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One of the more memorable experiences I had as a demand planning manager was when a college student working as an intern came to ask me a question. He was debating what his major should be, and what career to pursue. Sitting in my office, he asked “is Demand planning really this exciting, or do you just make it sound that way?

I replied, “yes – both!”

Forecasting, demand planning, predictive analytics, S&OP, and related fields are a unique blend of analytics, leadership, and communication. Forecast analysts and demand planners are some of the most well-rounded people touching every part of an organization and a true growth driver within a company.  Individuals that commit to these fields and challenge themselves find out that, yes, it really is exciting, and are rewarded with generous salaries and opportunities for career progression to the highest levels of the business.

You may feel that I am overselling this profession, but the truth is this discipline is both growing and evolving. Machine learning and predictive analytics technology and increasingly volatile market conditions require companies to invest heavily in forecasting functions.

This trend is of course accelerated by the demand uncertainty caused by Covid-19. Coronavirus has exposed companies with underdeveloped or non-existent planning functions, while others with established processes are on track. Even before Covid-19, a recent survey by PwC revealed that 80% of CFOs ranked forecasting as one of their top 3 concerns. Demand planning and business forecasting are going from the back room to the board room and are more important now than ever.

There has never been a better time to enjoy a well-remunerated career, gain valuable experience and exposure, and be at the forefront of the practical application of cutting-edge technology.

How To Forge A Career In Demand Planning

So now you want to be a Demand Planner. One of the most frequent questions I receive from people is “how do I get started?”, or “what should I do to be a better planner?”

First, understand what it is you really want to do professionally. Ask yourself how you want to develop or change your current professional identity. Figure out your strengths, values, and personality and determine how these qualities will fit into the identity you aspire to become.

Second, learn as much as you can about this field or whatever career you want to dive into. As you go, adjust your career map as needed. Suffice to say, the success of your plan relies on having discipline, self-confidence, and a willingness to continually learn.

You may have noticed I did not say technical skills and statistical knowledge. Whilst these are very important, just as important are discipline, confidence, continual learning, and passion. There have been countless psychological studies done that clearly show that the best performers in any field are not the ones that have the most aptitude but have the most interest.  Passion is your greatest asset.

This is why I said understand what it is you want to do. Figure out your strengths, weaknesses, and figure out those things that you do that make you lose track of time. But of course interest in a field alone will not pay your bills. Your next step is your discipline and continual learning.

Continual Learning For Career Progression

If you have not considered IBF Certified Professional Forecaster (CPF) certification, you may want to put that as one of your goals to achieve. By setting that goal you will develop skills, broaden your knowledge of the field and build that confidence. Success comes more in the preparation for the exam than the exam itself. Once again, the technical elements and underlying principles are valuable, but the confidence gained will allow you to pursue the opportunities that are out there. And, of course, being certified demonstrates to others your knowledge of the field and your commitment.

The other thing I recommend to people wanting to get into this profession would be set a goal to write or contribute a blog article about something you learned and mastered. I actually made this a goal for everyone who has worked for me – I would set as one of their yearly objectives to write one article or speak at a conference. Sharing knowledge gives you a mastery of the topic, and once again builds and displays confidence. One of the best ways to learn and grow (both technically and personally) is to study with the idea you will need to become the teacher. It may also get you out of your comfort zone which is always an opportunity for growth.

Start by reading articles here on demand-planning.com or taking out a subscription to the Journal of Business Forecasting. Keep notes on that subject and develop your own story, angle, or learnings on it.  Write your own article and submit it. [Ed: Details on submitting articles here].

On a final note, whether you are just getting started in this field or a seasoned professional looking to grow, you are not alone. IBF is an entire community of like-minded people that share your passion for demand planning, forecasting, predictive analytics, and S&OP/IBP. Stay connected, consider membership, and be part of this community.

As for the college intern, Hariharan Kalaivani Manickam, he got his masters degree with a thesis on forecasting and demand segmentation and went on to be a rock star Demand Manager at a Fortune 500 company.