BLOGS / Design’s Role in McCain’s Digital Transformation

Design’s Role in McCain’s Digital Transformation

Written By:

Karishma Kumar & Eadaoin Dempsey


22 March 2024

Here at TribalScale, we offer digital transformation services whereby we do either of the following:

  • Transform teams—pair with clients while working on a project with a larger goal of fundamentally altering the way our clients build software and digital products as an organization.

  • IT modernization—design and implement a custom program that addresses your operational challenges and business goals, opening up new capabilities through cloud migration, data architecture, machine learning and AI, as well as tech modernization.

Digital transformation is a massive endeavour in which design can and should play a very influential role. Design can be pivotal in the success of a digital transformation initiative by ensuring that the end-users can effectively use and derive value from the new digital products and services being implemented.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

We had the incredible opportunity to introduce and help implement a large-scale digital transformation for McCain Foods Limited, the world’s largest manufacturer of frozen potato products. Their new project McCain Driving Impact (MDI) is leveraging AI to address pain points plaguing the potato processing supply chain. Currently, their area of focus for digital transformation is Manufacturing.

MDI x AI = Digital Manufacturing

McCain’s vision is to digitize their manufacturing processes to allow for greater data accuracy. Moving core processes from paper to digital will streamline large sources of friction in existing operations. As you can imagine, with such large-scale manufacturing comes a variety of different roles ranging from operators, supervisors, line-centric teams, process control leads, and plant leadership teams, all of whom will be users of the digital solution that we design and develop.

How It All Started

When Eadaoin Dempsey (my wonderful manager) and I were brought on to this project, we knew next to nothing about manufacturing. We both came from traditional design backgrounds and had no previous exposure to a project of this nature and scale. But that’s one of the most exciting things about UX Design and a big reason why I enjoy being in this field, no matter what the industry is, UX methods will always remain valuable. We have to iterate, adapt, and add new dimensions to what we do. That being said, it’s no secret that starting a project is often the hardest part.

We were tasked with presenting initial low-fidelity wireframes for the project kickoff meeting which was to happen in two weeks and we hadn’t even begun our design process yet. Unlike a typical e-commerce application or a music streaming service for which there are tons of examples online to get inspiration, there was no blueprint available for this type of project. We began by thoroughly reading the project research documentation which outlined the requirements, user pain points, and needs. Luckily enough, my husband had been in the manufacturing industry for 10 years and a conversation with him helped me gain inner knowledge of manufacturing processes and insights into the tools that are typically used to improve manufacturing efficiency. And so, with the information we had on our hands, we analyzed the user stories, created user flows, and developed mid-fidelity prototypes to present at the project kickoff meeting.

Project Kickoff

The project kickoff was organized in Florenceville NB, the founding location of McCain and also the plant where our pilot solution would be deployed before launching in all other McCain facilities all over the world. So our team (managers, designers, and developers) travelled to the french fry capital of the world to represent TribalScale at this week-long affair. We had a total of almost 80 people participating in the kickoff, each team working on a different aspect of the MDI x AI project. This engagement brought many worlds together under one roof, two of the major ones being the world of digital technology and the world of traditional manufacturing.

Many sessions enlightened us about McCain’s manufacturing processes, talks informed us of the project vision, and group activities gave us a deeper understanding of Agile methodologies, all of which allowed us get to know one another and thus formed a new team which brought together people from different organizations and industries with one goal in mind—to build an efficient digital product to improve McCain’s manufacturing processes.

The team at McCain Foods Canada plant in Florenceville-Bristol, NB

The team at McCain Foods Canada plant in Florenceville-Bristol, NB

Soon after the kickoff, we visited the McCain plant to tour the facility. We saw the McCain folks in action during their shift, conducted user interviews with the employees, participated in their meetings, watched them go about their typical day at the plant, and ate a ton of french fries of course. The McCain team, who are extremely passionate about their jobs, explained their role in making french fries and welcomed us wholeheartedly into their world of potatoes. We were now more familiar with the project, closer as a team, and more confident in the solution we had to articulate for McCain.

It was decided that the digital solution would be built using Microsoft PowerApps and it would run on hand-held tablets. As we started to get our ideas together, we went through various Microsoft PowerApps tutorials to better understand the platform. Our development team helped us not only understand the limitations of the tool, but also highlighted to us the possibilities of pushing the boundaries of the tool to create unique experiences.

What Our Process Was Like

With the MDI Playbook (which outlines the guidelines and requirements laid out by the Global MDI Team) as our Bible, the project started in full swing. The project was mapped out, data charts were drawn up, cadences were established, tasks were outlined, and the application began to come to life. A project of this magnitude also warranted a solid project plan and proper cadences set up for all the teams involved.

Initially, however, there were too many stakeholders participating in these key meetings, and while it was great to receive substantial feedback, it slowed down the process of receiving approvals on the designs. The team got together and addressed this challenge by setting up a separate design cadence wherein key people were identified (different for each user story) to participate in the entire design process ranging from whiteboarding to super design sessions. Figma was deemed as the single source of truth for design work and we used it for building a PowerApps design system, drafting user flows, wireframing, prototyping, and keeping a record of all the feedback. What unfolded was that feedback became more streamlined, design changes were efficiently tracked, and approvals were easily sought.

As the development progressed, our designs became more real. We, along with our development team, went on rapidly prototyping, testing, and iterating interactive versions of what we were working on. We were also very mindful of creating reusable components and accounting for all the different states of designs.

Before we knew it, the application was live and we received another incredible opportunity to visit the McCain facility for usability testing sessions. We sat down with the operators and supervisors at the plant (all future users of the application) and observed them while they navigated through the application on their tablets with much excitement. Needless to say, we received more invaluable feedback and the joy of watching our users interact with the application was priceless. Realizing that we designers can make a difference and change people’s lives for the better truly makes our jobs all the more satisfying.

What's Happening Today

We continue to test the application, identify areas of improvement, and draft solutions as enhancements that can be incorporated in the future. The project is ongoing with new features being introduced as we continue to build this digital solution for McCain. We now have another designer on board, my teammate and comrade, David Picarazzi, who is taking this endeavour to greater heights.

What We Learned

Product Designer Karishma Kumar and Associate Director of Design Eadaoin Dempsey, visiting McCain Canada's plant

Product Designer Karishma Kumar and Associate Director of Design Eadaoin Dempsey, visiting McCain Canada's plant

As designers, we all want to design the ideal experience. But depending on what the business and technical constraints are, the ideal experience does not remain as ideal anymore. I learned to keep a single-minded focus on making the product simple to use and still providing a reasonable experience.

This project also taught me the importance of listening. Upon constantly hearing about the ongoings of the plant and the nuances of operations, the manufacturing domain does not feel so alien anymore. I learned that while it can be daunting to create a full-fledged digital product for a relatively unfamiliar industry, all it entails is for us to question what we can do better for people and how we can make their lives easier. More often than not, it is as simple as that.


Karishma is a Product Designer and Eadaoin is the Associate Director of Design at TribalScale. For the past 10 months, they've been working hard on the large-scale digital transformation project for McCain.


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