Tips for a Successful Supply Chain Planning Technology Implementation

By Steve Thrift | Principal, Integrated Demand and Supply Planning | Chainalytics Part 1: The Solution Advanced Planning solution implementations represent a large investment for...

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

Part 1: The Solution

Advanced Planning solution implementations represent a large investment for companies as well as a significant risk/reward proposition—we can win big or lose large. I did my first advanced planning implementation in the late 90’s and have been involved in implementations of multiple software packages over the years, having participated as both a business user and consultant, doing advanced supply chain planning and ERP, in very large companies and small ones. The first one and my last one shared the characteristics of coming in on-time and on-budget even with an aggressive timeline, but I have seen some go off the rails. I often tell clients that these projects can either be one of the best or one of the worst experiences of your career, having seen multiple promotions for core team members when things go well. And when they don’t, let’s just say that nobody wins. Based on 20 years of wins and losses from multiple perspectives, here are a few tips to keep in mind.

  1. The objective should be business value, not minimum cost. No one wants to spend money they don’t need to. But recently there has been a trend to use approaches which save time and money by short-cutting the solution design phase to save on implementation cost. But if you are going to spend money anywhere, spend it in understanding the business, present and future, and getting a great design—otherwise everything which follows will suffer. The question should always be something like “how does this help us compete and drive value for customers and shareholders in the future?” Spending a few extra dollars in the design phase of the project can not only save rework cost down the road, but also pay off in multiples for business results in the future helping provide better service levels, lower overall costs, and inventory productivity.
  2. Focus on requirements. Well-crafted requirements take you from software selection through design, build, testing, and implementation. We tell clients to focus on the “why” and not the “how” when it comes to requirements. Stay away from replicating what we do today, focus on why we do what we do and how it makes us successful. Then you can re-frame the requirements in a way that focuses on business value. If you find that you need to add or re-frame requirements along the way you should document them and add to the list, but also do an honest assessment of how they were missed and what else may be out there.
  3. The need for speed. The world is changing fast– I’m sure that’s not news to anyone. With a planning implementation, it’s important to set an aggressive but realistic timeline which gets the solution in quickly. With projects that take multiple years, the solution is probably obsolete by the time it is implemented. Of course you need to try to “future-proof” the solution, but inevitably you will be wrong on certain elements. So rather than trying to build a solution which is perfect for today (which will be “yesterday” at Go Live), get the basics in and take the long-term view. Difficult decisions don’t tend to get easier, so lay out the options, make the best decision you can for the business, and drive on. Projects often lapse not so much because of the work, but because of the worry.
  4. Treat this as a continuous improvement journey. The objective of the initial implementation is to deliver business results but also to build a platform which provides for long-term success. Think of this as a first step in an on-going journey. In most cases you are better off getting a working solution in quickly that you can build on rather than the “perfect” solution, then have a list of enhancements that should begin as soon as soon as the initial project is over. By enhancements, we don’t necessarily mean customizations but more refinements of data, processes, and system configuration, and utilizing advanced functionality.  No matter what you do, once you see the solution in production, you’ll probably want to make changes, so accept that fact and budget for it.
  5. Keep it Simple. Yes, I know that everyone has heard this 1000 times. But the reason it’s said over and over again is because in most cases making the solution complex is easy, but making it simple is hard. A common tendency is also for solutions to get more complex over time. So if you start with a complex solution and add complexity over time, you can easily end up with a solution that literally no one in the organization can understand. While everyone will tell you that customizations will make upgrades harder, that’s the least of it. The higher the level of complexity (and yes, here we are primarily talking customization not standard functionality), the more difficult it is to comprehend and train, and the less likely the users of the system are to make good decisions. We constantly talk to clients about 3 levels of expertise in the system a) I understand it b) I can explain it to someone who knows it less than me and 3) I can predict its behavior and make good decisions. More complexity makes all of these more difficult. If you need to make lots of modifications/customizations, there is a good chance that you did a poor job in either software selection or change management, or both.

This isn’t a complete list—we have focused here on the solution itself– and will address the project management and staffing aspects in a later edition. If you are considering a technology implementation, or even if you are in the middle of one, we hope that these perspectives will be helpful for you.

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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