Common planning between Sales and the Supply Chain – we’re on different planets

Looking back at my IKEA days I can smile and see how much fun we had trying to create order out of chaos. The truth is probably that the chaos was a bit exaggerated. It’s just that sales people live on Pluto (with only a fraction of Earth gravity, they where floating free) and Supply Chain people live on Jupiter (with twice the normal gravity holding them down). When I was working with Logistic issues I was determined that there was a best way of doing things and if I calculated all the potential outcomes I would be able to find the optimum, “THE PLAN”. I was weighted by my own conviction that I was going to find the answer and sales people where constantly sabotaging my plans and screwing up my numbers, so I never found the optimum. Then one day the truth set me free of my burden. The truth was that I was trying to find the Holy Grail, a myth, a relic. What I found instead was a new type of language that could be understood on Pluto.

It’s not about who is right and who is wrong; it’s about the common goal. If we all agree to do something, it will be done. It’s a simple fact, but it is so difficult to manage.

Our approach was to create a platform to speak this common language and this was done in Excel (Excel is the most useful application in the world, by the way), focusing on a few areas that would drive big change. We then found that some sales people messed up the sheets to translate closer to their language, so we didn’t understand what they were saying. This was done by the most “creative” sales people. So we looked close and hard at what they were trying to say and could see that it would not translate, so we changed platform to Access in order for us to keep them from changing the language. This worked like a charm. At this point we could make some simple follow-up queries to summarize the main topics to give the supply chain a heads up of what was happening on Pluto. They were thrilled.

The final change was putting the platform in an environment where we could connect it to other information and follow more closely what was happening. We could also connect on a lower level and make reports that were really interesting for the supply chain. The end result was that the sales organization understood the positive effects of planning, making them sharper in their task, and the supply chain got better insight.

I don’t know if the supply chain got there in the end, but what they should focus on is the risk management to loosen their burden of finding “THE PLAN”. It is not only about the plan; it’s about the plan and the expected quality of the plan. If the reliability is 30% the supply chain needs to find a way to mitigate +/-70%. If this is not possible you need to make this clear to sales, what can be done and what can’t. Make sure you speak on a regular basis about the current status of the plan and use a common platform to have this conversation around. If you don’t, you’ll be back to not understanding each other.

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