How to pitch your supply chain planning project in COVID-19 times

Luc Bongaerts - August 3

Pitch your supply chain planning project in the COVID-19 era

As a supply chain manager, you’ll undoubtedly be feeling the impact of disruptions caused by the new virus as never before. Demand is unpredictable and planners are constantly firefighting, burning the midnight oil. It looks like we’ll be on this bumpy road for quite some time. Do you have all the tools it takes to manage this? Or if you need more, how can you get your budget approved? And how do you convince your boss?

 

Supply chain planning is not the problem, it’s part of the solution

Budgets have been reduced, internal competition for project funds and resources has increased, projects have been delayed or canceled. But as a supply chain manager, you know that good planning is even more crucial now when everything in your value chain is volatile. If your planning project helps your company better react to COVID-19, calling a halt to it is like abolishing the fire brigade because there’s a fire going on.

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The goal of these projects is to get end-to-end visibility, better understand demand variability, speed up S&OP decision-making, and mitigate variability. It is precisely what is needed to address the disruption caused by COVID-19.

The decisions to be made by senior management are planning decisions in a dynamic context. Would they prefer to do that on gut feeling, or would they rather have the scenarios worked out rationally in a planning tool? Think about that when you’re pitching your project to senior management.

Supply chain planning is not the problem, it’s part of the solution

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Does the traditional business case work?

This is no time to come with a mainstream business case such as “with this project, we can reduce stocks by 15%” or “we can reduce costs by 3%”, or “we’ll have a full return on investment in seven months”. COVID-19 calls for greater urgency. Your business case should be more like “we must have this, or else we’ll perish.”

Your project is so essential for your business to continue, or to survive the year, that cost — or return on investment — are of secondary importance. Of course, you still need to do your homework, estimate your costs, and write down a clear case, but you need to look for stronger arguments like the need to be agile in uncertain times.

For instance, if you cannot properly forecast, and if you cannot run and compare multiple scenarios, you’ll quickly face issues. 2020 and 2021 will be unpredictable, and it is just not possible to move forward with a one-scenario-fits-all mindset. This is an area where advanced planning systems significantly outperform ERP systems, which typically work with only one version of the truth.

An additional question worth asking is how your project relates to the business strategy. Even when the weather gets rough, good companies know where they are headed. If you can’t rely on internal documents, you could at least scan last year’s annual report to find the right arguments.

Why not use “how else” questions when you talk to your boss? “How else are we going to create various demand scenarios?” “How else are we going to calculate the impact on production, supply and finance?” These kinds of questions help you and senior management picture the options: either launch the planning project or struggle without it. You can start by asking yourself if you would feel guilty a year from now not having asked for this budget. If the answer is yes, your project is a must-do.

 

Don’t be greedy, be sharp

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Don’t be greedy, be smart

In these times, budgets are scarce — and so is your own time. Go for fast projects with quick results and leave dead weight behind. When you present your project, make it concrete. Be smart and skip the nice-to-haves. Focus on the short term but keep the long term in mind. Make your move, make it successful, and use that to reprioritize your next move in a few months’ time. The more concrete your project, the easier it is to roll out in your organization.

As always, you’ll have to deal with risks, but today’s risks are about concrete, short-term effects. Most likely, your availability and that of your team members may be some of the most critical factors. All the more reasons to keep your project focused and crisp.

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This risk mitigation plan for today would include focusing on proven technology, a sound take on data, and agreement on near-future goals.

And if the final obstacle is the cold-water fear of running projects remotely, don’t worry: in the past few months, people have demonstrated worldwide how motivated, resilient and flexible they are in coping. Surely, you can too.

 

Do you need help pitching your project to senior management? Let’s discuss!

Luc Bongaerts

Supply Chain Manager

Biography

With more than 25 years’ experience in supply chain planning, Luc advises companies across a range of industries on supply chain planning projects and technology, planning processes and business cases to help achieve sustained value.

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