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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

2013 Takeaways, Forecasting the Leaps in 2014

December 31, 2013 2 comments

As we prepare for another spin around the sun, we found it fitting to reflect back on 2013 learnings, and take a glimpse at our crystal ball for the journey ahead in 2014

Takeaways – 2 short stories

Thanks to interactions with our customers, partners and other practitioners, the year was chock-a-block full of learnings. 2 highlights:

1) How does a young company know when they have entered the Operating or ‘O’-Zone?  Over the last 4+ years we had the privilege of watching a company (Ruckus Wireless www.ruckuswireless.com) blossom into a significant player in a newer segment of the networking industry. As a solution provider, we have worked and thought hard about the development lifecycles of high growth, high change industries for over a decade, wondering how & when a company knows that they have come of age, or entered the critical ‘O’-Zone, as we define it. O for Operating. As defined in a previous blog (http://bit.ly/MemoToChiefExec ) young Product companies that enter the O-Zone see big changes- from shipping 10s or 100s of units a month of a handful of products, they are quickly thrust into a bigger, rapidly growing Operation – 1000s, potentially tens of 1000s of units being shipped, and this transition can be a mean one. Managing this transition requires the ambidextrous qualities of careful orchestration as well as rapid, intuitive decision-making and execution.

This year we got some great data-points. Those at the forefront of Supply and Sales Operations functions– Order Fulfillment, Supply Chain, Channel Sales managers – enjoy a key vantage point to see this transition as it unfolds. This valuable insight (that a young Product company has entered the O-Zone) if utilized in a timely manner can be harnessed for a greater Operating advantage that can be sustainable over several years.

2) Where do the Highest Impact Collaboration initiatives spring from? How? – As young companies enter the Operating Zone of their development cycle, processes and systems related to collaboration cannot be left to chance or management directives. Systematic Collaboration becomes especially critical between functions that may appear to have conflicting objectives and metrics in the near-term – for example, Sales focus on Revenue Growth and Ops on Cost Control. However, collaboration cannot be regimented through management directives. The genesis of high impact collaboration initiatives happens usually in the trenches, and its success rests exclusively on the efforts of those that get the work done. Take the case of ProductCo – a Product Company (all names changed for anonymity).

Collaboration-Tasked

As volumes have grown quickly at ProductCo, fulfilling orders in a timely manner has become challenging for Operations. Shelley in Supply Chain Ops figures out that she ships a portion of products every week to the same Distribution partners and her colleague on the Channel Sales side – Julia – needs support. Support, so she can systematically compile sales data, interact with her Distribution partners effectively to understand downstream demand and provide quick signals back to Shelley in Ops, with all the data literally at her fingertips. Shelley (Supply Chain) runs this need by her manager, who points them to a systems vendor for brainstorming. Out of Julia (Sales) interactions with the vendor springs a collaborative system which will yield data and demand insights for the ProductCo in the near-term and on an ongoing basis. No major hullabaloo over the choice of systems, just a single-minded focus on working jointly with the vendor, across functions to improve the customer experience – through faster and accurate collaboration utilizing fresh data. All this happened because the initial thought to change came from within, was nurtured by a progressive management and collaboration culture, and effectively implemented working with a solution vendor as a partner.

Leaping forward in 2014.. and beyond

a) Collaborating systematically across functions and partners will gain traction going beyond cookie-cutter approaches : 2014 will see the onset of specialization in a critical collaboration area- Sales & Operations Planning and Execution. Dynamic companies will demand more than the cookie cutter approaches that have been offered to date. Industry specialization, smarter demand management methods, more tailored data and workflow linkages which will result in a faster and smarter collaboration between Sales, Supply Chain and their partners.

b) Leading companies and younger aspirants will refocus on profitability and away from a singular focus on Revenue growth only– Whether motivated by competition, financial valuations, cost of capital or more mundane business prudence, leading Product companies will focus back to product and operational profitability, and will be rewarded richly (http://reut.rs/1hagYpN ). Those that fall short will start seeing their valuations drop, resulting in erosion in market standing over time. Profitable Revenue growth will become the mantra of those who are at the head of the pack and intend to stay there.

c) System Implementation will capture center stage as a core success factor : As the botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) website revealed (http://bit.ly/ObamacareIssues), bringing a website “up” is no guarantee of its success. Systems implementation requires a rich, complex set of interconnected activities to be completed in a timely and cost effective manner. This fate has also befallen many a system implementations in the private sector too. Since private companies can afford to throw a blanket of secrecy over such bungling, we hear only of the spectacular failures (http://ubm.io/JpGedn). 2014 and beyond will bring renewed focus to the arts and sciences of effective systems implementation.

Wishing you a Leap forward in 2014!!

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.

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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.

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