The following is a continuation of a supply chain technology thought leadership education series developed in collaboration with Replan.

Supply Chain Matters provides the third in a multi-part series addressing the renewed importance of production planning and scheduling in this existing uncertain and constantly changing business environment.

This update addresses the equally growing importance for securing and retaining needed talent for companies who are considering or have invested in more responsive Cloud based software technology supporting tactical and operational planning supporting process and batch manufacturing process environments.


Background and Initial Takeaways

In Part One of this market education series, our reader takeaways were the following:

After two plus years of continuous pandemic driven and industry focused supply chain related disruptions, 2023 and beyond requires supply chain and manufacturing management teams to have a keener focus on Adaptation, Realignment and Response to likely continued business and economic uncertainties, geopolitical and macroeconomic forces.

Such an environment requires manufacturing and supply chain processes to be able to more proactively sense, pivot and respond to constant or rapidly changing market conditions. Production facility planning challenges occur when attempting to react, in a timely manner, to changing customer or product needs without a disciplined planning context.

Removing predominately manual efforts at this level enables companies to respond faster and instills greater supply chain agility and resilience at the production level. The opportunity to overcoming ongoing market or supply chain driven disruptions is this new normal is augmenting planning and scheduling at the production level, instilling more synchronized planning and reducing the feedback loop between planning, scheduling and operational execution processes.

In the Part Two commentary of this series, we advocated that manufacturers initially understand and address the various business transformational goals and objectives established across strategic, tactical and day-to-day operational planning and control processes.  The objective is to manage outcomes in the context of where agility or planning actions have the most leverage for instilling more integrated business planning. The most important consideration in this exercise is identifying, remediating and rationalizing constraints where they have the most influence toward overall plan performance.

With 2023 and beyond providing uncertain and likely ever changing global and regional economic outlooks, process manufacturers should consider redoubling efforts that enable added efficiencies and improved tactical and operational planning. Manufacturing and supply chain sustainability needs and objectives are increasingly being tied to having a context toward avoiding carbon and resource waste.

Refocusing on operational excellence and manufacturing transformation requires businesses having a clear understanding of various supply chain and plant levels metrics needing to be improved in current and future business operational performance needs, and where bottlenecks, constraints or performance indicators are misaligned.  It is rather important to understand such misalignments before  undertaking a technology enabled transformation initiative.

We advised readers to seek out technology augmentation that is least disruptive, given current business uncertainties, capital and investment constraints. We further advocated for technology control layer approaches, namely supply chain focused Cloud based technology offerings positioned to coexist with existing ERP backbone and legacy supply chain and manufacturing planning applications to augment the synchronization of processes and decision making with more enhanced capabilities, and with abilities to integrate both inside-out and outside-in data and information flows and analysis capabilities.


Changing Talent and Skill Needs

Any technology enabled transformation effort has some form of change related to existing or future talent skill needs. Production planning and scheduling process transformation is no different.

Supply Chain Talent Impacts

Within our published annual predictions for industry and global supply chains research advisories over the past three years, continuous supply chain and manufacturing disruptions have brought forward the realization that at all levels, workforce talent recruitment and retention have become one of the weakest and more concerning links in the ability to transform supply chains. There were talent gaps and skill shortages before the pandemic, and challenges has manifested more in the current environment of high global inflation levels globally and more rapid business changes across industry environments.

After three plus years of pandemic related business and supply chain disruptions, . Some indicate burnout from the constant time and stress pressures brought about by multiple years of pandemic related challenges that impacted manufacturing operations. Some are seeking new opportunities to grow their careers in a faster manner within new organizations that provide accelerated upward mobility, skills training and more advanced technology exposure.  With all of this, years of inherent business and operational knowledge departs manufacturing operations. Some manufacturers have provided part-time opportunities to preserve the contribution of inherent knowledge and to mentor new employees in their knowledge of production planning nuances but that is a temporary fix while new talent is brought on.

Conditioned Environment

The environment over the last three years has unfortunately conditioned planners to be constant fire-fighters, having to solve daily and weekly operational problems continuously with the tools that might be in hand. In some cases, it can amount to “guess, chase and expedite” approach to planning as opposed to augmented technology enablement of planning and simulation of plans.

Planners can sometimes lack the tools or capabilities to actually plan and anticipate production capacity or capability challenges before they actually occur. They are compelled toward utilizing customized spreadsheets in attempts to augment required information that existing backbone enterprise systems and supply chain  planning and scheduling systems cannot support. Forcing planners to build constant workarounds outside the existing tech stack and standardized information flows needlessly creates an overly complex process that is even more difficult to understand, harder to master and likely highly challenging to recruit for.

Some planners are just burned out from this environment with a perception that management is not inclined to provide the necessary tools or career advancement opportunities to make planning a fulfilling and rewarding profession.

