Digital connections from Moray
Improving strategy with data-informed decision-making.
Russwood Ltd is a Scottish supplier of high-quality, sustainable timber flooring, cladding and decking products. Situated in the Cairngorm National Park and supplying timber to both the domestic and trade sectors for over 25 years, the company prides itself on its reputation for quality products, outstanding service and excellent technical expertise.
Today, the business employs over 50 staff across its production facilities – which include the sawmill, planing mill and in-house factory coating facility – and its office-based sales, admin and marketing teams.
In late 2019, Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) suggested that the pilot DataPath programme might be something that could help the directors at Russwood to take their business forward in terms of strategic planning and data-informed decision-making.
Within the overall DataPath programme, the objective of DataStart is as an initial diagnostic discussion and consulting session designed to help the client identify how a data-informed strategic programme could help to meet the organisation’s most immediate needs.
At Russwood, this initial session involved the DataPath consultant, Dean Mann, and three of Russwood’s directors: John Russell, managing director; PJ Mackintosh, operations director; and Lorna Crombie, commercial director.
During the kick-off session a number of key factors were identified most notably that while the business was capturing large quantities of data on a regular basis, the real potential value of this data was being hidden. Indeed, while data was being presented at regular board and management meetings, it was not being presented in a compelling or accessible way that would drive the kind of change the directors were hoping for.
This initial session provided Dean with plenty food for thought. He said:
“Coming away from the first visit I could reflect that although the company itself was very successful, skilful and confident in its own domain, there was scope for a quite basic approach to a data-informed strategy that would provide immediate benefit.
"The risks and vulnerabilities we discussed were all in the near future, and related to their targets for growth, reliance on key personnel and the likely expansion of the sales strategy. It was clear that KPIs needed to be carefully designed and positioned to help manage growth.”
I thought we’ve got enough data, why do we need more! Of course, I had no idea, because when Dean came in, honestly it was just mind-blowing.Lorna Crombie, Commercial Director, Russwood Ltd
After the initial session with the Russwood team, Dean created a business system map that would act as a single page narrative for all future discussions associated with the project. It mapped out the core processes in the business, identified key influences, contingencies and risks, and added in targets and KPIs.
At their second session with Dean, Lorna Crombie and her fellow directors approved the business system map – and discussed how the data cycle identified could help to mitigate risk, establish KPIs and improve board reporting.
“I have to admit at the outset I was sceptical,” explains Lorna.
“I thought we’ve got enough data, why do we need more! Of course, I had no idea, because when Dean came in, honestly it was just mind-blowing. It really was. It’s just looking at data in a completely different way and then presenting it in a different way too. That’s the thing – it was simply brilliant.”
Key points identified at this stage were designed to address the challenges of the high growth environment. They focused on strategic control processes supported by targets and KPIs, the various external influences and contingencies relating to stock, and the key risk lock-in events in the system – when a commitment to action was associated with a cascade of increasing risk.
The targets and KPIs identified were designed to ensure that reporting was clear and simple, so that on-target activity did not occupy effort and remedial action was focussed on the correct part of the system. This also led to the introduction of a traffic light style of reporting system that would allow for not only the efficient reporting of the data, but also the allocation of responsibility and action setting in management meetings.
“In terms of information sharing and decision-making, the visual representation of our data is now just much better. The traffic light system makes it easier to focus on our KPIs, and to identify where our strengths and weaknesses lie. It’s simple really, but we hadn’t spotted it ourselves!” says Lorna.
Lorna and Dean worked together to establish the best data currently available for reporting on key targets and KPIs. An interactive Excel template was then developed to traffic light and chart KPIs against growth targets and previous year’s performance.
The initial focus was on sales performance to allow different growth targets to be set for the cladding and flooring parts of the business and for progress to be tracked against those targets. Additional KPIs focused on wood types/species breakdown, with the associated contribution of each species to turnover, and also on production-related data to establish better granularity in the ‘quote to order’ process that will help to preserve the value in the sales data.
“Once it’s presented to you in black and white, the links become very obvious,” explains Lorna. “You can see how everything is connected, where the risks lie, and what you have to watch. It means we have better information, staff are better informed, and a lot of the guesswork is removed from our decision-making. It’s early days for us, but already with these insights and improved understanding, we can see what the potential tangible business benefits will be.”
While the benefits for Russwood are still evolving as the team continues to work through the DataPath process, it is already clear that setting and tracking targets and KPIs is encouraging greater planning and control, together with a focus on how growth is being achieved to help drive operational efficiency. The availability of traffic-lit data in meetings is helping to minimise time wastage and improve accountability for action. Moving forward, if the data informed strategy is sustained, it will add value across all parts of the business. Indeed, Russwood’s data will then form an integral operational cog rather than an administrative burden – ensuring the business continues to realise the benefits
in the long term.
“I would recommend the DataPath programme to any business regardless of the size. The questions Dean asks have certainly focused our thinking. We started with sales, because it’s an obvious place to start, but we will continue to look at stock and production. It will make us far more efficient by making better use of our time. I’m quite sure that’s where it will lead.” says Lorna.
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