Supply Chain Management

4 Secrets to Supply Chain Management Project Success


Supply Chain Management

In the ever-popular NFL, fans are greeted year after year with an increasing rate of coaching and general-management turnover. According to an article by Mark Craig for the Minneapolis Star Tribune (Dec. 21st, 2013), at the time, “NFL teams have fired head coaches 77 times since the start of the 2000 season, for an average of 5.8 per season.” This pattern indicates an overall lack of patience among the different team leadership groups and demonstrates an overall high-pressure environment fueled by a need to improve immediately and win in the present. Although the NFL is one of the more glamorous businesses in society, the competitive climate probably hits a bit closer to home for many supply chain managers than they would like to let on.

Most industries do not see personnel turnover at a rate nearly as high as their helmet-bearing brethren do, but these quick directional changes are often reflected in the management of projects and initiatives that affect the business. This is no different for the supply chain management field. And just like a departing head coach is unlikely to bequeath to his successor a top-notch formula for success, project leaders are not usually just handed the keys to a company-saving logistics victory. In order to get the ball rolling in the right direction in a supply chain management project, leaders must go all-in on the implementation phase.

The implementation of a new project or initiative is absolutely critical to set the team up for success and lay the groundwork for a productive, efficient endeavor. Any team member in the supply chain strata has undoubtedly started and ended (sometimes abruptly) many projects of various sizes. Granted, occasionally this happens as a result of a company’s lack of long-term thinking, but the majority of the endeavors are likely doomed from the start due to an improper framing of the value proposition and expectations. Whether it be an initiative to change a region of supplier inbound business shipping rules or a data monitoring process launch to track trends, any initiative is apt to trail off as new “more pressing issues” crop up if the previous projects don’t demonstrate criticality properly and quickly.

As an Operations team for our company’s logistics engineering and transportation management group, we are often tasked with implementing different logistics initiatives to support our customers’ supply chains. These range from standard work creation, data analysis, one-off process changeovers and various cost savings projects. In doing these, we have had some projects that did not quite get off the ground and many successful ones in which the implementation was executed well.

Here are some of the best practices that we have observed in launching projects in the supply chain management field:

  • Proper Project Scoping: A project that has not been properly scoped out at the point of inception lends itself to a couple of major failure modes. First off, it is subject to scope creep, which can lead to the project being transformed so much by changing outputs/goals/deliverables that it becomes too large to manage and much more costly and difficult to complete. Secondly, a project that was not scoped well could have a initial trajectory vague enough that it misses the desired outcome all together and finds team members reporting out on a solution that doesn’t even solve the intended problem. When either of these things happen it is very difficult to get support from leadership to continue and/or execute the initiative. In order to address this, we use formal scoping meetings and A3 documentation to go through this process.
  • Getting the Right People on Board: In the book Supply Chain Management: Processes, Partnerships, Performance, Lambert, Leuschner and Rogers address the concept of “Implementing and Sustaining the Supply Chain Management Processes.” One point that is made is that in the implementation stage, “These efforts have a high failure rate because even though the right structure is put in place, the right behaviors are not encouraged,” (Lambert, Supply Chain Management: Processes, Partnerships, Performance, pg 235). There is a very strong parallel in the risks involved in the launch of a full supply chain management process structure and the launch of a specific project or initiative within the supply chain. If the champions of the project are not given a strong voice in the goals and strategy formulation for the initiative, then there will be no significant drivers of any change that results from its completion. All stakeholders in the project need to have open communication regarding the direction, progress and roadblocks in the early stages. Otherwise, there will likely be a lack of buy-in and belief in the project and it can fall by the wayside. The supply chain is a very large scale machine of moving parts and any cog spinning in the wrong direction can wreck the whole thing.
  • Making the Progress Visible: Lots of times, projects are not intentionally scrapped early on. They are maintained to a point and then discarded as the value and visibility are lost. Therefore, it is critical to show visible project progress as it is implemented so that management does not get the wrong impressions and begin to turn their sights on the next big thing. Momentum and enthusiasm are directly correlated and both need to be fostered in the early stages of an initiative that the team believes will add value. Using a Gantt Chart or other visibility tool is a good starting point. Also, it will support the efforts in the next best practice.
  • Setting Expectations: Supply chain management projects run through phases just as anything else with euphoric highs and hit-the-wall lows. It is crucial in the implementation stage to discuss and understand these lows before they happen. By using a visual roadmap or another platform for discussion, the project team can outline the potential peaks and valleys at the outset of the project so that it is clear where there will be delays and where there will be quick wins. Although roadmaps aren’t going to be perfect, it is much easier to keep momentum in the support from those with a greater distance from the actual execution by providing them with this expectation. Also, if there are any unrealistic expectations or alignment issues going in, they can be addressed right here in the implementation.

Overall, there are many other ways of attacking momentum and sustainability killers in supply chain management projects but the above are a few that we have found more success with. Sometimes it just takes a little preparation to weather the storm of a project that hasn’t taken off as quickly as desired by decision makers. Properly scoping the project, communicating with the correct people, making progress visible and setting expectations will make any implementation go more smoothly.

At the end of the day, not all initiatives are immediate touchdowns in the supply chain management field. Some value-add projects simply start as smaller wins before they take off. Perhaps had a few more of those unemployed NFL coaches better outlined their vision in their first seasons and settled for more achievable field goals as their team progressed, they would still have their headsets on. Incremental continuous improvement is often the difference between a win and a loss.

Posted by LeanCor Supply Chain Group

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LeanCor Supply Chain Group is a trusted supply chain partner that specializes in lean principles to deliver operational improvement. LeanCor’s three integrated divisions – LeanCor Training and Education, LeanCor Consulting, and LeanCor Logistics – help organizations eliminate waste, drive down costs, and build a culture of continuous improvement.

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