In such an environment, operational planners seek to be provided . The need is to move from constant firefighting to more timely alerts to operational planning changes or exceptions, and to being more in control of processes. Implied is the ability of businesses  to be able to standardize data collection and assimilation processes in proper context, moving beyond planning in people’s heads and remediate key person dependencies.

Skills Based Recruitment

For several years in our research advisories, we have advocated that businesses and their supply chain management teams adopt a skills-based hiring and ongoing performance assessment process. This is different than a traditional job description focused on specific job requirements or years of experience at a point in time.

We believe that supply chain and human resource managers are becoming more attuned to a new reality that a planners skills are and will constantly change over time, moving beyond the constant  extraction and assimilation of data and into more strategist and decision analysis capability skills.

This will require a review of existing worker recruitment practices that are often geared toward achieving a match to a specific job description vs. a set of desired skills and background needed to align with changing job roles or responsibilities.

Younger more tech savvy professionals often seek an organization that can provide meaningful career growth and additional skill areas to build upon. New entrants into the workforce seek to work with advanced tools, grow their skill levels and not utilize untimely paper, Excel spreadsheets or legacy applications in order to adequately plan or anticipate plan changes. It requires that planning process needs be augmented by talent that provides a broader complement of skill levels for embracing business driven changes involving planning and scheduling processes, while leveraging advanced or changed technology tools.

Organizations’ with demonstrated commitment to social and environmental responsibility and to taking care of people are a further consideration in being able to attract and retain a broader skills based planning team.

While there are inherent perceptions among existing operational  and senior managers that it may take months or years to train new planners, today’s available artificial intelligence enabled technology applications have the ability to codify day to day planning transactional routines and decision context. They therefore have the ability to transform the planning role to one of addressing or better anticipating plan exceptions, information shortfalls or added opportunities for increased output.

Organizational Change Management Considerations

We strongly recommend that leaders involved in digital transformation of production planning, scheduling and decision-making processes include broader skills  based  recruitment, training, retention and career development in their digital transformation business change efforts.

Educating senior management on necessary change management considerations should address why fixing planning processes are so urgent . Not having enough skilled planners places additional loads on existing team members, likely leading to added burnout.

If the competition can hire or retain broader skill based planners that can leverage added technology tools, they can execute supply planning in a timelier and market opportunistic manner, capturing added market share to meet product or business opportunities as they arise. Conversely, the competition can respond in a timelier manner to downturns in specific product demand, avoiding added costs and inventory exposures.

The interaction of older and younger workers, each with diverse and perhaps complimentary skill contributions can be a further factor in skills balancing. Considerations should include an environment where workers with acquired deep supply chain domain and production knowledge can interact, mentor and collaborate with more tech savvy and tech aware professionals, willing to embrace needs for automating mundane and repetitive work. It additionally includes embarking on outside in and inside out information driven planning and decision-making and in team based transformative efforts that transcend traditional organizational and functional barriers.

As noted, such a plan should include both a skills and compensation  component.

There is prevailing evidence that consideration of candidates that possess some background in online gaming or simulation skills can be a noteworthy consideration for recruitment and/or retention of candidates , as is individuals who have embraced online skills in either business or social media interactions.

Local, state or federal occupational training programs focused on manufacturing related skill and career based training can be another important resource for upskilling planners and manufacturing planning leaders.


Summary and Reader Takeaways

Any technology enabled transformation effort has some form of change related to existing or future talent skill needs and production planning and scheduling process transformation provides equally addressable needs.

In today’s constantly changing business environment, planners need to be given tools that can cope with and help overcome the complexity of today’s supply chains. Implied is the ability of businesses to be able to foster operational planning processes that can better leverage today’s more advanced technology to support changing operational and decision-making needs in a far more timely and context aware manner.

While there are inherent perceptions among existing operational and senior managers that it may take months or years to reskill new planners, today’s available Cloud based B2B platforms supported by artificial intelligence and machine learning enabled technology applications have the ability to augment, retain and such knowledge as well as decision context.

Educating senior management on necessary organizational change management considerations should address why fixing planning processes are so urgent,  especially since the ongoing war for talent implies that the competition can gain a significant competitive advantage if they can execute their supply planning needs in a more responsive and cost efficient manner.

Supply chain and human resource managers are becoming more attuned to the new reality that planner skills are and will constantly change over time, moving beyond the constant extraction and assimilation of data and into more strategist and decision analysis capability skills.  This will require a review of existing worker recruitment practices often geared towards achieving a match to a specific job in-time vs. a set of skills that can adapt to changing roles or responsibilities.

Added Note

Our final commentary in this market education series will address Industry 4.0 and subsequent operational planning needs and whether leveraged use of real-time data is relevant for needs in supporting operational flow-through including the shop floor.


Bob Ferrari

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