Archive

Posts Tagged ‘demand’

What’s the demand? Solution to a most demanding enterprise

October 20, 2016 3 comments

A hard problem – What’s the demand?

Pinpointing what is the real demand that a product company has to build to – this is clearly one of the hardest Operating problems in the Hi-tech branded products industry. Let’s try to uncover why? Why focused energies need to be expended at the senior-leadership level to ensure that the right approach and yes tools are applied to solve this problem.

Different Roles, Different lenses

Experienced industry practitioners well know “Demand” for a company’s products may mean different things to different functions.

final-blogpic-pinpointing-demand-zyom-img_5752-v2

For the CEO this starts with the current and next year’s target, crystallized out of a periodic business planning cycle (Annual, Quarterly) into target Financial numbers (Dollar forecast) – often a range. In the best cases, this is arrived at collaboratively with inputs from Finance, Sales, Marketing, Product Engineering and Operations. Although, we have some data-points to believe that Operations maybe involved sub-optimally to the detriment of the company’s execution to its business plan.

For the Sales leader this means current Quarter’s & next quarter’s Sales forecast.

For Marketing, this is looking at Product Mix and plan based on product launches, transitions, events.

Engineering cares most about baking feedback from recent launches and providing reliable launch time-frames.

For the Operations leader and team this means determining – what is the net demand that has to be built and shipped in the current & next cycle (monthly, quarterly) and prepare in case demand flexes. In essence answer –

What is the net Demand that Operations needs to build or buy for?

As plan adjustments are made based on how Sales is tracking to their numbers and other factors impacting demand, Ops needs to answer – What to plan, source, procure, build, ship, deliver & manage the myriad changes to – so that quarterly financial numbers are met or exceeded.

Often, this is made harder by the fact that Operations are downstream recipients of the company’s Annual or Quarterly Plan, sometimes not pro-actively involved at the get-go in the business planning process.

Degrees of difficulty

What is the demand that Operations should execute to, becomes harder to answer due to many factors. Let’s consider these –

  • Young companies in a growth mode go through many changes rapidly – growing the number of products, establishing the number of Channels they sell through, the number of customers and countries they deliver to. This means that the structural value networks themselves are changing, sometimes quite frequently.
  • In addition, the demand from these different Sales channels and direct customers is fluctuating. By Sales Channels we mean all the indirect channels through which a company sells. This includes Resellers, VARs (Value Added Resellers), Distributors and VADs (Value Added Distributors).
  • A system to support Operations do this is very often the Achilles heel. Experienced Operations leaders know ERP provides valuable Supply data & some input data to determine demand, however they cannot depend on their ERP systems alone for fast and accurate planning and re-planning for Demand.

Demands thinking out of the box

ERP is not a panacea or cure-all. Most experienced Operations leaders know they have to think and act out of the ‘ERP box’ if they want to get to their demand picture quickly and accurately, in an environment where change is a constant.

Operations leaders know they have to think and act out of the ‘ERP box’ .. to get their demand picture quickly and accurately

To make this happen, experienced Operations leaders direct their teams to extract data from ERP, merge it with other data and intelligence from outside such as emails, in their own offline spreadsheets and then determine demand. However, they dread this and know fully well they can only go so far in managing their demand with spreadsheets.

Spreadsheets are errors prone and cannot be relied on for collaboration.

When any of the inputs change (say, inbound P.O.s), inputs that are needed to determine real customer Demand to be fulfilled – the spreadsheet(s) go through a domino effect and all numbers become incorrect instantly. The process to change the data in spreadsheets to re-compute demand is painstaking and does not meet the cycle-time or accuracy needs of growing enterprises in competitive markets where collaboration is a pre-requisite.

Operations teams need a specialized system. A system that can rapidly reflect all upstream changes (such as Sales execution, Marketing actions) impacting demand.

Operations teams need a specialized system.. added on top of ERP. .. cannot be done in your ERP system

As we head deep into Q4, the ability to rapidly generate “Demand for Build” reflecting changes and shifts is a critical one – and these capabilities need be added on top of your enterprise systems like ERP. It cannot be done in your ERP system.

