Daily Archives: February 12, 2009

Crossing the “Valleys of Despair” in Advanced Planning and Scheduling

Last summer, the Supply Chain Management Review ran a good article on How to Succeed with Supply Chain Planning that is very timely now as smart companies acquire advanced software systems to help them save money in this downturn while their dumb counterparts cut the budget and stick their heads in the ground like ostriches waiting for this golden opportunity to just pass them by.

APS tools are not a new invention, having been around in one form or another for at least ten years. The difference is that today, you have on-demand best-of-breed options from companies like Kinaxis, MCA Solutions, and Servigistics in addition to the old standby solutions from the big ERP players like Oracle, SAP, and SSA Global. However, enterprise deployments are still time consuming, typically requiring three to six months for the on-demand options for mid-size manufacturers and nine to eighteen months for the on-premise options for large manufacturers. However, many implementations, especially on-premise installations on top of on-site ERP installations, still follow a well-defined pattern with periods of difficulty that the authors identify as “valleys of despair”.

APS tools are important, especially for organizations that manufacture or supply products to end-customers, because, as the article points out, they can significantly decrease operational costs and noticeably increase on-time delivery and customer responsiveness. For example, after implementing APS, one electronics company found that it could respond to demand changes in minutes, as opposed to weeks, and increase on-time delivery by 15%. However, the improvements are only realized if the tools are properly implemented. While proper implementations can save millions, improper implementations can cost millions and, if you’re really unlucky, cause bankruptcies. (Remember the Nike fiasco? Or the Aris Isotoner kerfuffle? Or the Foxmeyer implosion?)

So what are the valleys of despair and how do you react to them?

  1. The Solution Doesn’t Work
    The first crisis occurs right after the design phase when expectations collide with reality. When the solution is run for the first time with a production data set, the project team is likely to get an unwelcome surprise: seemingly unintelligible output, often accompanied by system performance problems. APS systems are complex pieces of software and it takes time to properly configure the solutions, to load all of the data, to tweak performance so that run times aren’t excessively long, and to work out the kinks. Even with the best efforts, it will take a few iterations before performance enters the expected range. The key is to remember the great advice given to us by The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Don’t Panic.
  2. No One is Using the Solution
    The second crisis occurs right after the solution moves into production. The business users — the supply planners in the supply chain organization — find it difficult to interpret the output and are confused by the planning model and solution behavior. After a brief struggle, many users revert to the comfort of familiar spreadsheets and abandon the solution altogether. The key to success is to establish a comprehensive training program that starts before the design phase (allowing the supply planners to provide input into model formulation), continues through development (allowing the power users to perform user testing), and goes right up to deployment (ensuring that the planners will be able to fully, and properly, use the system).
  3. The Business Has Changed
    The final crisis occurs after one or more business conditions change and the models in the APS no longer reflect operational reality. If the planners don’t understand how the changes affect the APS model and outputs, they will “drift” away from the solution. The key to crossing this valley is to form a permanent support team and insure that they work with planning regularly to update and adjust the model as needed.

It’s a great article and I highly recommend you read it in its entirety.