Disruptions have not stopped. China has been flying balloons over Taiwan. North Korea is threatening South Korea. Russia continues its war with Ukraine. Israel is at war with Hamas which has spread throughout the region, diverting container ships from the Suez Canal in addition to causing a bunch of other negative consequences. The Panama Canal is experiencing a drought and has reduced the number of container ships that can pass. It got so bad that tankers are now avoiding it altogether which has improved pricing to jump to the head of the line for container ships.
And this is before we bring up one of the hottest topics for companies – the skills gap. In essence, although the high level numbers have improved a bit, if you talk with executives, they are challenged to find resources with the appropriate skill sets. Only the companies advancing technology will thrive; however, it requires additional resources with technical skills to pursue these avenues. It is a complete jumble. If a client thinks they have the resources, it turns out they don’t know what the executives expect them to know. Or, as conditions change (new ERP system, new company ownership, changing economic conditions), they fall short. To read more about where the talent has gone and strategies for success, read our blog article.
Why The Issues All Fall to Planning
At multiple clients, the issues are stockpiling in Planning. We consider Planning to include the following areas:
- Demand planning
- Production planning & scheduling
- Replenishment planning (transfers, distribution)
- Materials planning
- Logistics planning (warehouse, transportation, international)
Here are the common causes that are flowing into the Planning Teams. Executives are frustrated and often think the people are the issue when it is the process, the system, the way the organization is set up etc.
- Customer Service: If Customer Service doesn’t proactively manage customer requests, push back when appropriate, handle customer concerns proactively, enter sales orders with the appropriate fields filled in correctly, every issue will fall in Planning’s lap. As Planning plans and schedules, these issues will arise, and they will have to reschedule, expedite, etc. Additionally, as customers change their mind or orders are pushed out or in, if Customer Service isn’t on top of these issues and proactively communicating cross-functionally, the issues flow to Planning’s desk.
- Engineering: In CTO (configure-to-order) and ETO (engineer-to-order) companies, the product is not finalized until it goes through Engineering. If delays or mistakes occur during this process, the issues flow into Planning’s lap. Also, typically if customer approvals are required, the follow up falls to Engineering. If the customer is delayed in providing approval, they typically still want it on the original request date, even if the company has a policy against this occurring. It happens anyway and falls to Planning to resolve.
- Transactions: If the warehouse doesn’t ship, receive, and transfer on a timely and accurate basis, if production doesn’t enter production and issue materials on a timely and accurate basis, if whoever is responsible for scrap and usage adjustments don’t handle them on a timely and accurate basis, if the inventory team doesn’t cycle count, research and resolve root causes on a timely and accurate basis, the issues pile up in Planning. To determine what to plan, inventory must be accurate and performed on a timely basis. Another issue that arises related to transactions are design decisions made on the basis of minimizing transactions in one department that pushes the workload to Planning. Unfortunately, the fact that the workload will end up in Planning isn’t typically known, but it is what happens as someone needs to figure out what to do. If you don’t track at a detailed level yet you need to plan at a detailed level, Planning will have to figure it out manually.
- Suppliers: If suppliers struggle or transportation is delayed (such as the Suez and Panama Canal or via strikes), production must be rescheduled. Again, the issues wind up in Planning to resolve before moving on.
- ERP setup and use challenges: There are millions of setups and processes tied to how an ERP system is rolled out or upgraded. Thus, there are many ways the system can drive incorrect actions. For example, if an item is set up to flow through MRP when it should flow through a min-max planning process or vice-versa, the planner will not receive the appropriate signals. If your branches are not set up properly and in conjunction with your sales forecast, you can send the wrong product to the wrong place at the wrong time. If lead times and safety stocks are not monitored, you can run the plant out of materials or create an overage quite easily. If there are ECNs (engineering change notices) but the ERP system cannot handle them, the Planners might be left updating countless work orders to know what to produce and order.
In the last six months, we’ve seen Planning get bombarded with these types of issues across multiple clients in multiple industries and multiple geographies. It is a common situation.
Path Forward: Reactive to Proactive
Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions. In fact, that is how “we” have got into this situation. Someone has to figure out the path forward. If no one else does it and the ERP system hasn’t been designed to handle it yet, Planning will be your last resort. Thus, ensure you have the appropriate skills on your Planning teams. If they are supposed to catch whatever goes wrong throughout the lifecycle of an order, make sure your planners are ready to do that for an interim period of time. Have you provided ongoing training and education? Have you hired consultants to help your team upgrade the process? Have you invested in additional technology to support your team?
Look around you. Have you had several retirements of long-term employees? Are you sure someone has absorbed ALL of the relevant tasks? How sure are you that the tasks will be automated? How sure are you that they are no longer required if you’ve implemented a process change? How sure are you that your new resources understand the big picture? In several situations, smart executives wondered why these tasks couldn’t be automated. Of course, the answer is that they can be automated, but ONLY with a high-skilled resource(s) with practical experience that can ensure items don’t fall through the cracks. Don’t wait for retirements to occur to go backwards and think about the process. Plan ahead, develop career paths, and transition plans.
Have you implemented a new ERP system or new ERP functionality? Most likely, the ERP team said we will start with base information and add your requests to future phases. How sure are you that those requests will be covered in the interim period? Have you planned to bring on board the appropriate resources for the workload in the interim? Do your employees know what should be done? They might just know what doesn’t seem right, but not know what to do to make it better. Are there a few of those items that should be fought for instead of postponing to a future phase? If you don’t want your business waiting on the Planning Team, re-review if you hear any of these watch-outs. Supplement your team, provide support, and tie rewards with the outcomes you want to achieve for not just the ERP team, but also for those required to ensure success.
Pivot from reactive to proactive is the message. Think forward, invest wisely, provide training and education to your people, communicate clearly, hire leaders with the experience to “jump in” and take on tasks to “see” what their team members are experiencing and help their team climb out of holes. We are in a business environment that is not for the faint of heart. Strong leaders that are willing to take on smart risks, work hard, and pivot with changing conditions will deliver strong results.
SIOP: Reactive to Proactive
Smart leaders are rolling out a SIOP (Sales Inventory Operations Planning) process to proactively plan demand and supply. SIOP will alert you to bottlenecks, issues, the need to pivot etc. Forward-thinking companies are gaining an advantage as they have planned ahead to be agile, pivot quickly, and most importantly, are ahead of the curve in securing capacity, materials, and key resources.
Think ahead and pay close attention to what’s going on in your Planning Team. If the ball is rolling downhill, put stopgaps in place to catch it while proactively addressing the topic.
If you are interested in reading more on this topic:
Master Planning & Production Scheduling Case Study: Gaining Visibility for Results