An MVP approach to modernization gets YETI up to speed with a rising demand for custom cupware
Born and based in Austin, TX, YETI is a manufacturer of outdoor gear with a strong footing in the drinkware category. A market fad of personalization was driving demand for custom products through the roof, so the company acquired YETI Custom Shop (formerly Rambler On) to keep up. With rising brand recognition and strong visibility in the market, opportunities for high-profile partnerships were growing, and the holidays became their time to shine by producing giftable custom cups en masse. But in order to make it through the holiday rush and forge ahead with confidence, YETI would need to modernize both its factory floor systems and development processes.
- Limited capabilities leading to missed opportunities to take on larger custom orders
- Needed to improve factory floor systems while also meeting tight holiday deadlines
- Old laser machines not efficient enough; Needed a team to bring new KEYENCE machines online
- Gaps in text-based scheduling system creating holes in the process
- Past contractor engagements not ideal—YETI needed a true partner invested in the business
- Employed an MVP approach to get systems online in time for the initial holiday rush
- Improved deployment process by leveraging Octopus Deploy and revealing holes created by help requests
- Developed a custom solution to get the KEYENCE machines up quickly
- Built a robust .NET Core web application to replace the old text-based scheduling tool
- Implemented agile development practices and cultivated collaboration among stakeholders
- The factory is set to meet increasing demand, and YETI is meeting more custom orders per day
- 4 of 6 factory floor workstations are updated with new efficiencies
- KEYENCE machines support backend art generation and can do customization at scale
- Renewed confidence amongst factory managers in what’s coming off the floor
- A standardized procedure for ongoing product releases and scaled growth
Growth under pressure
YETI was missing chances to secure major custom orders from enterprise customers because of factory floor limitations. The existing lasers were zapping up valuable operational time, but it would take a whole team to program the more modern KEYENCE lasers to do customization at scale. The factory floor system also required close and constant monitoring—making it difficult to move much faster. Yearly revenue goals were dependent upon updating the system in time to meet the holiday rush. YETI needed to expand capacity, but without increasing infrastructure or headcount, putting a strain on existing resources. The first challenge was to improve the system while simultaneously delivering a quality product under super-tight seasonal deadlines.
Holes in the system
With YETI’s rapid growth, the factory floor scheduling system went from handling around 10 different products to 80 to 100 different products at once. The existing system was prone to error—line workers were using an outdated chat command tool that was not liable to scale, and leaking orders revealed inefficiencies in the system. Workers needed a way to streamline the queue and visualize product statuses so that everyone could feel confident in what was coming off the floor.
A partner in modernization
The company had dabbled with outside contractors, but what they needed was a partner who would live and learn the business, step up to find gaps and fill them, and make the big picture the main focus—even when knocking out individual tickets. A call to Headspring marked the start of a multi-year partnership, which has served not just to bring systems up to date, but to institute processes that make YETI more agile as the business evolves along with its customers.
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Iterating to drive progress
Going in, the most pressing problem was a tight holiday deadline, so we introduced an MVP approach that would allow us to get factory updates running for the initial crunch, then continue iterating over time. We asked questions to find out what was most important to the business in order to deliver core value first, then work the “nice to haves” into future development stages. We also collaborated in creative ways to find workarounds to issues that could stunt progress in the first phase. As an example, we used a rough estimate for package weight and pivoted on a solution that streamlined the labeling process. Down the line, we were able to make extra suggestions regarding UI/UX and logging that would generate even greater long-term value.
Laser-focused on growth
During an initial effort to replace a manual, paper-driven process with an automated assembly line, we introduced Octopus Deploy for more seamless deployment to all machines. We also used Automapper to return data transfer objects instead of database-mapped objects, which were getting accidentally modified. ELK Stack helped us centralize logging and monitoring, while Docker allowed us to spin up dev instances of infrastructure. Later, the focus turned to supporting more products, so we built a custom solution to get the KEYENCE lasers online fast. Moving some processes to Amazon Cloud will allow for future expansion into multiple factories.
An application built for scale
For the scheduling system, we moved in constant progressions from a chat command to a web application that would be able to scale with the business. The NodeJS solution wasn’t working—there were issues with reliability—so we recommended a switch to the more stable .NET Core application. Working closely with stakeholders during an iterative development process allowed us to collect vital feedback along the way.
A tailored approach to Agile
Key to success was developing and training stakeholders on an agile approach to development and delivery. This allowed us to deliver initial releases into production and react to actual feedback from the factory floor. We pivoted from a scrum workflow to a kanban process, based on the needs of the team, and reconfigured tickets to be more detailed and manageable. Stakeholders were new to being involved in the development process, but continuous learning and trust-building over time made demos flow seamlessly. We developed new terminology to better communicate the impact of each release on all parties involved.
Four of the six factory floor workstations—responsible for everything from inspection to shipping—have been updated. The factory software can now communicate easily with the way-more-efficient KEYENCE machines and the backend art generation keys directly into those lasers. On the scheduling side, the modernized .NET Core web application is not just easier to use and more robust, it’s more stable and more efficient.
Before, it was easy for things to cut the production line, or for an order to slip through that shouldn’t. Now, managers feel confident that what’s coming off the factory floor is what’s supposed to come off the floor. And that confidence pays dividends on the customer side, especially as the Custom Shop prepares for future rush-seasons.
Value at every turn
Thanks to new efficiencies in both their processes and system, YETI is producing far more custom cups per day. Having embraced the value of a highly collaborative partnership, YETI is on track for ongoing growth. The iterative and agile approach that we instituted results in value that’s realized sooner rather than later. A complete workflow revamp has benefited more than just the team, it’s cultivated trust among all stakeholders. By moving towards standardized procedures for new product releases, teams have replaced a number of questions with a series of checks along a well-marked path to progress.
YETI had high standards from the start—we just helped them reach great heights faster.