Tales from the Trenches: On the Road to Supply Chain Success

If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve either lived through a supply chain implementation project, you’re considering one, or perhaps you’ve lived through a less-than-successful project and are simply curious.

There are many factors which may be common across a spectrum of projects that come to a positive conclusion. In the course of my more than 25 year career, I’ve been in what I would consider to be the three primary roles of any implementation project: the business owner, the independent third party implementer and the services provider (vendor). With first-hand experience from all implementation angles, I am often asked about the common threads across the three vantage points which have led to a successful implementation.

Arguably the most important factor in conducting a successful implementation project is committed and engaged executive sponsor support. An effective executive sponsor supports the team, has both responsibility and authority for making decisions, and is capable of committing resources on behalf of the project. It’s important to note; however, this does not mean the executive sponsor should micro-manage the project. On the contrary, the executive sponsor should empower the team while committing to regular updates and touchpoints, supporting a structured and disciplined escalation process so decisions are made / resolved effectively.

Extra credit? An executive sponsor with a clear vision and passion for enabling change management can drive an organization to new levels of performance. The clearest example in my experience is with an executive who had a vision of how to transform their organization using the idea of “supply chain as a weapon to deliver a sustainable competitive advantage.” This executive then translated the strategy into tactics, and ultimately into execution and the implementation of processes, policies, and tools to enable the realization of that strategy. This was a true end-to-end vision of how the process would evolve and positions the team for success.

A second key to a successful supply chain implementation is the human capital invested in pursuing and ultimately realizing that success. One of the most difficult decisions when planning and running an implementation project is how to effectively staff that effort, AND keep day-to-day operations running smoothly. Experience has shown me projects with dedicated, top-notch resources are highly correlated with successful projects. Too often, resourcing decisions are made based upon who is available, or those for whom a move into a project-based role would least disrupt daily operations. Sometimes, the best resource to help ensure a successful outcome is also likely the person seen as the “least expendable”. The hard decision to assign those “high value” resources accomplishes two objectives: it delivers a deep understanding of the business functions which needs to be supported, and it makes a clear statement to the rest of the organization the implementation project is important enough to warrant assigning the best and brightest.

A third factor is an approach which delivers incremental value by way of clear milestones and deliverables which ties accountability to the process. All of this ultimately reaches a realistic conclusion within a reasonable timeframe. Projects that can deliver early wins and incremental business value not only build and maintain momentum; they also help pay their way. Supply chain implementation projects typically deliver high, tangible business value with quick ROI.  Finding opportunities to deliver business value early builds enthusiasm and support throughout the project team, the organization and at the executive level. Absent the ability to deliver value early and (relatively) often, project risk increases at a rising pace. Projects, 18 months or longer, suffer from “project fatigue” including changes in priorities, shifts in strategy, loss of focus, and loss of executive engagement. Successful projects typically define a scope that delivers meaningful business value achievable within 12 (or less) months to no more than 18 months, with interim milestones against which progress is measured and incremental value is delivered.

So there you have it – my top three factors supporting a successful supply chain implementation project. To be sure, there are additional factors that either contribute to or detract from the ability to reach a successful outcome. These three rise to the top time and again.