As we ease out of crisis mode and plan for more stable waters, we find ourselves asking how can we take advantage of the upturn, and what will it take to do so? Going back to my undergraduate days of pursuing my degree in Education makes me think of the structure of a lesson plan. The lesson plan clearly identifies the mission statement, goals and objectives, for both the long and short-term. This brings to the forefront the questions of where to obtain the resources, the drive, and best practices to implement this plan. Lastly, of course, would be to determine a way to track and measure the results in order to evaluate the successes or shortcomings of this lesson plan. Common questions that professionals find themselves asking at this stage usually include: Where do I start? What should be my primary focus? What areas need the most work, and how do I communicate this to others? Let’s start with something that health care professionals refer to as a SOAP note or:
The “S” stands for subjective and is defined by Wikipedia as, “The patient’s current condition in narrative form. The history or state of experienced symptoms are recorded in the patient’s own words. It will include all pertinent and negative symptoms under review of body systems.” If we translate this to business conditions, we must describe the state of affairs using our own words. For example, “Our team that produces the forecast continues to struggle, especially with today’s greater variation in demand. This contributes to our company’s cash flow troubles and as a result, we continue to lose customers for some products due to out of stocks. For other products, much of our money is tied up into inventory that is slow to sell?”
Going back to our Healthcare example, the next letter in our acronym is “O” or objective. The objective component includes:
- Vital signs
- Findings from physical examinations, such as posture, bruising, and abnormalities
- Results from laboratory tests
- Measurements, such as age and weight of the patient.
This is where you stick to the facts, and only the facts. In business terms you may ask, “What is the company’s current forecast accuracy on an aggregate and SKU level by location, inventory levels, customer fulfillment rates, orders, shipments, and other important data and metrics. Also, is there a consensus process or silo based forecasting process? If there is a consensus forecast, is it being used or overridden?” First you need to jot all the facts down, no matter how nasty and terrible they may look.
Then there is “A” which stands for assessment. This is a quick summary of the patient’s main symptoms and diagnosis including a differential diagnosis, a list of other possible diagnoses, usually in order of most to least likely. Translating this back to our business example would lead to answers such as, “Our forecast error is high because there is no input from sales and marketing.” “There are no incentives in place to improve the forecast and no reward structure.” Or, “upper management does not use the baseline forecasts, where instead they create an unvalidated goal as the forecast.” Furthermore, those with forecasting responsibilities are not certified and properly trained for the task at hand.” Think of this area as the broken rib that is causing internal bleeding throughout the body. Once addressed, the body as a whole will start to heal and run at a normal pace. Find the broken rib at your company.
So now we have reached the “P” or the point of laying out your plan. The lesson plan, with goals and objectives which will empower team members by sharpening the tools needed for achievement. This is not the easy part in health care or business. It takes time, research, and patience. There may be a need for many revisions in addition to utilizing networks such as the IBF Membership Network for advice. The lesson plan is not only for you, but for your team as well. What will you teach your team in your weekly meetings? What will they be teaching you? At the end of this journey, you should be able to teach a whole community the lessons that you have learned and developed as best practices. Collectively we’re living through a very tough economic time, and together, we can still document our rough patches, lessons learned, as well as accomplishments, all for a greater good for the company and our professional careers.
Therefore, starting with a pen and napkin, then moving over to the computer and opening up a blank word document, you can develop a lesson plan for yourself and team that can ensure no opportunity is lost as the market comes back to life. Then, perhaps by New Years, we will not have a hangover experience, but an experience of celebration.
Senior Marketing Manager
Institute of Business Forecasting & Planning