Riverside Millwork's Real-time Estimating App

Client

Riverside Millwork Group

Expertise

Strategy, Product Design, Development

Industry

Millwork Trades

Interested?

Contact Us

Introduction

Riverside Millwork Group (RMG) is a manufacturer, supplier, and installer of millwork products who have been servicing Southern Ontario for the over the last decade. Mario Gianniotis, Managing Director of RMG, knows better than most—estimating material requirements for millwork of a new or renovated home is no cake walk. With thousands of possible options and combinations for customers to choose from, it requires highly trained infield estimators filling custom forms and coordinating with office staff to complete a single millwork estimate. In the last 10 years alone, RMG have estimated over tens of thousands of homes.

The Challenge

In 2017 RMG expanded into London, Ontario with the acquisition of County Heritage, an established company well-known for their custom doors and restoration millwork. The dramatic increase in size and volume of their business began to stress their specialized, albeit manual and paper based estimation process. Mario toyed with the idea of digitizing their estimation process 5 years prior, but now seemed the right time to turn that idea into reality.

At a high level, the advantages of digital estimation are obvious, faster, more accurate estimates, and happier, better served customers. But, as Mario knew full well, executing this was hella complex. We needed an approach that would allow us to get into the minds of all the stakeholders that were involved in the estimation process. This was a project that was desperately in need of some structure, and a focus on some clear goals and outcomes—a perfect application to run a Design Sprint with the team at RMG.

An Optimized Product Design Sprint

We’ve used Design Sprints dozens of times to understand, design, and prototype all kinds of products. But we’ve always felt that the 5-day-straight approach was a hard pill to swallow for most of our clients. It is a big time-commitment for someone new and unfamiliar with the sprint process. In the case of RMG, this was especially true. The folks we needed in attendance to make the most of our sprint couldn’t/wouldn’t spare a week being out of the office.

In a typical Design Sprint, the Understand phase alone consumes the first day. Given that we know nearly nothing about finish carpentry ourselves, a day simply wasn’t enough time to absorb everything, let alone on RMG’s dime. To get us up to speed, we opted for an in-depth, multi-day user research activity. We stepped into the shoes (and hard hats) of estimators, operations, and office staff. We shadowed in-field estimators, captured stories, found complexities and identified work arounds with existing workflows. At the end of a week of we had deep understanding of the nooks and crannies of the estimation process from the perspective of several stakeholders.

We spent two days with a highly engaged group of senior staff including managing director Mario. We mapped out user journeys, sketched out potential solutions, voted on the best ones that addressed their most critical challenges and brought them together in a paper prototype.

Our user tests proved promising with our group of internal RMG staff, but our paper prototype  needing to level up it’s fidelity before we could convince anyone that this was worth building.

Over the next week we stepped up our prototype game with a more refined hi-fidelity rendition of the estimation app using Sketch and Invision. During our testing with the hi-fi prototype, the reactions of our users were significantly more impressive. We took the prototype in the field and tested it side-by-side against the original based version, with huge success. The unanimous response from staff was overwhelmingly positive, but perhaps the most gratifying was a comment from the leadership team, “Guys you have to see this, it’s the Cat’s Ass!”

Growth Opportunities Ahead

The prototype stewed for a few weeks with RMG conducting numerous demos with various external stakeholders to get their input and first impressions. During that time new opportunities with the estimation app began to percolate. We began to ask ourselves some cosmic mind bending questions—what new business opportunities could we create for RMG? Were there new channels we could explore? What if RMG acted like a software company instead of a millwork company? What if they were no longer bound by geography? Could this estimate tool be used by other channel partners? Could we rule the world with a millwork estimation app?

If you are reading this you might have already considered some of these questions and come up with ideas of your own. But ideas by themselves are worth jack s**t, they need to be followed up with strategy and flawless execution. So here it is, a 100,000 ft view of the strategy for RMG’s estimation tool:

Phase 1

B2Me

Phase 2

B2B

Phase 3

B2C

Phase 4

SaaS

A Feat of Software Engineering

Back to reality. With the prototype designed and the opportunities abundant. RMG was ready to take it to the next level—making it real.

Our next steps involved a feasibility assessment of our prototype, a technical review of integration points with an existing ERP, and finally the technology stack that could scale to solve the abundant challenges that lay ahead.

We ended up with the following, battle tested stack used by tech giants like Facebook, Uber, Shopify and AirBnB. NodeJS for the server, Mongo for the DB, GraphQL for a dynamic API and React for the front end. Notable mentions are Heroku for hosting and deployment, Sentry for app monitoring and Cypress for end to end testing.

We used Material React for the UI component library, which was a bit of a visual departure from the look of the Sketch prototype. But, instead of going back to Sketch and redesigning the app with a Material look feel, we dived in and built a static version of the prototype using Material React. This time saving process gave us a massive speed boost to getting closer to the real thing.

Our development process adhered strictly to the Scrum flavoured Agile process with the Agile Manifesto’s core principle #10 guiding us through the ocean of complexity—maximize the amount of work not done.

Every Thursday at 1pm we demonstrated high value features to the RMG executive team. We collected feedback, addressed new challenges and negotiated the priority of items that should exist in the next demo. We maintained an extraordinary pace over the course of 6 months to a finished first release ready to replace RMG’s paper based estimate process.

Next Steps

At the time of this writing, Phase 1 is just rolling out. But the benefits of this digital transformation are quickly being realized. Instant estimates to customers, the flexibility to change product configurations on the fly and reduced errors from transcribing handwritten notes are just a few of the game changers RMG is enjoying.
If you would like to follow along the journey of RMG’s digital transformation subscribe to this post to get notified of our next milestones.