Planning Optimized at Mach 2

Last month I, along with 2200 other supply chain professionals, attended the 2018 Gartner Supply Chain Executive Conference in Phoenix Arizona. The four-day conference featured many interesting and educational sessions led by both Gartner analysts and supply chain practitioners. In between the room-packed sessions, there was time for networking and catching up with old acquaintances. There was a lot to take in yet one keynote stood out for me.

Anthony “AB” Bourke, CEO and Founder of Mach 2 Consulting and former F-16 pilot spoke about his experiences as an F-16 pilot and the importance of pre- and post-flight briefings to ensure the continuous improvement of a fighter pilot’s ability to safely and effectively carry out their mission. As a former flight test engineer involved in several hundred experimental aircraft test flights, this particular presentation resonated with me. Flight testing is all about stretching an aircraft’s flight envelope in a safe and controlled manner. Miscommunication or errors during the process could very quickly lead to the loss of an expensive aircraft or worse loss of life. AB’s presentation highlighted how briefs can be used effectively in any business to make continuous operational improvements. As a supply chain guy I started to ponder how we can apply this thinking to improve supply chain planning operations.

What immediately came to mind was the collaborative and meeting intensive Sales & Operations Planning (S&OP) process. The S&OP process generally consists of a series of meetings including the product lifecycle planning meeting, demand consensus meeting, supply and resource planning meeting, financial reconciliation and pre-S&OP meeting, and the executive S&OP meeting. I have had the pleasure (using that term loosely) of designing and leading the S&OP process at several companies and have personally seen the difficulties in launching and maintaining an efficient and effective S&OP process.

In today’s hyper-demanding business environment it is difficult to get consistent cross-functional participation in S&OP meetings especially from senior management. It is imperative that each meeting in the S&OP cycle be well run and focused on value-adding activities. This is where pre-briefs could be useful. For instance, the person running the demand consensus meeting should work with demand managers to identify areas of high forecast error, the causes of these errors and the potential solutions to reduce forecast error prior to holding the demand consensus meeting. A pre-brief could be used to run through and refine what is to be discussed in the demand consensus meeting. The meeting itself can then be laser focused on the highest potential opportunities for improving forecast accuracy and the specific actions / decisions required from senior management.

As with flying, the post brief might be even more important than the pre-brief. Examining the performance of the last cycle can lead to improvements in future cycles. Post briefs can be used to identify what worked, what didn’t and what needs to change. For example, the demand consensus process used in the previous S&OP cycle could be analyzed to identify potential improvements. That information could then be presented and discussed at the beginning of the next S&OP demand consensus meeting. This cyclical, closed loop use of pre and post briefings would help to ensure S&OP meetings are focused on the most relevant and value-adding topics helping to secure consistent participation from senior management. S&OP meetings should be focused on making decisions that lead to value-adding outcomes. Without senior level participation, business affecting decisions are difficult if not impossible to make.

One other point AB made that struck home was the necessity to run an effective brief to not waste time or have meetings for the sake of meeting. He emphasized the need to follow a standard meeting agenda, start meetings on time, foster an open exchange of ideas and end the meeting on-time. He paraphrased the Las Vegas advertising slogan, “What happens in the post brief, stays in the post brief” to enforce the idea of an honest evaluation of performance to facilitate learning from successes and failures. One idea he mentioned was to close the meeting door at the scheduled meeting start time to enforce the importance of both the meeting and of people’s time. This brought back memories of highly effective pre- and post-briefs during my flight test days. It was a common practice to close the meeting room door and lock it. If you weren’t on time you didn’t participate in the brief and you didn’t participate in the flight. I never had to explain to my boss why I couldn’t participate in a flight, but I know others who did. I wonder what would happen if you locked the door at the scheduled start time of your next S&OP meeting. Do you think that might send a message that the S&OP meeting is vitally important to your company’s success? What do you think?

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