S&OP: More Than Forecasting (Part 1)

Sales & Operations Planning is a hot topic for wholesale companies. As a concept it’s significantly more powerful than the traditional excel-based forecasting many MKB businesses use to support the supply chain. Here we discuss what it is, and how its sophistication can drive performance beyond that achievable with spreadsheet planning.

What is ‘Sales and operations planning’ (S&OP)?
Sales and operations planning (S&OP) is an integrated business management process that was developed in the 1980s by Oliver Wight. In general terms, it refers to the decision-making processes involved in balancing supply and demand, creating profitable volume and mix propositions, and engaging in optimal asset management. Its scope is business-wide, integrating financial and operational planning, and linking board-level strategy to on-the-ground day to day operations.

Broad scope
S&OP involves a wide range of company activities, the plans drawn up with input from marketing, manufacturing, engineering, finance and procurement to drive the overall financial plan. As such, S&OP is in reality a broad reaching term for how senior management runs the company. It is about creating the optimal balance between goods in and out, and ensuring operations are managed to support profitable sales activities. With sales and operations managers not always automatically aligned, strong leadership and fact-based decision-making are essential to get everyone pulling in the same direction. It helps operational leaders need to understand that ‘sales’ is the core of the business, and to focus on ensuring transactions can occur as smoothly and as quickly as possible.

Ownership of S&OP
The S&OP is top management’s tool for steering the company. It helps ensure that day to day operations work towards the business plans agreed upon to deliver the company’s top-level strategic objectives. This visibility into performance against planning allows senior management to effectively guide lower management, helping them successfully steer the day to day activities at ground level.

Ongoing
S&OP is also a dynamic process that needs to be re-visited regularly to remain effective. At the end of each monthly cycle, top management needs to review the balance of the supply chain and ensure the resources for meeting the agreed business objectives are available. The decision-makers need to be committed to a continuing cycle of Plan, Do, Check, Act – creating one master outline that delivers customer satisfaction, required profit and, above all, is achievable. The plan should be ambitious, yet achievable. If it asks for too much, it loses credibility.

S&OP Process
As mentioned above, the S&OP process runs in cycles. Input will come in a variety of shapes and forms, all of which need to be carefully transformed to fit an overall plan clear to all stakeholders. At all points, it is essential that strategy and execution remain clearly connected.
The starting point is the business’ most up-to-date sales history and committed purchase orders. This input for the sales forecasting process is then considered in combination with current inventory and supply capacity, enabling leaders from sales, marketing, operations and finance to reach consensus on demand and supply, and on what can be made available to promise.

The output of these discussions needs to be one consolidated plan, one set of numbers for the whole business to work from. A business may work with several scenarios and track actual performance against them. However, it is essential that every scenario is based in realism, with firm indicators that such a level of performance is achievable.

In Part 2, we’ll look at S&OP’s role in managing expectations, and begin considering the role of IT in managing the process effectively.

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