Supply chain transformation: Working the roadmap day-to-day

  • January 10, 2023
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Lao Tzu said that "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step". Now that you’re on the trip, it’ll be long, twisting and arduous — a trudge if ever there was one. That said, you’re probably better prepared for this odyssey than you know.

Be prepared for the transition state

You can’t jump from your current state of operations directly to your future state design. Sure, there can be an incremental adjustment period to a process, organization or technology with an immediate but limited impact. But it’s the profound changes that take time. As in previous planning exercises, the best practice is to consider the risks — or unintended consequences — of moving to the future state design.

As the team thinks through each risk or effect on the business, they’ll naturally arrive at a phased approach to implementation. By necessity, this approach will have ongoing dependencies across the organization. Nothing works in a vacuum; there are always follow-on effects. Each of these makes up the transition state, defined by changes made in sequence and considering all attendant dependencies. They’re the necessary steps that lead to the future state design.

The transition state is a deliberate set of design phases or mini-plans within the larger-scale project management office (PMO) plan. Each mini-plan needs a project manager and a team to execute the tasks. Anything not in a plan is tracked and managed daily with an action item register — a spreadsheet or another mechanism like Smartsheet or Google Sheets — and centrally tracked by the project manager (PM).

Create a toolkit for each PM to standardize approaches. These include meeting minutes, action item registers, risk registers and other tools for managing projects within the larger program. Develop a standard file-naming convention. The transformation program will generate thousands of documents, and it’s beneficial to know the file’s content by its name. Set up a central repository on Dropbox, a shared drive or a SharePoint site to keep all program documents accessible to the team. Use a single shared and editable version of every key document that’s version-controlled or time-stamped over the life of the project.

And remember: back it up, back it up, back it up. Files become corrupted, overwritten, deleted or misplaced when you have that many documents and that many people’s hands on them.

“Nothing works in a vacuum; there are always follow-on effects.”

Communications: meetings, reporting updates and cadence

Define your approach and manage to the plan. Everyone should remember and recognize that any plan worth its salt is a living, breathing document. Communication is imperative. Keeping a large-scale transformation with dozens to hundreds of employees and other stakeholders in the loop going is the lifeblood of the program. It means there’ll be both action-oriented meetings where things get done and communications meetings where team members stay aligned. General communications — such as announcements, town halls and other mechanisms — keep people informed. You can’t only have a task plan. You need a communication plan and a leader responsible for that communication.

Create a meeting calendar with weekly, biweekly, monthly and quarterly cadences. Add meetings to a calendar and be aware of the dangers of too many meetings. Everyone needs to know that the core project team is fully dedicated to the program. But other participants, including subject-matter experts (SMEs), stakeholders and leaders, have additional responsibilities. They have full-time jobs; the program isn’t their day-to-day core mission. Be respectful of their time, and use that time wisely.

A benefit to adding a partner consulting firm when doing a large-scale transformation is their ability to keep things moving while letting others do their day jobs. Consultants take crucial support or leadership roles, helping move the project forward. They leverage team members for only the time needed and then process the information into the actions and communications necessary to execute the tasks and close action items.

While we deal with the day-to-day muck of the transformation program, we realize that people above the daily need-to-know group also need to stay informed about the program’s progress. Establish clear milestone points and develop reporting mechanisms that quickly display progress through graphical dashboards. These can convey the amount of work done while not overwhelming leaders with details. A one-page graphic — with appropriate updates — should be what they see every time. The transformation leader should update the organization’s leaders on completed milestones on a fixed, timely cadence.

Some final thoughts

The transformation is going to be a lengthy undertaking. Be sure to celebrate milestones achieved throughout the program. Build on the success of every event and broadly communicate them. Also, don’t shy away from areas that aren’t going so well. There’ll be problems — you know, the best laid plans of mice and… Be sure to so incorporate a way to turn the team’s attention to problem-solving in those areas. You’ll find that people want to help; they want to contribute. Avoid the blame game and get directly to resolving issues with cross-functional participation.

There’s a wonderful scene in Remember the Titans about a racially integrated high school football team as they deal with the civil rights and school bussing integration issues of the 1970s. At one point, rival coaches face a competitor who appears to “have their number” and turn to each other for help. It took a lot of humility by the characters to accept the aid of another who was, like themselves, considered an expert in their domain. Take on the challenge together. Collaborate, and the team will succeed.

Good luck with your program, and let us know how we can help.

— By Patrick Boyle, Joe Reich, and Wil Wright

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