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“I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of Demand Planner…”

Often referred to as the bellwether of an administration’s potential success, the first one hundred days of a presidency are scrutinized by political pundits. The importance stems from extrapolating trend – something demand planners can relate to. After all, if the first steps are taken to the east, when the expected route was to the west, confidence can wane – along with crucial success elements like trust, reliability and momentum.

So what trends does a demand planner hope to establish in him or herself when embarking on a new employment journey? Just like the President you can’t go it alone, and wise planners know that they wouldn’t want to. You need folks to want to work with you – it’s not a demand planning monarchy (as fun as that is to think about).

Drawing on another parallel, demand planners strive daily to steer business conversations from a ‘past predicts the future’ approach to a  ‘manifest destiny’ shaping approach. A demand planner should also develop expectations for their work based on their experience and how their colleagues operate so they can shape how they will add value and create new, expanded notions of what is expected of them.

My advice to demand planners in the first critical days and months in the job is this: operate with intention and be thoughtfully preparing yourself for your first ‘State of the Union’ address (which we in business refer to as the less sexy “performance review”) from the onset.

Seek To Understand Before Being Unemployed Understood

Step 1: Personal Reflection

Take stock of your own past experiences – the good and the bad – and set your course based on the old ‘start, stop, continue’. What worked well in your prior roles? What didn’t? Knowing these allows us to start positive new behaviours, stop old negative behaviors and continue doing what works.

Demand Planners classically fall into INTJ (introverted, intuitive, thinking, judging)  profiles. [Ed: This is one of Carl Jung’s personality types.] Are you aware of the strengths and limitations of your own personality type?  If not, research it. “Know thyself” is an important mantra when it comes success in business, not least because it helps us understand how we are viewed by others.

Approachability trumps aptitude. Empathy beats intelligence. Insights win over ideology.

Approachability trumps aptitude. Empathy beats intelligence. Insights win over ideology. And energy can overcome a range of limitations. You might be revving to jump on data or knock socks off with your problem solving abilities but don’t lose sight of why more Sales people typically make it to leadership roles – it’s because they’re liked. Be likeable, be humble, be bright and be on-point.

Be likeable, be humble, be bright and be on-point.

360 degree feedback surveys to former co-workers are an excellent idea and free online tools like SurveyMonkey make it a breeze. Just remember that feedback is a gift, so don’t get worked-up if you don’t like every response – try to look at it from each contributor’s lens of experiences with you, what their personality styles are, and how you can start, stop or continue certain approaches and behaviors. This way you can leave behind what didn’t work and keep what does so you can better handle future interactions.

Step 2: Map Out What You Do & How You Do It

A methodical approach should start with being thoughtful about your method. If you’ve got your “how” (to work effectively with people) solidified from reflection, now you need to define your “what” (the heck to build an understanding of).

Here’s the Schneider Method for defining your knowledge assertation plan of attack:

  1. What do we do
    • Process mapping
  2. What do I not know that we do
    • Voice of customer – VOC
  3. What do I have that helps me do what we do
    • Compiling existing knowledge
  4. What do I not have, but know that we do
    • Gap analysis
  5. What can I do, to help myself & others do better at what we do
    • Action Plan

Within each of these exists the classic elements of People, Process, and Technology. Build-out questions before you start your first day at the new job and spend the end of each day recording what answers you found, curating relevant/related resources, and adding new subsequent questions (to circle back on). An example of “What do we do” is as follows:

People: Who do we presently collaborate with on consensus forecasting? Who consumes information from our team? Who are the decision makers by customer, location and product (or service)?

Process: What S&OP process do we support? With what frequency do we publish our plans and are they subject to any planning fences? What elements of CPFR, statistical modeling, scenario planning, and override incorporation are present?

Technology: What tools are we using? Where does the data come from? What transactions and filters are included in our demand history arrays?

Supplemental questions should spring easily from these – give a free mind-mapping tool a try under each category and try to keep each category rounded out for equal attention.  Things like differences in organizational designs across the matrix of collaborators, what costing method the company uses, and what internal financial calendar behaviors come into play in the fiscal year and when etc.

Step 3:  Diagnostic & Descriptive

As Malcolm from Jurassic Park would say, “That is one big pile of …”.  Data is messy at all companies. Suck it up, buttercup. In fact, get excited about it! A planner is only as good as the information he has to work with and build insights from, so embrace the opportunity to demonstrate your skills as a data architect and analyst (someday a data scientist – see the Winter 2017 JBF for more thoughts on where that’s heading).

Data is messy at all companies. Suck it up, buttercup.

The biggest “seek to understand” opportunities in the first one hundred days come from getting intimate with your data. Locate every master table from your ERP system you can – product/material, customer, location, etc. Pivot and slice them and couple with meet and greet interviews, learning what fields matter, what they are synonymous with and how they are structured (hierarchies, relational data sets, interdependencies – i.e. fields that may be rules-based and derived from others). Simple ABC pareto efforts and density charting (pie charts, scatter/bubble, map-plotting) should help you build a strong, early understanding of top customers, products, geographies, and combinations. Going one step further and conducting segmentation on the key material, location, and consumer data elements will bear much intuitive fruit (early and growing, stable, volatile, high value, low value, declining lifecycle).  Study the forecastability of your data elements to demand plan.

Check these learnings with peers and stakeholders as you get a handle on each of them. This will go a long-way towards showcasing your initiative, comprehension and focus.  Remember: Sift, sort, structure, stratify, substantiate.

Step 4:  Prescriptive & Pioneering

If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got. Your early learnings should help you begin to understand where to focus your efforts to drive improvement and perhaps introduce some new approaches. Perhaps it’s structuring your efforts differently (planning bills from studying correlations in demand patterns), perhaps it’s changing consumption settings, time series durations/intervals, or moving certain areas to alternate plan & fulfillment strategies (reorder point, make to order).

Wishing you great success on your new endeavor. You are to be a trusted advisor, a master of lean planning pursuits, a grounding force against bias, and an ever-inquisitive scientist. Plan on!

The Friendly Neighborhood Forecaster