Technology can make or break effective decision-making in S&OP. Many organizations we speak to rely heavily on manual efforts to update the S&OP pack in the days ahead of the review meeting. Questions and scenarios that arise during the meeting can often take days or weeks to be answered, and opportunities to take advantage of market shifts can be missed. As Toby Parnell, Managing Director of management consultancy Majaco, states, “In fast-moving consumer goods companies undergoing a turnaround, the prevailing opportunity often stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of the plant’s true process capability. This oversight usually occurs because the critical rate-limiting steps haven’t been properly identified or understood.

Advanced tools that transform S&OP planning away from rough cut capacity models and provide automated plan creation can significantly improve strategic decision making. Organizations can gain real-time visibility into how they can respond to market dynamics, demand forecasts, and supply chain operations, enabling them to make informed decisions quickly and effectively. Recognizing and optimizing bottlenecks is essential for enhancing overall productivity and efficiency, as Parnell highlights, “Spotting the machines with the lowest potential throughput in the process is crucial for unlocking significant improvements.”

Investing in training and development programs for key stakeholders of the S&OP process is also essential for enhancing decision-making capabilities. In particular, teams need to be empowered to interpret data accurately, evaluate alternatives, and collaborate effectively in decision-making forums. Training fosters a culture of continuous learning and improvement, ensuring that decision-makers are well-prepared to navigate complex challenges and seize opportunities in S&OP. Parnell further explains, “Once we pinpoint the rate-limiting step within a plant’s process, the next crucial task is to identify the specific issues reducing the machine’s potential output. Losses can occur from downtime, defective production that results in waste, or simply operating below maximum speed.”

Effective S&OP decision making must align with other data-heavy areas of the business, such as manufacturing efficiency and productivity improvements. This requires a holistic approach, integrating data from various sources to identify root causes of issues and implement effective resolutions. For example, using data analytics to monitor manufacturing performance can provide insights into areas where efficiency can be improved. By aligning these insights with S&OP processes, businesses can ensure that production plans are realistic and achievable, reducing the risk of bottlenecks and ensuring that customer demand is met. Addressing underlying issues rather than just symptoms leads to more sustainable improvements in both manufacturing efficiency and overall business performance. Parnell adds, “The root causes of inefficiencies at these bottleneck machines often originate elsewhere, either upstream or downstream, or can be the result of improper labour planning or manning plans. This interconnected complexity can obscure the real issues, making it challenging for teams to identify and resolve the right problems.

Running S&OP on a monthly cadence is often driven by the organizational effort to manually prepare for each review cycle. Each review takes days of effort from each team, taking their time and attention from other responsibilities. Embracing a more adaptive approach to S&OP enables organizations to be more responsive to market shifts, for example, when a competitor stocks out or a key raw material becomes difficult to source. Organizations can iterate quickly, test hypotheses, and implement changes based on real-time feedback. This nimble approach allows them to respond swiftly to changing market conditions, optimize resource allocation, and drive sustainable business growth. However, a core requirement here is an underlying technology that enables teams to eliminate manual planning, focusing their efforts on interpreting and responding to the information. Parnell emphasizes the importance of a structured, collaborative approach: “When the correct issue is identified, a lack of structured problem-solving approaches, such as split solving, often hinders effective resolution. One step before that, we often see management disconnected from the shop floor and for whatever reason lacking the time or curiosity just to go and have a closer look. We often find the operators have a huge amount of insight into what is going wrong, and by collaborating with them not only do we make change happen faster but they also become incredibly engaged with the process.

In conclusion, empowering decisions in S&OP requires a multifaceted approach that leverages technology, training, and support. By investing in the right tools and resources, organizations can enable nimble decision-making, move away from rigid monthly cadences, and maximize the impact of their improvements, ultimately driving operational excellence and competitive advantage in today’s dynamic business environment. As Parnell suggests, it’s often not enough to rely on just the analysis and “lacking the time or curiosity to have a closer look” leads to disconnection, disengagement. Making sure you take the time to engage with people is critical to effective decision making.

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