As much as I hate the term, we are in a new normal, Remote working has changed how we work, and it has had big changes for S&OP/IBP. Given demand planning is by nature collaborative and driven by the human element, can these processes survive in the age of remote working?

I recently posted on LinkedIn why I think this is a problem. But it seems I am in a minority because all the planning professionals who responded said that S&OP is doing just fine, and even thriving in this new normal.

Personally, I think it’s having a negative impact on S&OP. Research shows that without face-to-face interaction, trust diminishes, and trust is key to the collaboration we need for S&OP. But that’s just me and there are always two sides to every story. I spoke to two S&OP/IBP leaders to get their differing viewpoints on this issue. Read their key points below so you can decide for yourself.

The Case Against Remote S&OP: Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider is an expert in demand planning and supply chain transformation, having led and implemented IBP processes at Medtronic and Ball Corporation.

“Working has changed with Webex, mind mapping, online collaborative documentation etc. but a conversation hasn’t taken place within IBP to discuss how a day in the life of the Demand Planner has changed. In this remote way of working, some people don’t participate in meetings, power players emerge, some webcams are on and others are off. There’s no discussion about how IBP should work in this new environment – we’re just trying to get through the grind.”

There’s no discussion about how IBP should work in this new environment

“Before were able to collaborate interpersonally, come to decisions and influence people which is huge in S&OP. How much of that takes place outside of the formal demand review or supply review? Now you’re lucky if you can catch somebody on instant messenger or teams, or getting them to review something buried in their inbox.”

“There needs to be a very intentional focus on redesigning the ‘day in the life’ and how we do our jobs with digital collaboration tools. It’s continuously evolving but I’d say in my own process I think we’ve taken a step backwards.”

A lot of ideas get parked because  people feel like they missed the opportunity to speak

“I think engagement is a challenge. There’s all the cordialities of being in business with active listening and interpersonal dynamics. People in a conference room might step over each other but it’s a case of “Okay, you go first and I’ll come back with my input” and it works. In video calls it’s almost like a walkie-talkie – it’s one person talking at a time and a lot of ideas get parked because  people feel like they missed the opportunity to speak.”

We need development of team dynamics and coaching to make sure that folks have their voices heard

“If you took a shot clock of who talks for how long in a video call, I’m sure you’re not going to find an even curve – you’re going to find a classic gaussian curve where those power players dominate speaking time. We need development of team dynamics and coaching to make sure that folks have their voices heard.”

“On the positive side, there are so many digital collaboration tools out there and it’s become more accepted to have pre-submissions on a Webex hit list for the meeting. That stuff is great right as long as you have skillful facilitators that circle back to those topics.”

“I think training is so important on to overcome the discomfort of being able to speak over someone with a higher title on a video call, for example. As a coach of other IBP leaders one of the best soft skills you can have is a deft touch – not just what you say but how you say it. The way you interject, being concise, and being able to have a powerful statement are all great skills of an IBP leader and I don’t see those things being facilitated in this new norm.”

The Case For Remote S&OP: Kevin Reim

Kevin Reim is supply chain leader, having worked as Director of Supply Chain Planning at PepsiCo and VP of L’Oréal’s US Supply Chain. He is currently VP of L’Oréal’s Fulfilment Center Operations. 

“In this new hybrid work environment where folks are working more from home, people have gotten used to it and as long as you have the right stakeholders on the call right, there’s no degradation in the S&OP process from what I’ve seen.”

“In our executive S&OP meetings over the last couple of years, we’ve had to learn to work in a new way and it actually makes for a more efficient meeting. People are happy that it’s made meetings a little bit shorter. If meetings previously took three hours, now we’re getting through he same amount of content in an hour and a half. It’s because people are coming prepared.”

As long as the right people are there, it works

“As long as the right people are there, it works. In some cases we’ll cycle GMs in and out of the meeting as their particular brands come up. All stakeholders are there, it’s collaborative and we make decisions out of it, so it works.”

“There needs to be that that personal interaction, though. Whether virtual or in person you still need those face-to-face relationships and that where the hybrid model comes in.”

“What was difficult was when somebody started in the company in the early stages of the pandemic, then it was hard for them to break in but once folks started coming back to work and this new hybrid model emerged it’s become the new norm and it’s working just fine.”

Go out of your way to  meet one-on-one because you really have to establish yourself

“You’ve got to establish those relationships. Go out of your way to meet for coffee or meet one-on-one because you really have to establish yourself. You can manage some of those relationships remotely but there is no substitution for meeting face-to-face and to build that trust that when you get to a meeting everybody’s comfortable making decisions.”

And there you have it. The key themes are that yes, remote S&OP can work but extra work needs to be done to build and maintain the relationships needed for collaboration and, ultimately, to drive decision making. Setting expectations for how meetings work and defining the role of the Demand Planner in the remote age would also add value, as well as thinking about how leaders can manage teams effectively in this new environment. It also shines a light on the importance of best practices; they are now more important than ever to ensure engagement and a robust process. Stay tuned next week when I will share some tips to make your remote process as effective as possible.

I will be speaking at IBF’s Business Planning, Forecasting & S&OP/IBP Conference in Amsterdam from November 16-18. With dozens of workshop sessions, panel discussions and networking opportunities, it’s the biggest and best event of its kind in Europe. Click here for more details.