIn Solutions, a company headquartered in the US, with offices in Britain. Their cloud-based project and portfolio management software allows all aspects of every project to be viewed from a single platform which is powerful yet easy to use and can be implemented rapidly.
Xtend-Life had looked at KeyedIn previously. But it was then supported from the UK, a 12-hour time zone difference to New Zealand. Fortunately, in the meantime, KeyedIn had taken on an Australasian channel partnership with Montage in Christchurch.
“KeyedIn has vast global knowledge, highly-developed implementation skills and a best of breed solution. We knew Montage could tap into KeyedIn’s global excellence and combine that with Montage’s experience to meet our New Zealand and Australian based clients’ needs.” Said Duncan Turner, Montage Principal Consultant for Project Management.
Says Karen: “It was really the relationship Duncan and I developed in understanding what needed to happen for Xtend-Life that sold it for me.” She explained to her own board the benefits, costs and what the world would look like when using such a solution. The board listened and gave her work high priority.
Together they then began to detail what Karen wanted to achieve - understanding the pipeline of project work and visibility for every project, capturing and prioritising that and resourcing it effectively.
“Then Duncan and I worked through the system, how we could use and configure it to do what we wanted to do. It was a real partnership,” Karen says.
Montage led the project and KeyedIn built the configuration and answered the more technical questions. Xtend-Life also partnered with an experienced Business Analyst to assist with developing processes and how best to utilise the system. They kept the configuration simple, yet open to grow with their emerging capability. This was a feature which had attracted the company to KeyedIn in the first place.
Progress was swift. “I (first) met with Montage in late November,” Karen said. “By March, we had a system that was configured to the way we needed and it was pretty much our sandpit environment.”
A great benefit was gathering information in day-time New Zealand and sending it to KeyedIn in Britain overnight ready for the next steps the following morning. Montage and KeyedIn answered any queries quickly.
At the same time, Xtend-Life planned to use Agile techniques, which KeyedIn would support, setting up two-week “sprints” for project work. Portions of a project and benefits were delivered in a shorter time as the project progressed. This also meant changing work habits using visual management - placing tasks in ordered columns, bringing teams together regularly to report progress, deciding continually on priorities, resources and obstacles, and controlling the process to completion.
Training using an outside consultant was a large part of the staff change process, from top to bottom, bringing into effect a whole new way of working.
“It’s usual for a cross-functional team who plan their two weeks of work to know, at the end, what it’s going to look like and that it will be useful. If there’s a change, we can incorporate it into the next two weeks,” said Karen.
Karen’s experience told her such a massive cultural change doesn’t happen overnight. One way to help was to have 15-minute standups every second day in a room where all projects and other information are listed in columns around the walls.
“The beauty of the standup is that there are three questions to be answered. ‘What have I done, what am I going to do and what are my impediments?’ The third is where the value is built is because, more often than not, someone will say ‘I’ve done that before so I can work with you on that and we can do that together.’ ”
Montage supported this change: “We implemented KeyedIn Projects to be simple and fit for purpose to their context, we have automated status reporting and other project processes and have given a standardised way of measuring and managing projects, such as a common lifecycle that all projects follow.” Said Duncan.
By June 2015, it went live.
The change has been positive.
“It’s all about continuous improvement,” Karen said. “There’s visibility. We can see the whole process and understand what happened along the way, and there isn’t a culture of blame.”
Duncan is also proud of what has been achieved. “They have transparency of their projects and know how they are performing; and are able to make decisions based on facts,” he said.
There will be further adjustments in future and there’s still much to be learned. But the benefits are huge. Because KeyedIn is in the cloud, and with staff travelling the world constantly, it’s accessible to anyone so they’re aware.
Says Karen: “This is brilliant. I’ve really enjoyed it personally. From a business perspective, it’s definitely been the right thing to do. We’re starting to see the benefits of it now, and there’ll be more and more as we go along.”