Setting up the organization of the Princess Máxima Center: “Streamlining countless structures”

By | Healthcare, News

“It’s a good thing you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into, that’s a pro”, Dieneke Mandema says facetiously looking back on the last year and a half. As President of the Organization and HR, she was one of the people responsible for setting up the Princess Maxima Center.

The center, that is specialized in care, research and education in the field of pediatric oncology, opened its doors for the first time on 18 May. When Mandema took the job, there was no building, and hardly any staff or structure. Unheard of in the current market and a challenge, especially due to the staff shortages in the healthcare sector. “And what is better than being able to work on the mission to cure all kids with cancer while maintaining their quality of life?”

“We started with a blank piece of paper in November 2016. We needed new staff, nurses for example. At the same time, we didn’t have an existing company structure to fall back on. There wasn’t even a building. We were faced with the challenge of starting a center within one year and developing the foundation of the organization at the same time. We also had the opportunity to reinvent the wheel quite often thanks to the innovative character of the brand-new center and adapt it to the needs of kids and their parents”, Mandema says.

Marketing campaign to attract staff

Healthcare professionals are a rare commodity these days. To still be able to fill all positions, we deployed a so-called ‘recruitment factory’, linked to a labor market campaign. “We sold the vacancies like they were products.” The hospital played into the experience of nurses and put children at the center of the campaign. These were then brought to people’s attention via social media. It turned out to be a huge success. “When the campaign went live on Christmas Eve, we had hundreds, thousands of replies within several hours. We definitely didn’t count on that, so we all had to jump in to answer all the questions.”

‘This hospital has a unique company structure’

Hiring people is one thing but having them land in the organization is another. “The biggest groups started on 1 and 18 May. Until then, we were working for the Princess Maxima Center in five different locations. We had a construction trailer, a floor at the UMC Utrecht (Wilhelmina Children’s Hospital) and worked from an office building in Zeist”, Mandema says.

Basing the hospital’s structure entirely on an existing organization wasn’t an option, she explains. “Our basic organization is completely different. With us, the kids don’t go to the doctors, the doctors come to the kids. The entire logistical process of the hospital revolves around the child. That is unique.”

To make sure this ambitious plan wouldn’t strand in chaos, Mandema also decided to hire IG&H. “I really see them as a business partner that thinks along with us and is great at developing processes. They have a pleasant way of looking at what is necessary; they’re action-oriented, but with a human dimension. A business consultant merely making decisions, isn’t going to make it. That doesn’t fit with our center.”

Mapping out structures so processes run smoothly

Mapping out processes, which had an extra layer of complexity due to all the different locations and help systems, was a challenge. “I can still see Anouk standing there with an overview of all the HR and recruitment milestones: ‘No, no wait! I have something else! Guys, be quiet for a minute'”, recalls Mandema. It didn’t take long until several rooms were covered in post-its.

“It also didn’t take long before the document was meters long”, adds Anouk Baars, Health consultant at IG&H. “The starting hospital was using several technical systems, amongst which that of the UMCU. But we also had to reinvent the wheel for ourselves a few times. There was no insight into these processes yet, so we wrote everything down first. Then it became clear that about thirty things had to be in place before someone could start providing healthcare for some jobs.”

That way we figured out which members of staff were trained where, what the team structure looked like and where they could take their questions. “Everyone wants everything to run smoothly, but there needs to be a system for that first. The IT department was recruiting people themselves, for example. The same went for the medical teams. To make sure everyone has the right training, there needs to be someone taking the lead and overlooking all of this”, she says.

Trial and Error

Every week, Baars and Mandema sat around the table with a team to structure. What are we running into, how are we going to take this on and who is responsible for this process?, were the main questions Mandema asked. “It was a challenge for everyone, because no one had experience with a similar project.”

“Sometimes we had to do things the old-fashioned way. I regularly had to walk to and from the UMC Utrecht 5 or 6 times a day to sort out IT- or HR-related cases”, Baars says. The team had an issue with digital authorizations, for example. Which doctors have access to which files? It turned out no one had taken responsibility and it had to be sorted out fast. In this case we had to take care of the problem right away. Definitely important, because children would come to our hospital at the same time as their doctors. Nothing was allowed to go wrong.”

Practical solutions for complicated problems

To prevent any issues, Mandema and Baars ran around like headless chicken the last few months before the opening. “In May, our list of priorities was huge. We realized how complex the situation really was. The fastest way to make sure all new staff could start working right away, was to implement everything they needed into an excel sheet manually. That is why I did that once. I locked myself up for an entire week to make an inventory of things every employee needed and whether they had received it or not. After the opening, we turned this into a structural process”, Baars says.

This challenging time also caused some tension between the teams. “IG&H was definitely a good mediator. They brought people together, especially if something wasn’t taken care of right away. To prevent these situations to become worse, they only looked at the content. Who needs what and how do we arrange that as quickly as possible? Afterwards we looked at how the teams involved could take their responsibilities, so these structures matched the practical applications”, says Mandema .

‘To do lists are getting shorter and shorter’

By now, the center has been open for half a year already. Dozens of children are treated and supported by doctors, nurses and pediatricians daily. They come by for a day treatment or stay at the hospital longer for the more difficult parts of the treatment. For each room the kids stay in, there is an adjoining room to for the parents, a parent-child-unit.

Baars’ and Mandema’s to do lists are getting shorter and shorter. “We are currently determining how the organizations can pick up things themselves. We are past the real hurdles; everyone is helped by the right team and are able to ask their questions to the right person. The hospital has its own routine now.”

