The sales and operations planning journey: Starting off on the right foot

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Car driving in a road and a mountain in the back

Last week I attended the IBF Business Planning, Forecasting & S&OP: Best Practices Conference in Orlando, Florida. If you’re involved in your company’s sales & operations planning processes and you haven’t heard of the IBF, stop reading now and go check them out here! These guys bring supply chain rookies and the best-of-the-best together to talk forecasting and S&OP in a variety of different forums throughout the year.

This year’s conference was a great opportunity for me to talk with demand planners and other supply chain practitioners about their S&OP journey, and the common pitfalls along the way. A big theme of the conference this year was that to be effective with S&OP, it’s important to focus on three pillars of success:

  1. People – It’s important to continually invest in your people to generate a competitive advantage because you rely on them to be the care-takers of your supply chain.
  2. Processes – Best practices in supply chain are continually evolving, but you likely face unique challenges in your business that require innovative solutions.
  3. Technology (enabler) – It’s tough to compete against your competitors’ supply chains without an advanced analytics tool designed to enable the S&OP process.

I couldn’t agree more, as today’s supply chains are only as good as their weakest link. However, there was a sub-theme I heard a few times that had me concerned for the success of my peers as they undertake their supply chain journey, and it had me scratching my head. Several practitioners (some in senior roles at their organizations) mentioned that advanced software solutions are a necessary evil, but that you need to figure out your people and your processes before you can select the right software enabler for your company.

While I agree you need to understand your destination before selecting a software (what problems are you trying to solve?), any time spent on people and process development without a defined ‘technology enabler’ in mind is sub-optimal… To illustrate my concerns, imagine that at the end of the conference, I’m in Orlando and I’m trying to decide how to make the 1400 mile journey home to Ottawa. Now, there are lots of ways to make that journey, and who’s to say which way is the right way for me? Let’s imagine some what-if scenarios to think through how I would invest in my skills and build processes if I knew in advance the technology I’d use on my journey.

Scenario 1: I walk.

In this scenario, I choose to use the travel tools most familiar to me - my 1986 “Chevrolegs”. I’m going to be spending a lot of time outside so I’ll need to brush up on my wilderness survival skills, and I’ll need a strong navigation process that can help me source things like food and water along the way to sustain me on the journey. I’ll also need to invest in sunscreen, some matches and other camping gear, some high-tech outerwear and a large backpack that can carry enough food to get me between supermarkets. If I can convince my boss to cover expenses for this 50-day journey (that’s a lot of meals), I’ll arrive back in Ottawa with the survival story of a lifetime to share with my friends at next year’s IBF conference.

Scenario 2: I drive.

Preparing myself for this 2-day road trip will require a license to drive the vehicle, some insurance to protect myself and others from my high-risk technology, and a trip to the corner store for a couple bottles of 10-hour energy. I’ll need navigation processes and some companion tools (like Waze) to help me refresh and refuel along the way, and I’ll probably want some new tunes to reduce the monotony of the journey. My biggest investment will likely be in gas. I’ll arrive home bored and exhausted, satisfied with my success, but left wondering if there’s a better way to do that next time.

Scenario 3: I fly

This scenario requires me to obtain a passport, learn some airplane etiquette, and tightly roll everything I own into tiny tubes so I can fit the mandatory Disney toys for the kids into my carry-on. Since this three-hour journey requires very little focus on my end, I can catch up on Netflix or write a blog for Kinaxis. This scenario has the highest sticker cost, but the shortest travel time.

There are also millions of fellow travelers in the community posting tips and tricks to help me maximize my experience with this travel method. I arrive back in Ottawa and catch an Uber so quickly I barely notice how inappropriate my shorts and t-shirt are for the sudden weather change.

As you can see, each scenario requires me to invest in different skills and processes to make myself successful with the chosen technology. This may seem like a bit of an exaggeration, but as a supply chain leader, can you expect your people to invest in the right training and develop the right processes without knowing the technology they’ll be supported by?

These three pillars – People, Processes, and Technology - are all equally important, and I would argue it’s impossible to succeed in today’s competitive world without a focus on the combined value of all three. Left without guidance, you might end up with your top demand planner showing up at the airport with a book of matches and a can of gas hoping to catch a flight.

Now that can’t be good for anybody… What do you think? Do you agree you need to select your enabler early on in your journey or should you hold off until you have more of the process figured out? Share your own examples of what has worked well or failed admirably in your S&OP journey.

Additional Resources

  • S&OP frequently asked questions


Jade L
- November 28, 2017 at 8:59pm
Very Practical and useful information.

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