Do you check the weather report before leaving for work? What about for the upcoming weekend, to be sure your plans for a hike won’t be washed out? OK, how about paying attention to the long-range outlook, like how much snow is expected next winter and how that will affect the prospects of a drought the following summer? Weather forecasting shares many aspects with demand forecasting for your supply chain. You need to be able to look at the near term—say the upcoming few weeks—as well as the next 3-18 months and beyond. This is equivalent to checking the weather for tomorrow, the next two weekends, and the upcoming few seasons. If you want the whole picture, you need to gather as much information as you can on all three time frames.
People say that the only constant is change. When they say that, they’re usually not talking about sales and operations planning (S&OP). And yet, what could be more relevant? If you’re an automaker, for instance, your business constantly needs to adapt to changing market conditions, customer expectations, technological realities, and other factors that can have a big impact on the success of your production plans, supply chain, and profits. There are any number of strategies that decision-makers use to try and address these constant internal and external changes, but one of the most commonly talked about (in some circles, anyway) is S&OP.
Why does your company exist? This isn’t a metaphysical question, like “why are we here,” it’s purely practical. We hope the answer you thought of was, “to keep our customers happy,” because if not, the rest of what we have to say today might not make as much sense. Customers are the reason manufacturers make things. If there were no customers, you would have no reason to make products, and therefore you’d have nothing to ship, right? As a production planner, you’re likely already relying on S&OP workflows and software solutions as a key piece of your strategy to keep your customers happy. Especially in today’s world of next-day shipping, S&OP remains necessary to keep up with these demands and delivery expectations.
Supply and demand are the first two concepts that most people learn about with regard to economics—and they’re also two of the most crucial elements of any manufacturing supply chain. In order to effectively meet customer demand, you need to ensure that you have enough supply on hand; and in order to profit by that demand, you have to make sure that your supply doesn’t wildly exceed your needs. As with so many things in manufacturing, this is easier said than done.
Transparency is at the heart of both Industry 4.0 and the sales & operations planning process. Without visibility into every aspect of a supply chain, planners have no way to know for sure how something they do today will impact another department or team in the months to come. With visibility into those teams’ processes to see where the overlap is, they can see clearly how each move they make will impact the rest of the company and can better ensure that the entire value chain is protected from non-compliance. This may look different for production planners and operations managers, as each has their own priorities and needs. different needs. It can also look different at each stage of the plan from the same department, but the bottom line remains the same—visibility into the planning process is key to successful implementation.
Let’s picture a hypothetical. You’re a sales and operations planner at a global manufacturer, specializing in a high-end variety of widget that other global companies tend to order in large quantities. Your sales cycle is fairly long, so every time a member of your sales team closes a deal it feels like a major victory. Recently, you’ve closed one of your largest deals yet, meaning that a large quantity of deliverables need to be produced in the immediate future. This will mean leveraging your production facilities at their maximum capacity for some time (potentially resulting in some wear and tear on your machines that will cause slowdowns later), but, like they say, “make hay while the sun shines.”
Think about some of the biggest supply chain risks for a moment: unexpected weather events or natural disasters; price fluctuation for oil or other transport factors; inaccurate forecasts—all things that require an immediate response in order to prevent complete supply chain shutdowns. Now, think about most sales & operations planning (S&OP) workflows: focused on mid-term, quarterly or yearly cycles; designed to support longer-term goals like new product launches—quite simply, the opposite of immediate. Of course, S&OP is crucial to shaping a business’ mid-term strategy, but when disruptions hit there’s rarely time to wait for the next quarterly planning meeting in order to respond. As a result, without a secondary workflow to cover the weekly or monthly planning timeframe, the inherent risks in longer-term planning processes are significantly amplified.
It’s long been an open question in the world of business: which is a bigger hurdle, planning or execution? As the global supply chain has become more sophisticated, however, we’ve gotten a wealth of evidence that for the majority of companies, execution is the more frequent stumbling block. In an informal poll a few years ago, Dick Ruhe at Blanchard found that 76% of the more than 300 respondents said that the most common experience at their company was "good planning and poor execution" (compared to just 4% who said "good planning and good execution", 8% who said "bad planning and bad execution", and 13% who said "bad planning and good execution"). Though these statistics don’t speak to supply chain management in particular, they do give an accurate sense of how difficult it can be to put even a well-conceived business or production plan into action.
Imagine for a moment that you’re on a flight from London to New York. You probably take It for granted that someone has charted an appropriate route at an appropriate altitude based on weather and air traffic patterns, and that departure, arrival, and flight time have all been carefully calculated based on past flights and current conditions. At the same time, no matter how much planning has gone into a flight, you probably also take it for granted that there is a pilot in the cockpit, measuring real-time information with her instruments and communicating with air traffic control to make necessary adjustments and course corrections as new scenarios emerge.
If you had walked onto a factory floor during the second or third industrial revolution, it would have been immediately obvious what was so modern about what you were witnessing. You would have seen raw parts being turned into complex products on a moving assembly line, or newly automated processes making use of modern industrial machinery and early computer networks. In the world of Industry 4.0, the so-called “fourth industrial revolution,” the differences in appearance might be more subtle. You might still see a mix of manual labor and automated, computerized systems carrying out various production tasks, while many of important innovation brought about by Industry 4.0 might remain invisible to you. You might even be prompted to ask, “what’s so modern about modern manufacturing?”