Planning Optimized – A Journey of Excellence
Often the ultimate goal of a supply chain planning professional is to optimize the capabilities of the company’s supply chain to meet customer requirements while minimizing costs and maximizing company performance. Despite its importance, this goal is often unreached, and if it is reached, it may last only a short time. Why? Because supply chains are ever-changing, driven by changing customer requirements, supply chain characteristics, industry dynamics, and company objectives. We drive towards what we believe will be the optimal planning process and supporting technology for our company, but predicting the future can be tricky, even for smart business technologists.
Just look at Thomas Edison. He believed direct current (DC) was the future of electricitybelieved it so completely that he told Nikolay Tesla there was no future for alternating current (AC) electrical transmission systems. Or consider the founder of IBM, Thomas J. Watson, who predicted in 1943 that there was a world market for about five computers. Or 20th Century Fox executive Darryl Zanuck, who stated in 1946 that television wouldn’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. (“People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.”)
Like those examples, predicting what supply chain challenges you will face in the future is problematic.
Of course, we should never give up trying to optimize supply chain planning. I believe the key to success is to build resilient planning capabilities. By resiliency, I mean the ability to quickly recover from disruptive change and return to standard operating conditions without being overwhelmed or acting in dysfunctional or harmful ways. Companies can develop resilience by increasing redundancy, changing corporate culture, and building up flexibility.
Consider redundancy. Theoretically, a resilient supply chain can be built by creating redundancies such as holding extra inventory, maintaining just-in-case capacity, having many suppliers, etc. While redundancy can provide some breathing room to continue operating after a disruption, typically it is a temporary, and very expensive, measure that can leads to sub-optimal supply chains. Consider corporate culture. After a disruption, corporate culture is the factor that clearly distinguishes companies that recover quickly and profitably from those that falter. However corporate culture can rarely be controlled by supply chain professionals.
Flexibility and Talent
Now what about flexibility? When flexibility or agility is increased, the supply chain can both withstand significant disruptions and better respond to demand fluctuations. Flexibility increases your ability to optimize. Flexible processes enhance a supply chain planning organization’s ability to adapt to changes and quickly adjust course towards optimal planning. Organizations that follow guidelines are more agile and better positioned to embrace new paradigms.
Team flexibility enhances supply chain planning resilience. In today’s “war for talent” it is essential to hire people with excellent analytical, communication, and people skills. (Read Consumer Goods Technology’s recent cover story on McCormick, The Right Blend, which highlights their winning formula to build the right team.) To retain talent, many supply chain organizations have instituted functional rotation programs to expose team members to various parts of the supply chain. Organizations have also adopted mentorship programs and formal succession planning processes to enhance retention. Finally, because the field of supply chain planning is always changing and advancing, it is essential that team members be encouraged to participate in professional organizations, obtain certifications and system knowledge and pursue advanced education. Some organizations offer monetary bonuses for training that leads to certifications.
An often-overlooked factor is the value of an integrated planning system that can provide powerful planning capabilities through an intuitive user interface. An inadequate planning architecture hampers planning process optimization. Trouble results when the various systems involved dont have the required capabilities, are set up in such a way that limits the ability to make changes, and have inflexible integrations that invariably lead to lengthy workarounds using spreadsheets and other off-line tools.
In the recent Gartner research article “Getting Ready for the Future: Strengthen Your Supply Chain Planning CORE,” Tim Payne wrote that supply chain planning leaders need the right mix of planning technology to ensure success. It is the authors contention that all planning technology in the market, no matter what the vendor calls it, falls into one of the three planning categories of configure (to support company objectives), optimize and respond (when the company isn’t able to follow the optimal plan). All three of these categories need to be bi-directionally integrated. According to the report, the capabilities of each planning solution must be closely connected with the other solutions so that plans created in each can be aligned and synchronized. As multi-enterprise planning continues to increase it requires planning visibility of data across the supply chain, support for collaboration on plans and scenarios, creation of what-if scenarios, management of planning process workflows, support for performance management, and appropriate scale and speed in addition to the right functional capabilities.
Survey results from recent research published in a Supply Chain Digest article, “Supply Chain Software Trends & Opportunities 2016 Benchmark Study” indicates that overcoming barriers to improving supply chain performance is closely tied to having the right enabling planning technology in place that provides: