How to improve inventory management with an user-centered approach?

Latin America’s largest diagnostic medicine company came to us with the challenge of finding solutions for stock and inventory management. Here’s how we handle it.

Dealing with stock and inventory is one of the biggest challenges that businesses encounter; yet it can also present itself as an opportunity for those businesses that seek to implement the best practices in stock management. Particularly in today’s world, in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, we see that the effective processes and efficient management in the area of health services are decisive in optimizing the consumption of resources and saving lives. Dasa is a prime example of this, in 2019 we were called to support them in improving their stock management process to reduce turnover and guarantee the availability of materials in all of their clinics.

Sensorama entered into this project with two principal objectives:

  • Help corporate understand how the collaborators in the laboratories, where the collection is done for the exames, are dealing with stock management.
  • Bring together the teams and identify opportunities for improvement in optimizing and innovating the distribution of resources

Research and Discovery

The first step was to conduct research from a holistic perspective, including observation and semi-structured interviews, in order to understand the perspective and reality of the laboratory and corporate employees.

Research is immersive. Diving into the routine of the nurses, technicians, and analysts helped us to understand their pains and the processual problems in a holistic way.

From this, we created personas for the principal functions involved in stock-out management, with this we could identify their priorities in the routine, map out the user journey, and the involved processes.

Process of creating personas

In our immersion in the routine of the nurses, technicians, and analysts, we could identify some pain points and opportunities for improvement in the process of stock management.

  1. Complexity in filling out the information of stock-out management- Some factors, like the way that the materials were named, made the process more difficult than it could be. As a result, even though management required that the stock be taken care of daily, the responsibilities always ended up being second priority, because the priority was the excellence in patient care.
  2. Adaptation of the Laboratory team to new processes-The current stock-out management model follows the logic of informing the consumption of materials in SAP or “checking out” so that the system can understand the seasonality and demand for more assertive purchases. However, it was still necessary to spread the importance of doing the warehousing tasks every day for the system to correctly read the demand for purchases.

Workshop and the importance of otherness

Well, once we could get to know the users and understand their pains, we moved on to the solution.

We held a co-creational workshop with employees from the laboratories and the corporate team. Thus, we united the practical vision of the operation with the business needs so that, together, they could think about the solution. The day started with an experience game: the corporate team went through a simulation pointing out the consumption of materials while the units’ team simulated real situations that happened in their routines during the process.

Then it was time to switch: the units play the role of the corporate, going through the pains of the other audience. In this way, we brought people closer together and gave voice to the needs of the users involved in the problem. After the experience, the group continued the agenda following the design thinking methodology.

Creating spaces for the exercise of otherness makes it possible to understand needs in a deeper way, and thus to create more efficient and innovative solutions.

Adapting technology to people

We analyzed the most voted ideas in the workshop and developed a proposal with improvements. From this, we created a new process with more agility and assertiveness, using warehouse application as a tool that brings together the entire inventory management process in a single digital product: receiving material, checking the material, separation for the exam sectors, transfer between labs, return, inventory and forecast of future deliveries.

All of this was piloted and validated with users in two Dasa units, for perception of adherence and resolution of the mapped problems.

The project lasted 16 weeks. The research and the workshop helped us to create a process closer to the users’ routine, allowing the task to be carried out in a practical way at the moment of material withdrawal. Today the employees no longer have to interact with a complex system. Instead, they have an application at their disposal, agile and easy use, which has made the tasks and the warehouse management simpler and more intuitive. In addition to co-workers, each new employee would have a visual guide to the processes through the app itself. The employee is only responsible for informing the system what was taken from the warehouse, without ordering materials from the sectors.

People need to see purpose in what they do.

Being successful in standardizing processes is not about making people adapt to technologies. On the contrary: it’s about making technologies adapt to people. It’s about knowing how things work in practice and innovating from there. It’s about supporting people in understanding the importance of processes to the work as a whole. More than providing technical guidance, it is necessary that — like Dasa — companies and their employees are open to co-create and encourage a user-centric culture. Thus, it is possible to provide the tools for everyone to perform their tasks in the best possible way.

Constantly questioning the why of each process and how they can be better is our role as designers. “Because it is” is not the answer. The answer is to support employees to see purpose and possibility in their work.

*Este artigo também está disponível em português, acesse aqui para conferir. :)

We are a UX Design & Service Design team who wants to make business human again. We are inspired by people.