Is it the People, Process, or System?
Here we go again: "Systems can't solve our problems, we need to fix our processes." Have you heard that before? I bet you have. Also, have you heard this one: "We need better people!" Although, I do not disagree with the importance of processes and people, have you considered that it might not be their fault? The fact is that, Processes, People and Systems are like a 3 legged stool. You take one of them out...and well, you fall on your...(you know what) and it really hurts!
Let's consider each one. If you don't have the right people then you should not be in business--and you have much bigger problems than processes and systems to worry about, anyways. So let's assume that you have the right people. If so, then they are intelligent and experienced enough to put in place the right processes. OK, now you got the people and you got the processes, but why bother with systems--spreadsheets are just as good! I can hear the old-timers saying: "all my life I used spreadsheets and managed to get products out the door for 30 years," or "I don't need no fancy system to do my job!" Well, they have a point, they can do their job. That is not even the question. The real question is how fast can they do it? How accurately can they do it? And how about process integration? (That's gobbledygook for being in synch with everybody else in your organization).
We recently upgraded a client's planning system that took over 23 hours to generate a plan. That meant they were always two days behind in order to get the updated data, run the plan, and then execute the plan. They could have easily avoided building the wrong stuff if they simply had a faster system. Essentially you can lower your inventory by a large percentage if you plan more frequently. Also, you can make better use of your resources by making the right items and deliver on time-because you are making what you should be making in the first place. Now, I know spreadsheets are fast but they are not nearly as fast, accurate, and integrated enough to run an entire supply chain efficiently.
Another telling example: one of our large electronic clients with off-shore manufacturing, in China, used to take about 2 weeks to perform Available-to-Promise (ATP). Why? Well, it took a week in the HQ to check inventory levels and allocations; and another week in China to decide what can be done about it. They overhauled their supply chain planning system and now they are doing the whole thing in less than couple of hours! They did that simply by upgrading their system, and not even touching their people and processes. Remember, no matter how many people you throw at this and how good your processes are, ATP requires a ton of data, and disparate pieces of information, from allocations, to capacities, to suppliers to inventory, to priorities, etc., etc. By the time you bring all these information under one roof, it is too late and your data is too old for the correct decisions to be made. Only systems are fast enough, accurate enough, and integrated enough to pull all that information together in real-time, and give you an answer almost instantly.
Remember, this is not about systems being just faster than people; it's about how the right planning system can take your people, and processes, to a whole new level of efficiency and productivity--Whether it's for demand planning, inventory planning, S&OP planning or any other types of planning. But how do you know if you have the right planning system? Well for one thing, if it takes 23 hours to get an answer, or you are using spreadsheets-on-steroids, my guess is that you don't have the right one. If that's the case, stop blaming your people and processes and start looking for one. We recently published an eBook about how to justify a supply chain planning system, and that should provide a few good hints on what to look for when it comes to picking the right system.
I really would like to hear if you have any blame game stories to share with others...feel free to comment any time.