A custom project management software tailored to a major agricultural brand’s precise needs.
Back End Development / Dev Ops / Digital Product Strategy / Front End Development / Innovation Strategy / Systems design / UX/UI Design / Web Application Development
In early 2020, we were introduced to one of the nation’s leading growers and processors of fresh vegetables — let’s call them The Farm. The Farm was consistently launching new products under their consumer brand to help make eating and cooking with fresh veggies easier for everyone. Their research and development team was ready to uplevel.
The Farm hired one of our frequent collaborators, Atomic Brand Lab, to formalize their innovation process and streamline the way new product concepts are submitted, validated, and launched. Atomic helped map it all out using a framework called CREATE (concept > refine > estimate > action > test > execute), but the team needed technical support to take it from documentation in a spreadsheet to a functional system integrated into their day-to-day processes.
In other words: they needed a web app.
- Custom web app development
- Database architecture
- Information architecture
- Dev ops
- UI & UX design
- Impact mapping
- Process optimization
- Product strategy
- Back-end dev
- Front-end dev
- Project management
- Dev ops
- Product management
In four months, Bilberrry transformed the CREATE process The Farm and Atomic had designed and documented into a custom project management platform for the R+D team to accomplish their work end to end.
From a build perspective, this was pretty straightforward. We’ve helped plenty of similarly legacy operations translate their manual processes into more efficient digital solutions (go check out our work with PASCO). The challenge is always to create a tool that’s feature-rich enough to fulfill the team’s needs, but nimble and lightweight enough that people want to spend time inside it — or else it will just sit there while the work continues over email chains and shared spreadsheets.
We follow six pillars when we build an app to optimize process and productivity:
This is the big one — the outcome from which all other ROI is born, and where The Farm knew they had the most to gain. Prior to their work with Atomic Brand Lab to develop their CREATE process, The Farm had no formal system to track the progress of their product innovations. Like all businesses with years worth of institutional knowledge, the R+D team knew how to get products to market, but relied heavily on email to manage requests and tasks, and ad hoc meetings for status updates.
The app we built became a much-needed central repository of all product innovation. For the first time, everyone had instant visibility of which new ideas made it into development, where they were at in the CREATE process, and expected timelines. We built in automated notifications, comment functionality, and file sharing to eliminate as many one-off email chains as possible.
No app can solve every office inefficiency, but once their custom project management tool was implemented, The Farm’s R+D team increased their productivity by 50%. Even better: fewer meetings.
Align teams and Enhance accountability
Each of CREATE’s six phases require a thumbs up (or thumbs down) before the work can roll into the next phase. Historically those approvals were tracked by a series of back-and-forth emails.
The app solved this by easily assigning and clearly displaying the person or department responsible for approving each phase by its deadline. Notifications and alerts help keep those individuals on task; follow-ups, queries, and feedback are now in-app comments. If a key stakeholder rejects a concept or surfaces a roadblock, the entire team knows why. And since everyone has visibility into all those conversations, there’s little risk of being left out of the loop because someone forgot to CC.
Maintain focus on priorities
We wanted to give The Farm a lot of flexibility in how they view and track the various projects housed in the app. In addition to filtering from the dashboard by submit date and deadline, users can also slice the data by phase and status to keep a pulse on the most urgent and active projects.
The app also helps the team see what absolutely needs to happen during each phase before the project can move forward. All the relevant assignments and tasks are built into the app and surfaced on the phase page.
Since there was previously no official way to submit a concept, to get something into the queue for consideration, you’d just have to know who to talk to. The app helped create a streamlined, transparent way for sales reps, account managers, chemists, growers, and other teammates to contribute concepts and feedback they’d get from out in the field. Creating one central place for all product innovation made it way easier for employees all across The Farm to collaborate on new ideas.
By formalizing their product innovation process and building a highly usable platform on which to execute it, the The Farm’s R+D team has the ability to surface insight into all sorts of questions: What percentage of new concepts make it to market? Which department submits the most viable ideas? How long does each CREATE phase take? At what stage do most new concepts get rejected? Why?
From there, The Farm has the power to keep making incremental improvements on their process and the platform. More efficiency for them; more great veggies for the rest of us.
Visibility is key to improving any process — and that’s what The Farm’s R+D team now has.
Making a case for custom software
Building a custom app from scratch wasn’t The Farm’s first instinct. They’d been shopping around for off-the-shelf solutions like Sharepoint to help integrate the CREATE process into their workflow when two things became obvious.
First: there was never going to be a perfect match for the process. Yes, they could absolutely customize an existing platform to do most of it, but there were definitely going to be workarounds and bandaids to get the outcomes they wanted. Every workaround decreases efficiency, every band aid increases the risk of losing users — suddenly project management via email is back on the table.
A custom build was the only way they could get exactly what they needed.
The Farm also discovered that the difference in price wasn’t prohibitive. Custom will always be more expensive out of the gate, but once it was developed, The Farm’s app was theirs — no licensing fees and limited maintenance costs. In fact, The Farm is anticipating only a 3–4 year pay-off period for a platform that’s tailored to their exact specifications, and can continue to be honed and improved.