How to Succeed With a Supply Chain Technological Rollout

The late great Yogi Berra famously said, “If you don’t know where you are going, then you’ll wind up someplace else.”

Nowhere is this truer than when considering, procuring, and implementing new logistics/supply chain technology.

It doesn’t matter if it’s optimization technology, a TMS, a WMS, or any combination. If you (the organization and all key stakeholders) haven’t clearly defined what the technology must accomplish, how it will accomplish it, and how to deal with the resulting change, there will certainly be heartache tonight (apologies to the Eagles).

But clearly defining the purpose is only a small (albeit, critically important) part of the equation. Many organizations have a tendency to view technology as the savior, the holy grail that will solve all the problems, increase efficiencies, reduce costs, and increase profits. And it just might do that but only if the people component has been properly addressed.

The introduction of new technology is in essence, a change management initiative.

Things will certainly be changing, processes will need to change, and people will need to change. Change is many times equated with pain and who wants that? The result: Subconscious (and sometimes overt) resistance to the change.

To successfully manage and execute this (or any) change initiative, a three-step process must take place: plan, communicate, and execute. These are not mutually exclusive as each step comprises elements of the other two steps.

Step 1 – Plan

Planning is the most critical step. Successful planning necessarily means an objective discovery of the real problem driving the change. Frequently the stated and/or obvious problem is not the real problem, rather a symptom of a bigger underlying issue. We can better discover the real issue by channeling our inner four-year-old and repeatedly asking why. In Total Quality Management (TQM), the 5-Why Process is a useful tool to achieving real issue discovery.

Once we have discovered the real issue, we need to properly define the scope of both the problem and its intended solution. A frequent planning occurrence is when the problem is clearly defined, but the solution slowly expands to include more than just the problem. In project management terms, this is called scope creep, which usually includes budget and time overruns.

Once the scope has been established, proper risk management must be employed. While we cannot possibly plan for every contingency, we can plan for every category of risk. This will give us a significant headstart in successfully addressing the problem and continuing on unabated.

Step 2 – CommunicatE

There is no such thing as over-communication. The key is to provide honest, constant, and relevant communication between the change team members, upwards to senior executives, and outwards to those who will be affected by the change. This communication must take place in every step of the change process for the initiative to be successful. Since most of us resist change primarily due to the fear of the unknown, we must make special and concerted efforts to combat this through every form of organizational communication (i.e. face-to-face, email, video conferencing, etc.). Most importantly, if we don’t have an immediate answer, we must honestly and in a timely fashion, communicate this as well.

Step 3 – Execute

Assuming that we have planned and communicated properly, we still must execute according to plan. If we have planned properly, than the likely hiccups inherent in any change initiative will have been planned for and can be addressed accordingly.

The end result will not be another technology “what happened?” rollout, but a rollout that encompasses the best of change management and most importantly, accomplishes its intended goals.

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