Last-mile delivery model under pressure; paradigm shift inevitable

By | News, Retail

Rising e-commerce sales are driving up demand for parcel deliveries. Good times for logistics carriers, you might think. However, the parcel delivery sector has been under pressure for some time now: PostNL saw its operating results drop in the third quarter. In Germany, DHL made a significant (downwards) revision to its profit forecast for 2018. Where have things gone wrong, and is there a way up?

Currently, most parcel carriers are facing major operational challenges. For example, delivery personnel (mostly freelancers and subcontractors) regularly complain about high working pressure and underpayment. Yearly events such as Black Friday and Singles Day cause enormous spikes in delivery volume, which are in turn difficult to process on time. In Chinese postal depots, we saw parcels literally flying around. The danger of strikes always lurks. Recently, in the Netherlands, there were threats of strike action by delivery personnel around the time of the Dutch Sinterklaas festivities. Read More

Six key success factors for initiating a large-scale mechanization project in retail

By | News, Retail

More retailers than ever are taking the big leap into the world of mechanized warehousing. Though it might seem there are only success stories to tell, the journey is long and complex and the project risks should not be underestimated. Adopting a proven approach during the decision-making phase is therefore key to getting it right from the start.

In recent years we have seen several large-scale mechanization initiatives in the retail industry, and things are not expected to slow down any time soon. A growing pool of proven concepts – and low interest rates – have put the topic of mechanization high on the agenda of many retail executives.

However, initiating such a multi-year journey comes with a wide range of challenges. This two-part blog series will lead you through the key success factors, starting today with the things you need to know before giving the green light.

1. Understand the why
One of the fatal errors in decision-making is retailers taking the short cut and choosing to mechanize because “everyone else does”. Not only is this a non-factual argument, it will also proof a weak foundation for the long journey ahead. Understanding the true motives is a crucial first step to success.

In short, there are either tactical or strategic motives to mechanize your operation. Companies often focus on the first one, where they talk about cost reductions and warehouse footprint minimization. The real value however comes from the more strategic motives, though they are often harder to quantify: reducing the dependency on manual labor and being able to offer same-day delivery. Especially for retailers operating in the online domain ‘mechanization done right’ will offer a key competitive advantage.

2. Involve the entire board from the start
Large-scale mechanization projects are challenging, high-risk and multidisciplinary. The impact of these projects goes beyond logistics and therefore it is important to involve the entire board right from the start, preferably as a steering committee.

Success will only be achieved when every major decision is made in a robust way and consequences are thoroughly understood by the entire board. Dedicate sufficient resources to prepare important decisions and set up the required documentation for it.

3. Look far beyond the now, think 5-10 years ahead
Mechanizing an entire operation does not come cheap. Typically you need a longer period to earn back the investments compared to let’s say the more conventional manual racking and picking solutions. Knowing where your business will go meanwhile is therefore a tough nut to crack, but absolutely necessary to make the call.

So before you sit down with any system supplier, you need to make an estimation of your future volume flows, predict how peak patterns and promotions will develop and in what way the assortment will change. Move away from the logistics sphere and collect input from the Commercial Director and CEO. Build a spreadsheet that incorporates all of the above and share this with your short list of system suppliers to get a common understanding and talk the same language.

4. Challenge the system suppliers on their proposed solution design
For many executives initiating a large-scale mechanization project is often a once in a lifetime decision. It is therefore no surprise that system suppliers will have far more experience than you have. Nevertheless it is paramount to bring enough expertise and preparation from your side of the table when you start the selection workshops.

Even though any supplier most likely has all the best intentions, they are not an expert on the specific way you conduct your business. One particular example involves how to deal with peak demand. Since reducing or shifting peak demand may result in significantly lower investments in robots and steel, you should pay particular attention if and how the system suppliers aim to do so. Challenge them on their approach and verify if it is feasible from an operational and commercial perspective. Also evaluate the IT solution and see how the integration will work with the non-mechanized flows in your supply chain. Do not forget to get a clear understanding of the productivity levels and workforce requirements (for business case purposes) and allow for enough flexibility in the design (e.g. extension possibilities, manual workarounds) to handle volumes beyond the design year.

5. Build a solid case for change
With the input from the workshops the next step is to build a business case to see if the numbers add up. These calculations will be fundamental for the upcoming decision and the main reference during the implementation phase. Six lessons here:

  • Pay special attention to the manpower as it is the main benefit driver
  • Have a detailed look at the service and maintenance costs. Technical staff have higher wages and will make up a significant part of the total workforce
  • Evaluate a pessimistic growth scenario to see if mechanization is the right decision. This might not always be the case!
  • Focus on the business case for mechanization and leave any real estate decisions out. By including real estate in the business case you will not be able to evaluate the true payback time of mechanization
  • Get a true sense of the transition costs, including the cost of any possible lay-offs and double rent periods. Depending on the situation these costs can be significant, even a show-stopper when the case for mechanization is weak to begin with
  • Add 10% of unforeseen costs on top of all investments and one-off costs. Experience shows you will need it.

6. Leverage your project with an outside-in view
With increasingly more proven concepts in the industry, on many occasions there is no need to re-invent the wheel. Whether it is food retailing or fashion, most learnings about mechanization are similar regardless of the industry. Learn about best practices by visiting other sites and connecting with people who have been through the same process before.

If you follow all these key success factors, you are ready to take on the next challenge: implementation. In the next blog I will address the most important lessons to make sure you can bring your strategy towards execution.

About IG&H
IG&H has proven to be a key strategic partner in several large-scale mechanization initiatives in the retail industry, from online fashion to food and household.

With a proven track-record in driving the early stages of setting direction, through decision-making into the implementation phase, IG&H is the key partner for moving your business into the new digital reality of retailing.