Dynamic companies such as Ruckus Wireless, Aerohive Networks have done just that and reaped significant benefits. Implemented right, such a system can be a key factor in scaling operations, while facing changes that impact growing demand. How do we know this? We have provided the system for their Operations teams. Please pen down your thoughts below or reach out to us at Zyom. We would love to share more.

p.s. This blog post is dedicated to the memory of Doyle Westley of Aerohive Networks, a respected collaborator

After the Kick-off – “Early” indicators for 2014

February 28, 2014 Leave a comment

The Sales kick-off went quite well. Now is the time to take one more look at what 2014 looks like from the vantage point of forecasting before real constraints set in.

Economic forecasters have long utilized ‘leading’ and other “indicators” as a barometer to predict where the economy will be headed in the future. Inspired, we have pulled together the following ‘early’ indicators that can provide useful ingredients in influencing if not generating a Company’s forecast. While all forecasts are off, early indicators can be used to understand the ‘trajectory’ and a portion of the variance in the forecasts that is otherwise hard to estimate.

Here are some early indictors and macro-data[i] as you craft your forecast for 2014.

Early indicators – the Macro

Weather events & the US – Climate .. or at least the weather took center stage early in January as temperatures plunged in vast swaths of the US disrupting life and business. The near term effects have been significant but not severe. The initial price tag of the big chill is placed at $5Billion (as of early January 2014). Doesn’t appear devastating given nearly 200 Million people were affected. However, long-term effects should be lesser to none.

The good news – the US economy turned in a fair 2013 (3.2% GDP growth in Q4, 2013 versus 1.9% for the year) and early indicators suggest 3% for 2014. In the near-term the US certainly seems to be back on track, and maybe at the wheel in terms of driving the global recovery.

Estimated Impact – Of storm – Near-term only (3 weeks to 2 months); US Growth – stable for 9-12 months[ii]

Emerging markets – Short-term growth prospects have been hurt. Turkey made headlines with an egregious interest rate hike in January. However, emerging market countries as far-flung and diverse as Argentina, South Africa, Indonesia and India seem to be facing stiff economic headwinds too. Brazil seems drawn into a stagflation, just months from the big kick-off!

Estimated Impact – Near to Mid-term (9 to 18 months depending on markets)

China’s growth phenomenon – China’s slowdown has arrived per data and economists – 7.7% GDP growth in 2013 Year-over-Year, versus 7.8% growth the year before.  While debate is split about future direction of this important market, all data points to a gradual deceleration and not an absence of growth. Structurally, data regarding the supply-side limits are cause for bigger concern (China’s working age population fell by 2.44 Million in 2013 after falling the year before – The Economist Jan 25th 2014).

Estimated Impact – Near to mid-term slower growth (10 to 12 months); Longer-term growth could be adversely impacted.

Japan and EU – These key developed markets still seem to be stuck in neutral with dangers of deflation not gone.

Estimated Impact – Tepid growth. Foggy at best for the next 6-9 months

Housing starts – A key “leading” indicator of future economic activity is in positive territory in the US, Germany and England (Jan 2014 compared to a year ago).

Estimated Impact – Could imply some progress for Construction and related businesses (home products, home solar products, other home/consumer products).

Early indicators – the Micro

New orders and new customers – Both are good early indicators

Orders for new products –are valuable early indicator, especially for industries such as the Hi-Tech electronics industry that rely heavily on new products for significant portions of their revenue stream. For example, for the Wireless networking industry, how are the orders coming in for the 11ac products (based on new networking standard) and how are the prices trending.

Inventory (especially Channel Inventory) & lead-times – are key early indicators. While channel inventories are typically co-managed, tracking this can provide valuable clues.

Backlog – A very good gauge in the near-term to establish revenue trend. However, this needs to be taken with a pinch or heaps of salt. Why? This depends on how effective are your supply chain fulfillment operations.

And that’s where the rub is – since some of these indicators depend on a ‘healthy forecast’ so we are back to the ‘chicken and egg’ problem.

These are a few of the key ingredients to consider as ‘early indicators’ in updating or building your forecast – at least for the mid-term: 0 to 6 months.

Overcast or Sunny? For those who dare to Forecast

Even with the best processes and systems the age-old truth holds – All Forecasts are incorrect, especially at the get-go. However companies can disproportionately benefit if they:

i)                   Include ‘early indicators’ in the forecasting process in a simple way

ii)                 Make Forecasting (the process) one of the book-ends of the Demand Planning process, which flows seamlessly as a part of the overall Sales & Ops Planning and execution process

And yes, lets plan to loop back after the proverbial dust has settled on the quarter (or, quarters) to figure out how far off was the Forecasted Demand. And while we are at it.. why not find out why, and how the indicators have changed. As the adage goes..

