Playing Music Reveals Harmonies With S&OP

By Micheal Youssef | September 14, 2020 | 0 Comments

Supply ChainPower of the Profession

The lockdown earlier this year due to COVID-19 presented an opportunity for me to pull out my New Year’s resolution list to see what I could do in my new, more isolated life.

One item on my list: to further polish my music keyboard skills. It was time to dust off the keyboard, get the stand on and start practicing again. While practicing different musical pieces, performing daily routine finger exercises and viewing various online tutorials, I started to think about the similarities between enhancing my modest music skills and what planning leaders do to enhance the sales and operations planning (S&OP) process.

Here are a few similarities I found, but you can probably think of others:

  • Learn the fundamentals properly: Music theory can be boring, with all the different chord names, progressions and timings. In the beginning, I did not see the value and fretted about it. Yet, without understanding the theory, a player’s development will stagnate at a certain level. The same is true in S&OP. As a planning leader, you need to understand best practices across different business situations. While some of these best practices will be relevant and many others will not apply, the knowledge you’ll accumulate will help in the long-term maturity journey. There is no substitute for learning the fundamentals the right way. Gartner provides different frameworks to help clients develop the maturity of planning based on evidence and proven practices across industries.
  • Practice makes perfect: This complements the previous point. Music theory knowledge alone does not create a good musician. It needs to be accompanied by a rigorous training program with a routine to warm up, to play certain techniques and then to increase your speed to reach the target skill. Doing a new technique can be difficult the first few times, but with more practice, speed increases. The same is true in S&OP. Performing the right steps of S&OP (product portfolio planning, demand planning, supply planning, financial reconciliation and executive S&OP) one cycle after the other helps the organization develop the muscle. With the first few cycles of implementing S&OP, decisions may not be taken within the steps, historic metric overview may be a distraction and short-term issues may defocus attendees. This is all part of the noise that surrounds us in the business environment. Planning leaders should focus on providing a drumbeat that encourages stakeholders to make decisions and look at the medium term rather than the short term. Cycle after cycle, with the planning leader’s proper coaching, the organization will infuse that into the DNA of S&OP.
  • Choose the right scale to fit with the choir: Playing on a different scale than the singers will result in an off tune. The instrumentalist should tune-in with the choir so everyone is playing from the same scale. The instrumentalist may sometimes need to transpose to match the capability of the singers. The same is true in S&OP. Planning leaders must assess the existing capability and background of S&OP in the organization and choose the right scale that fits with stakeholders’ capabilities.
  • Enjoy the piece you are playing: The audience can tell the difference between a musician who feels the beat of the music and enjoys it and a person who does not. The same is true in S&OP. Planning processes can feel dry and too process heavy. This may discourage stakeholders from investing time and effort in the process. However, when the planning leader enjoys the S&OP process and truly utilizes it to improve business results, the leader’s passion is clear and the stakeholders will take note.

Playing music has been key for me to stay positive during the lockdown. What has been key for you?

Micheal Youssef,
Senior Director Analyst,
Gartner Supply Chain


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