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How Hive develops the best tech for physical processes – an interview with Product Manager Friedrich
Get to know Friedrich, a product manager at Hive working on our Warehouse Management System (WMS)
Developing technology to be used in the physical processes of a fulfillment is no easy feat. There are many variables to consider and a hands-on approach is required to test and optimize the processes.
At Hive, we have developed our own Warehouse Management System (WMS) from scratch to make sure it was differentiated from others and flexible to suit all of our merchants' needs.
Product Lead Friedrich has been taking care of Hive’s WMS and Fulfillment Center App since day one. We spoke to him about his experience managing and developing this technology, this covered:
- His highlights and challenges of developing Hive’s WMS
- How he got into logistics product management
- How he tests processes in Hive’s fulfillment centers
What is it like being a product manager at Hive?
I’d say being a product manager is pretty hands-on in comparison to other tech companies. We built our customer-facing app and in addition, we took on the challenge of building our own Warehouse Management System (WMS) . But besides being a tech company, we run our own fulfillment centers, meaning, we build products for business processes and operational processes which we own ourselves. What is consequently quite unique at Hive is that we have external users, our customers, as well as internal users who work with our WMS. This adds a layer of complexity when it comes to stakeholder management.
What is your favorite thing about working at Hive?
The forklift license :’)
What has been the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge has been building the Warehouse Management System (WMS) from scratch while simultaneously scaling up operations. We wanted a full-suite Warehouse Management System which offers all tools to run fulfillment operations at Hive. A WMS that is focused on the specific needs of D2C e-commerce brands and our fulfillment associates.
Most WMS that are currently on the market have been there for a decade or so. They cover all processes, whereas when we started building ours from scratch we could only add one process at a time.
This had a lot of advantages though – we could focus on where we differentiate ourselves. None of the other WMSs on the market are built specifically for e-commerce the way Hive’s is, with a focus on D2C fulfillment. We take pride in building processes that are merchant and end-customer centric.
We are also highly flexible in developing our product and ensuring we are catering to the market’s needs. For example, we support products with and without barcodes, we take on highly individual picking and packaging requirements, and we support batch tracking for products with expiration dates.
How did you end up working in logistics?
I studied Engineering and Business. Then, I went into production logistics with a main focus on production.
Working in the automotive industry I learned a lot about standardizing processes – think of highly automated assembly lines for instance. What I found interesting in logistics is that you can’t standardize everything because at some point you sacrifice flexibility.
After some time working for big corporations and in consultancy I had the opportunity to start working at Hive.
The opportunity to build and shape something from the ground up wouldn’t have been possible at a bigger company or in consulting, and it gave me the intrinsic motivation to become a part of reinventing e-commerce operations.
How did you end up being a product manager?
On the first day we got together and had a large brainstorming session on which processes we would need to cover and how. I wrote "depending on the WMS" on many post-its until I realized that we did not want to depend on existing technology, but rather use the opportunity to build our own.
With Hive being so young when I started, I worked as a generalist in a variety of workstreams such as Growth, Operations and Customer Experience. With all the knowledge I had from the floor, after launching our second FC I became the product manager for our WMS.
How do you ensure all stakeholders are involved?
This can be quite difficult. The entire company is a stakeholder because the system affects everyone. As I previously mentioned, joining Hive early gave me the opportunity to support different areas meaning I had a good idea how different teams use the WMS and what they might need from it.
For bigger releases, I create a cross-functional team to ensure alignment across the company. We have a kick-off, check-ins and a retro, and keep communication on a granular level in dedicated Slack channels. The key stakeholders are responsible for keeping fellow colleagues in their teams up to date or involving the right people where relevant.
As mentioned, we have our dedicated Slack channels and most of our meetings are virtual. But there are weeks where I am in our fulfillment center more than two days a week for testing new features, quality assurance, process management, and change management. Of course, this is in collaboration with our engineers who built the software, the central fulfillment team, site leads and other amazing people we have on the floor.
Our customers are also an important stakeholder. We talk to them a lot to understand their processes, pain points or to get feedback on what we build. They even occasionally visit our fulfillment center to see their products which I love. We also send out a monthly product newsletter in order to keep them up to speed on what we have shipped.
How do you make sure the processes that work from a tech point of view work for the physical processes in the FC?
You see and learn that with every product change you also change the processes in the FC. It is so important to be well aligned with fulfillment processes. We could create a feature from the tech perspective that is impressively complex but it would be impossible to manage on the floor while keeping our fulfillment associates happy.
Because we spend so much time on the floor talking to associates, site leads and process engineers, you learn over time what is possible and what is not. Obviously, sometimes it is possible but it is just not easy to implement. That is why I focus on guidance and providing enough information directly from the product.
When we roll out a feature in our fulfillment center we do it together on the floor and check if the flows are intuitive and if enough information is available in case it is not. At times this can be really challenging, but seeing the direct impact of what you ship is also what makes it fun.
What is the importance of being in the FC?
Building processes and building the product is done hand-in-hand. It is not that we build software and hand it over to someone else, we own the processes in the FC.
This means the product is uniquely tailored to our operations, because we manage both. To do this properly, we spend time in the FC to maintain high user centricity and be able to iterate fast. Naturally, over time iteration speed in the FC can slow down as the scale increases and shange management becomes a larger topic.
This is why we spend time on gamification for instance. It is not just about integrating the most efficient processes, we also have a strong focus on making our users happy. Think of reward factors, sounds and even confetti showers. We want to make using our software a seamless, efficient, and fun experience.
How do you ensure processes are adopted in the FC after deployment?
We are close to the FC in a variety of ways. Not just physically (in Berlin), but also in terms of the relationship between our HQ employees and colleagues at the FC. In addition, the data we collect allows us to keep a close eye on how our software and operational processes work together and measure impact.
Ultimately, it takes a lot of time to be active on the floor, but it is crucial to be there to ensure high quality processes.
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