A common feeling amongst those leaving university is the sense of “what next?” And when you graduate with a degree as vague as mine (BA in Arts & Humanities) this feeling is particularly acute. Nothing I studied at university suggested a Supply Chain or Demand Planning career, but 20 years after saying goodbye to my scholarly life, that is where I am as Supply Chain Manager for Goodyear. The question is, how did I get here?

How A Book Shop Opened Up a Career in Demand Planning

When I arrived at my current place of employment, 12 years after leaving university, I had never heard of Demand Planning, but I had taken a serious liking to the Supply Chain side of business. Supply Chain seemed to be a place where logic and reason could be applied and where reliability was valued above showmanship – it was my kind of place.

I discovered Supply Chain as a direct result of my first full time job, a retail assistant in a book shop. I was quickly put in charge of processing stock deliveries which involved a lot of lifting and restocking the shelves. For several weeks I saw books arrive that we didn’t need, while we waited for books to arrive that we did need but never came. Curious about this obvious problem, I asked the manager how we created our stock deliveries. I was told that we didn’t. It turned out the weekly deliveries were based on new releases and excess stock that the warehouse needed to shift. I was no supply chain whiz kid , but it was clear to this English graduate there was something wrong in how we approached this. Every book we didn’t sell took up valuable shelf space and had to be returned, at a cost. The books customers wanted but couldn’t find in our store were missed sales opportunities. Not a great way to run a business.

I stumbled across supply chain by accident because all I wanted to do was work with books.

Developing My First Forecasts

Shortly after this conversation, I started sending the manager lists of items that needed replenishment based purely on customer demand. Without really knowing it, I was creating our first forecasts.

I spent 5 years working for the book company, ending up as Manager of the London branch. By the time I left, I was already aware of how much money could be generated if the shop held items that the customers wanted and how much could be saved if we didn’t have to return non-selling items back to the warehouse or sell them off cheap. It may sound obvious, but I still think some companies are yet to fully grasp the importance of this concept.

I don’t do things on a whim, I do things based on analysis of facts and educated assumptions.

My First Job In Demand Planning

When I started work for my current employers, Goodyear Dunlop, they were just beginning to take forecasting seriously. After a year of using a bespoke in-house system for capturing forecasts, I was called into my manager’s office. I was told that the UK had been chosen to pilot a new method of forecasting, called Demand Planning, and that I had been chosen as the UK associate to support this project. After many weeks of testing, discussing and re-testing in a windowless office in Hanau, Germany, we were ready to launch and I had never been so motivated.

Demand Planning was logical, and in its purest form it was a process built to eradicate bias and deliver a robust and realistic forecast. It took a lot of work to convince Sales of the difference between a forecast and a target, but promises of increased levels of availability silenced most of the loudest opponents.

Telling the Story Behind the Numbers

However, Demand Planning by itself is not sufficient. Statistical reasoning and trend analysis isn’t enough in itself to best predict the future. Internally, you also need the background story, the plans, the promotions, the new product info, the plans for obsolete stock, etc. Externally you need market trends, socio-economic factors, the predicted price of raw materials, new legislation etc. And to capture this, you need more than a database, you need S&OP.

If you’re not up for a good fight and a few knock-backs then there’s no point stepping in the ring.

S&OP ticks every box for me. Again, logic is required. Understanding and knowledge is rewarded and ‘gut-feelings’ and forecast bias are exposed. Assumptions can be tracked and variances are the starting point of corrective actions rather than accusations.

As Demand Planning and S&OP were rolled out, it soon became clear that even if all the data and intelligence suggested a reduction in a forecast, the decision may still be to keep forecasts where they were. Initially, this was a disappointment and seemed to undermine the whole process. However, this wasn’t true at all. Demand Planning and S&OP are there to provide guidance; it is up to the management teams whether they adopt the suggestions or not. If they don’t, then we track the results, understand the root cause of the variance and go again, this time with even stronger arguments. To be in Demand Planning you need to find a perfect line between collaboration and bullishness. If you’re not up for a good fight and a few knock-backs then there’s no point stepping in the ring.

Demand Planning Fits My Personality Like A Glove

Demand Planning appeals directly to who I am as a person. I don’t do things on a whim, I do things based on analysis of facts and educated assumptions. I’m drawn to findings trends within data and I’m driven to expose hyperbole and unrealistic forecasts. I like a good, well-reasoned debate. I like to see logic and reasoning triumph. But above all, I like to see the work I do add real value to a company’s bottom line.

An Unlikely But Serendipitous Career in Demand Planning

People who are drawn to data and logic aren’t generally the most emotive of people, but Demand Planning and S&OP gave me a career that I hugely enjoy and the IBF showed me that I wasn’t alone.  I will always be grateful to both. Do Demand Planning and S&OP have anything to do with my degree? No. I stumbled across supply chain by accident because all I wanted to do was work with books. I guess the lesson is that opportunity is around every corner, you just have to keep walking.