By Pu Gong, Consultant
Supply Planner is an ancient profession dating back to the origin of organised production. Acting as a bridge for interdepartmental communications, the Supply Planner is to this day an indispensable part of a company’s operations.
Developing a Supply Planner who understands a company’s products, production and processes is costly and due to the vital role a planner plays, most businesses will try to retain that talent. Moreover, every departure can result in a ‘brain drain’ and cripple the company’s overall operations and performance. This leads us to the following question:
How can companies retain their Supply Planning talent?
The obvious answer would be to offer them more money. However, the reality is more complex than that. Let’s try and look at things from a different angle. If planners are not satisfied with their job then how can we fix it? Let’s examine the day-to-day challenges faced by a Production Planner.
A Production Planner’s role is to generate and maintain a production plan, juggling trade-offs between service level, costs and efficiency, while accommodating constraints of stock availability, production capacity and machine capabilities. This balancing act requires great skills and some serious stamina. If this intense number crunching isn’t enough, any slight change in the plan can trigger major changes in both upstream and downstream operations, so the job requires close collaboration with other departments and any changes need to be dealt with quickly. This means an inbox overflowing with spreadsheets going back-and-forth and a calendar packed full of meetings and deadlines. It should come as no surprise that a Production Planner’s life can be very stressful!
In most cases, planners are supported by very basic software. They work on huge and complex excel spreadsheets, often performing repetitive tasks on daily basis. New planners, overwhelmed by such complexity are often trapped in inefficient routines. They blindly execute their superior’s orders, undermining the plan’s value and their own sense of accomplishment. Senior planners are too often restrained by tedious and repetitive tasks, holding them back from value adding activities such as extracting critical business insights from data analysis and investigating the root cause of anomalies. As a result, both junior and senior planners do not fully utilise their talent and feel either unfulfilled or uninspired. Should we be surprised when they seek other opportunities where they can create value?
How do we encourage and allow our planners to deliver more value?
Behold, I present three simple but effective ways to change things around:
– Provide employee training:
Aside from breaking the routine, good quality employee training is an essential tool for the effective development of skills, knowledge and attitudes. It equips your planners with product, process and planning knowledge as well as encouraging them to adopt ‘think, analyse, resolve’ mind set. Studies have shown that the most successful and productive employees are those who have received extensive training.
– Streamline the planning process:
A drawn-out planning process can be a major source of frustration for a planner. An issue further aggravated during the peak season, when flexibility and responsiveness become increasingly critical for the business. Streamlining decision-making into a standardised and simplified process improves planning quality and eliminates extra hassle for planners.
– Leverage a specialised planning system:
I want to avoid sounding like a salesman, but a well-designed piece of software really is the best cure for repetitive data management. It takes over the tedious tasks, eliminating human errors and clearing your employee’s time for more important work. The solution acts as a data hub and collaborative platform, enabling more efficient decision-making. It can solve sophisticated planning problems that our human brains just don’t have enough time to untangle and centralises knowledge scattered across the teams into stable workflows, thus supporting systematic knowledge transfer within an organisation. Our planner becomes the driving force while all the heavy work will be left to the machinery. This enables the planner to focus on the more interesting challenges presented by their role, offering maximum value for their company and maximum job satisfaction for them.
Investing in such changes takes courage and vigour from company’s leadership. Yet, once successfully implemented, it is well worth it!