“Forecasting is the art of saying what will happen, and then explaining why it didn’t! ”

-Anonymous


[i] Several secondary sources used – The Economist from Jan 25th 2014 to Feb 21st; Conference Board at:
https://www.conference-board.org/data/bcicountry.cfm?cid=1

[ii] All ‘estimated impact’ notes are wild guesses based on secondary sources research

Memo to the Chief Executive – Have you looked at this Critical Collaboration as you prepare for growth?

September 19, 2013 Leave a comment

To The Chief Executive, Dynamic Startup,

The tide is turning. Channel partners and key customers are moving fast to your products..

Just as you were preparing to hear the beautiful humming sound of a well-oiled Operating machine shipping products out – you hear some ugly, jarring noises –

‘Hot-selling product has gone on allocation

‘Big Channel partners are getting frustrated, as lead times start creeping up

What happened? The Critical ‘O’-Zone

First, the good news – You have reached a major inflection point in your development cycle. You are no longer a small, obscure supplier waiting for the next large order. Orders are now waiting for you. Congratulations!

The not-so-good news – these orders will not wait long before they jump ship to a competitor.. Channel partners may divert attention to these competitors too.. So, what happened?

You just entered what we call the ‘O’ Zone (the “Operating” Zone). This is that part of your lifecycle (“zone”) when customers want to see you Operate like clockwork– shipping out 10x, 100x or more volume than before, yet meeting delivery dates globally, at attractive price points.

Image

What happens in this vital phase of your Company’s development cycle is going to be determined in a big way by a critical collaboration – Near Real-time Collaboration between your Sales and Manufacturing/ Supply Chain Operations (Ops) team.

What’s causing these pains? No ‘growing pains’ is not a good label. Here is a critical one–

Divergent metrics & its impact on Sales & Operations

Your Sales team is focused on hyper-growth – signing up new Channel partners, winning new deals with end customers despite tough competition.

They are totally focused on order volume (Revenue) metrics, and compensated appropriately. So, they make sure they open up the gates and get more customers, more partners and more orders in. But hold on!

Do they have enough time to pivot to their Ops partners – give them a heads up about new customers, what product forecasts will be like?

Your Ops team, on the other hand, has an increasingly complex balancing act as demand takes off. They can grow their Supply Networks – to an extent (signing up new sources – new CM/ ODMs, new suppliers, etc.) to gain extra capacity, but then they hit the brick wall – of ‘Cost’ centered metrics.

The strains start to show in interactions between Sales & Ops.

The offshoot  of all this is not pretty – As orders increase, Ops fulfillment can be in lock step only for a little while, after which demand and supply diverge. For Ops, it becomes a guessing game –

Q. What will Sales sell? How much buffer stock should we keep?

For Sales it becomes a hand-wringing exercise, as they field questions from customers –

Q. When will our orders ship? Why can’t you deliver it sooner?

With ‘Keep cost down’ as the guiding principle for Ops, it becomes a crazy dash to expedite when demand swings up with little notice, flying goods over instead of the more inexpensive modes (sea, rail or road) – depleting margins.

The human costs are bigger – anxieties mount as Sales & Ops try to play a game which looks somewhat like – catch the ball ‘blindfolded’.

Key to growth – A Vital, Systematic collaboration

In the O-Zone (operating zone) we need to play carefully – Pay special heed to the needs of this collaboration which is vital for growth –

Between Sales & Supply Chain Operations

To start off – Metrics need to be aligned.

How about rallying both Sales & Ops around ‘Profitable Growth’ metrics?

Let’s discuss it as a team at the leadership levels first. At a minimum – Sales, Supply Chain Operations, Operational Finance and you, should participate. The dividends of playing smart in the O-Zone are huge – Growth with Profitability – A distinct Operating Advantage. We, at Zyom, will be glad to help and explain further.

Operating in 2013 – Have you considered this Transition?

October 19, 2012 Leave a comment

It’s that time again when the best and brightest roll up their sleeves and dive into ‘reading the tea leaves’ – some even compulsively. No, I am not talking about the November 6th Elections. I am talking about the longer-term (12 to 18 month) business planning cycle.

