Tips for a Successful Supply Chain Planning Technology Implementation Part 2: Project Management and Staffing

By Steve Thrift | Principal, Integrated Demand and Supply Planning | Chainalytics  Supply chain planning technology projects are somewhat in a league of their own....

By Steve Thrift | Principal, Integrated Demand and Supply Planning | Chainalytics 

Supply chain planning technology projects are somewhat in a league of their own. While they share characteristics of other activities, such as software development or ERP implementations, they remain unique due to the nature of the solutions and the business processes they support. No two projects are ever the same, so it is important to prepare yourself for anomalies that may present themselves along the way.  In Part 1 of this blog, we discussed how to approach the implementation relative to the solution, so in Part 2 we’ll take a look at Project Management and Staffing the implementation project.

While having a well-developed strategy focusing on solution is a crucial aspect of successful implementation, it should be no surprise that a solution that looks good on paper can quickly fall apart during the management and staffing phase. To alleviate concerns your organization may have in this area, here are a few tips associated with Project Management and Staffing that one must always be careful not to overlook:

  1. Don’t be a project management purist. While the traditional “waterfall” method is widely used in supply chain planning technology implementations, and we typically start with that approach due to its structure and efficiency, you have to be flexible and situation-oriented. If you need to go into a more agile or iterative mode during the project, don’t worry that you aren’t following the exact textbook methodology—do what works for the situation. While oversight and governance are certainly important, Project Management Office (PMO) processes may, in many situations, be counterproductive and result in additional “red tape” that actually increases the cost and extends the timeline. At some point, especially if the project gets delayed, trust in someone—usually your implementation partner— to take over with the PMO having less of a “hands-on” role. This is often why large organizations seem to struggle with these types of projects: well-intended controls become an unproductive bureaucracy and the controls designed to reduce time end up increasing it.
  2. Everyone on the team must add significant value. Staffing these projects, for both the company’s core team and the consultants, should be thought in terms of “special forces”—small but highly skilled teams. Implementation partners should have team members with decades, not just months or years, of experience implementing the solutions. We have found that a small team of highly skilled and highly experienced professional implementers—people who know what to do and don’t have to learn the software– beats a large hierarchical team most every time in terms of speed, cost, and most of all solution quality. They understand the software, how it fits many different business situations, and won’t make the “rookie mistakes” that can cost so much time and money. Most of all, you need a project lead with the experience and foresight to see “over the next hill”, anticipate (rather than react to) potential risks and issues, and create and execute risk mitigation plans before they impact the timeline. The firefight that’s easiest to win is the one that’s avoided.
  3. Don’t overestimate the value of common sense. First and foremost, start with a realistic timeline,  budget, and scope. If that doesn’t happen, getting a suitable result and staying on-time and on-budget is all but impossible. But often when projects run off the rails, is when leadership (project sponsor, steering committee, technology team, etc.) loses sight of practical reality or when political considerations take over. Every decision has a consequence. Every element of the new solution should be as good or better than what it’s replacing, but don’t try to achieve perfection in one pass. Every customization has a cost. When we look back at failed projects, the handwriting was usually on the wall but ignored.
  4. Single point of final decision-making. There needs to be a single owner who can make difficult decisions and make them quickly. When difficult decisions arise, the project team must clearly frame the alternatives so that decision-making does not exist in a vacuum. More than once I have said to a project sponsor who is having difficulty making a decision, “If you don’t make a decision by the end of today this project timeline will start to slip.” While single final ownership does not guarantee success, it definitely improves the probability. With one person at the helm,  they always seem to come through. When it’s decision-making by committee or no one is ultimately in charge (which is much more common that you may think), that doesn’t tend to happen.
  5. The importance of creativity. It’s important to take an analytical approach in the implementation and also have the technical skills that are needed. But there will be many times when the most important skill will be creativity, not logic or analytics. Creativity does not mean coming up with pie-in-the-sky or off-the-wall solutions, it often means being able to define the problem or frame a requirement in a different way, which will ultimately allow you to see it and the solution in a way you hadn’t previously considered. Creativity can only really take place when the basics are already in place, which goes back to staffing with people who know the fundamentals of the solution, project management principles, and understanding the business thoroughly.
  6. Transparency. Transparency by everyone involved is absolutely essential. If something goes wrong, people need to speak up immediately,  take ownership, and work together to solve it quickly (i.e., within a 24-hour window). When someone recognizes a design or configuration problem, but refuses to acknowledge/address it, the problem exacerbates, a trust begins to erode, and the environment can become toxic. Even on the best projects, we will likely find issues not only in testing but in a pilot or even once we go into production. Recognizing and owning a problem allows the solution to be developed and implemented faster than worrying about where the blame lies.

Ultimately you want a great solution that provides value to the business. But how you get to that solution, the health of the implementation project itself, is vitally important to that success. If the project to implement the solution isn’t sound, it’s likely that solution itself won’t be either.

Steve Thrift, CFPIM, PMP, is a Principal in the Integrated Demand and Supply Planning practice at Chainalytics and focuses on planning technology assessments, advanced planning implementations, optimization of existing solutions, and comprehensive supply chain transformations. With over 30 years of industry and consulting experience, he brings a unique and experienced perspective to each project.

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