S&OP vs. The NFL: A Tale of Two Teams

In the US, Fall means one thing: kicking off the new football season. Of course, since I am a true supply chain geek, when I think about seasons I immediately think of supply chain planning, as I’m sure you do too!? After a particularly difficult football weekend, I pondered the similarities between the struggles of my favorite NFL team and the difficulties of implementing a winning Sales and Operations Planning (S&OP) process.

Let me explain.
S&OP vs. The NFL: A Tale of Two Teams
The NFL was formed 89 years ago, while S&OP has been around for about 40 years. They both have long histories. Over the years, both of these worlds have become staggeringly more complex in terms of stronger, faster and more specialized players/products, advanced high-tech equipment, reliance on a much larger number of sophisticated plays/plans, and new capabilities to record, analyze, and learn from what happens on the field.

Each NFL and S&OP team seeks to create an edge that improves its chances of winning, and each new season presents an opportunity to improve our standing within the league. Like the NFL, S&OP continues to evolve and mature as a critical process, and each season brings economic, technology and business changes that challenge the coaching staff to find new and better answers. Higher fan/customer expectations have driven teams/companies to innovate and evolve their strategies and tactics. To win, our NFL/supply chain teams must be more adaptive, responsive and innovative. Like their football coaching counterparts, supply chain professionals have become adept at matchups (of supply vs. demand, rather than offense vs. defense). Some staffs are better at aligning financial and budgetary realities to succeed while staying under the cap. And, like in the NFL, collaboration with suppliers/sponsors and customers/fans has become crucial to a team’s overall success.

Where the NFL has introduced advancements like the play clock, instant replay, and radio communication between coaches and on-field leaders, S&OP teams have access to technology that automates the tedious practice of collecting, collating, analyzing, and disseminating information for collaboration. Business intelligence tools help measure performance and prepare for the next planning cycle. Collaborative and mobile tools let us communicate and collaborate with our on-field partners to gather the information needed to drive better balanced, fully aligned, and more feasible plays.

It seems to this supply chain geek that there are abundant similarities between football and S&OP. If my favorite team is challenged to put together a winning season in this age of complexity and sophisticated competition…well, there is always next week. For supply chain teams, S&OP gives us the ability to learn from the past and improve our future, share the right information with the right people at the right time, and develop more insightful play books that align our supply chain with the big game plan, our corporate objectives, while meeting needs and expectations well enough to turn our customers into a true fan base.

How’s your team performing?

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