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Back to the Basics: Supply Chain Planning

by Wendy Buxton | Nov 20, 2018

New technology might scream innovation, especially when there are inefficiencies causing avoidable issues, but sometimes the best thing for your supply chain is going back to the basics. More specifically, you should take a step back and look at how you planned your supply chain in the past and how you can plan your supply chain in the future.

Planning should be the foundation of your supply chain

Shipments can’t go to plan if no plan exists. And even when you do have a plan, our fast-paced, unpredictable world can often add frustrations or delays. Planning for non-optimal outcomes and having procedures in place to deal with these events can hold the key to a well-managed, successful supply chain.

Our globalized markets have made the life of your average supply chain manager much more exciting — and frustrating — but technology is also matching the pace of our interconnected economies. Internet of things (IoT) devices, cloud-based applications, and machine learning have all added to our ability to visualize and analyze our supply chains.

By ensuring that your workflows and contingency plans are common staff knowledge and easily accessible, you empower your employees to spend more time handling major concerns rather than minor mistakes or communication errors. And even when unforeseen circumstances arise, a plan can outline who is responsible for what, as well as potential options once the issue is apparent. This means your team can more quickly handle the unexpected.

When was the last time you looked at your planning process?

It’s one thing to resolve to be a better planning organization; to actually improve your planning is another thing entirely. Planners often end up getting tuned out at meetings because they’re not the flashy epitome of success: They’re meticulous and detail oriented. For supply chain-focused businesses, planners are also lagging behind the times by hanging on to legacy systems.

But even without a leap in technology, your team can start reviewing your current planning strategies today. According to the American Production and Inventory Control Society (APICS), these seven standards can help ensure your team is on the right track.

  1. Manage your data. Managing your data means creating an easy-to-follow guide for all dataset types, including a master key of all data field types.
  2. Make sure everyone is on the same page. Whether it’s a long-term plan, your planning horizon, or even your data refresh intervals, your team needs to know what everyone else knows. This way, everyone is working off the same dataset with the same background information, which should hopefully allow your team to draw more accurate conclusions.
  3. Collaborate with partners to understand inconsistent data. When conflicting data shows up, it’s the perfect time to get together with your customers and suppliers to understand where the deviation occurred, why it occurred, and how to prevent confusion in the future.
  4. Give your planners a crash course — or refresher — in modern analytics. The amount of data we have the power to collect can be overwhelming at times. Create opportunities for your team to get a deeper understanding — or a reminder — of comprehending forecasts.
  5. Shift your focus from “sell in” and sales orders to “point-of-sale” and “sell-through” data. Looking at completed transactions, rather than pending ones, can help your team maintain its current understanding of your supply chain ecosystem without getting ahead of itself.
  6. Encourage collaboration between your product development and supply chain teams. No matter how large or small a company is, one thing is certain. Getting siloed into your own department is an easy trap to fall into. Give your product development and supply chain teams the opportunity to openly discuss their work and concerns.
  7. Strive for continuous improvement. Incentivize your planning team to be constantly working on the “bugs” in your supply chain.

When you open the door for proper data management, clear communication, collaboration, and further training, your teams have the opportunity to address issues they might already be aware of or to discover problems lurking beneath the surface.