Dynamic companies all over the world have started, or are well into their 2013 Planning process.  Irrespective of their fiscal planning cycles, this is a critical time to pause and invest energies in making projections for the year ahead. Among the many transitions, have you considered this?

Plan carefully and deliberately for Product Transitions – Product transitions (major or minor changes in Products) are a critical time for technology-intensive companies. To stay focused, I will discuss those changes to products caused by “sustaining” [1] improvements in product technologies. For a computing tablet maker (such as Apple’s iPad) this could be a better display (e.g., ‘Retina’ display), more memory, etc. While many of the critical ingredients needed to run Operations during such Product Transitions are well understood by Product Companies, several key variables remain elusive:

  • How will the new product (or new revision) ramp-up in volume? Will it meet targets?
  • How will it impact the demand for existing products?
  • How to manage the upside and downside risk?

These are just a few of the critical questions that cross-functional Product and Operations teams have to answer. Done right, Product Transitions can generate the next new source of Revenue and Growth.  Any slip-ups, on the other hand, can deal a rough hand to the company– millions of dollars of unplanned inventory write-offs, or open the doors for competitors to sneak into a nascent market.

Interacting with cross-functional Operations and Product teams at companies such as HP and Samsung, I got some rare insights. The single biggest one –

Processes & Planning for Product Transitions have unique needs and need to be given focused attention and resources.

So, as you go through your planning cycle, set aside some bandwidth to carefully account for this process. If you have comments or need some thought starters, please drop me a line.


[1] Clayton Christensen ‘The Innovator’s Dilemma’

Demand Responsive Operations – A Critical Capability for Uncertain times

Chronic macroeconomic uncertainty (since 2008) has affected global supply chains of large and small product companies in the following ways-

i) Increased demand volatility (huge, unpredictable swings)

ii) Hyper-sensitivity to Operational costs

iii) Inclination to hoard cash/ other liquid assets (even inventory)

Apple’s huge inventory of cash (about $97 Billion, as of  quarter-end 2011), underscores how the traditional wisdom – ‘saving for a rainy day’ – takes on a whole new meaning in uncertain times.

Thriving in Uncertainty – Key elements

Taking stock.. of response

Uncertain times open up a window of opportunity for companies. Smaller companies with strong product offerings that are competitive in price/performance can see sales solidify, even increase. How? Industry research [see note1] and our own work reveal companies are focused on building-out a key capability – End-to-End Responsiveness to Customer/Channel demand.

What does this mean? This is what a typical customer of a responsive company experiences:

“When we change demand, they act on it right away. I hear back from them quickly (within minutes) on what’s the impact – on availability and cost? Its quite accurate ..They present me with options. It’s great! I can make smarter decisions.. wish others did the same”.

This is much easier said than done. For Product companies that do not have a large-company’s purchasing power, to excel at ‘Responsiveness’ some key elements need be in place –

i) End-to-End Supply Chain visibility & execution

ii) Measurable Metrics to get an accurate & speedy picture of Total Supply Chain Response & Cost

Responsive Ops– What it is not? What it can be?

This doesn’t require huge investments in consulting or in expensive systems. What is required, to start off, is recognition at the leadership level that it’s a critical competency which needs to be mastered. Left unaddressed, it can become a huge problem.

Explaining a recent disappointing quarter – Meg Whitman, HP’s CEO, summarized the challenges this way – While HP is “world class” in buying components, “I’m not sure I’d say we were world class in terms of how we think end to end about supply chain.”

While this may seem applicable for large companies under duress, it is not. Far from it, this should make smaller, ambitious companies with innovative products galvanize their best resources to focus on this competency – End-to-End Supply Chain Responsiveness to Channel Demand. Reading closely the quote from Ms. Whitman implies – Purchasing power isn’t everything. End-to-End Supply Chain Responsiveness can be a singular disruptive competency that smaller companies can wield!

Has ‘Faster response’ or ‘End to End Supply Chain’ come up in internal discussions as an “issue”? In what context? Would you like to receive a Case Study on this topic?Learn more? Please let me know or leave a comment.

[note 1] UPS 2011 Changes in the (Supply) Chain Survey

%d bloggers like this: