Why Supply Chain Projects Fail

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I recently read a blog on The New Supply Chain Agenda Blog titled “Managing Supply Chain Change.” I was reading this article because I run the Professional Services group at a supply chain software company and I am always interested in why supply chain projects may fail, so I can ensure improvements are made in my own projects to mitigate the risk of failure.

One quote from the article is especially interesting, “Many supply chain executives we talk with concede that they don’t have time to do ‘it’ right the first time, and therefore spend their days in a vicious cycle trying to fix problems that could have been avoided.” I certainly believe this to be true but the reason may not be directly related to the people involved not having enough time, but I believe there are additional factors that play into this equation.

The author states “Supply Chain Project Plans Fail to ‘Draw a Line in the Sand.’” This is definitely a huge risk factor. I myself have had many experiences with clients trying to get them to rein in their plans and be willing to accept a solution that doesn’t 100 percent meet their needs, in order to get something live in production and then finish the project the rest of the way. 

Most projects we are involved with have a very well defined scope at the beginning of the project and it is a continual struggle to limit scope changes throughout the project. It could be because a new executive or key client representative found out about the project and determined they wanted something new. I have never seen a client that went live with less than 100 percent of what they ultimately wanted and they were unhappy. This is because they typically have a plan to implement the remainder of scope and if they have a project success under their belt, they have momentum to keep going. 

My suggestion to clients is to really think about what is needed in scope at the bare minimum and have a plan to do subsequent quick roll-outs of functionality to get you the rest of the way there. That is a safer approach than making the initial project too big. Clients should be able to quantify the benefits of their supply chain project. This is critical. If a client embarks on a project without fully analyzing the true financial benefits of the project, it is likely not to get funded from the executives. 

If I am engaged with a project that does not have clearly articulated KPI’s or objectives for the project, I worry the project is at risk. I believe a supply chain project should have all key executives involved in defining the objectives as the company’s supply chain impacts all areas of the business. “Supply Chain Experts are in Short Supply.” This is definitely a risk factor in supply chain projects. 

I have always said that the key to a successful project is having a defined and empowered super user as a key part of the project. Ideally this person would be 100 percent dedicated to the project to ensure the project’s success and roll out into the organization. However, most companies do not have the luxury of doing that because the person who would be assigned as that key resource is critical to running the day-to-day operations. I don’t have a perfect answer for how to solve this problem. What I try and do is ensure that my client’s understand what is necessary for them to be successful and help them managing the risk of lack of involvement.

If you’ve found a way to overcome this issue, please let me know. I am welcome to suggestions. Scope management, lack of clear expectations, and lack of supply chain expertise are just the tip of the iceburg on why projects fail. I am very interested in hearing from others how they have overcome these and other issues to ensure success of their projects. With the economy the way it is, companies cannot afford to fail in their supply chain projects as it could have dire implications to the company’s success. We should all look for ways to learn from each other on how to best succeed and prosper by implementing successful supply chain projects.


Uladzislau Shauchenka
- August 21, 2013 at 7:39pm
Can I recommend a related book? Why Projects Fail is an in-depth resource featuring case studies and analysis of failed projects, suggestions and recommendations on how to improve your project management processes so your project will succeed.

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