Here at Profit Point, we typically put in a fair amount of effort up front to scope out a project together with our client. This typically helps us and our client to set appropriate expectations and develop mutually agreeable deliverables. These are key to project success. But another key element to project success is getting good quality data that will allow our clients to make cost effective decisions from the analysis work we are doing or the software tool we are implementing.
Decision support models are notoriously data hogs. Whether we are working on a strategic supply chain network design analysis project or implementing a production scheduling tool or some optimization model, they all need lots and lots of data.
The first thing we do (which is usually part of our scoping effort) is identify each of the data types that will be required and what will be the source of this data. To do this we start with what decisions are trying to be made and what data is required to make them successfully. From there we identify if the data currently exists in some electronic form (such as an MRP system) or whether it will have to be collected and entered into some system (say a spreadsheet or database program) and then figure out how the data will get into the tool we are developing.
Second, we try to get sample data from each data source as early as possible. This allows us to see if the assumptions that were made as part of the scoping effort were valid. There is nothing like getting your hands on some real data to see if what you and your team were assuming is really true! Often there are some discoveries and revelations that are made by looking at real data that require design decisions to be made to be able to meet the project deliverables.
Third, to help with data validation we find it extremely helpful to be able to visualize the data in an appropriate way. This could take the form of graphs, maps, Gantt charts, etc. depending on the type of data and model we are working on. On a recent scheduling project, we had the schedulers review cycle times in a spreadsheet but it wasn’t until they saw the data in Gantt chart form that they noticed problems with the data that needed correcting.
Identifying data sources, getting data as early as possible and presenting the data in a visualized form are absolutely required to make a project successful. Omitting any of these steps will at least add to the project cost and / or duration or possibly doom the project to failure.
We just finished the fall soccer season in my home. I was thinking about watching my children play soccer when they were younger after a conversation with one of our consultants. He had just come back from visiting a prospective client where he was doing an assessment of their supply chain work processes and systems. Speaking frankly, this prospective client really did not have well defined work processes and certainly didn’t have systems implemented to enable good work processes. Mostly they seemed to run from one fire to the next and tried to do their best in tamping out the flames enough to be able to move onto the next crisis. Our consultant came back feeling dizzy from observing how they operated.
When my kids were younger and playing soccer, their style of play could be characterized as “kick and run”. They really either didn’t understand the concept of trying to possess the ball or couldn’t execute this strategy. If you have the ball, you have the opportunity to score. If your opponent does not have the ball, they can’t score. It’s a simple as that. After watching my kids play on Saturday mornings with this “kick and run” style, I would really enjoy going to see a local college team play. They have won numerous national championships and play at a very high level. They understand and are able to execute this “possess the ball” style of play. It was always helpful to see how the game should be played and get my perspective straightened out.
Perhaps the “possessing the ball” analog in the operation of a supply chain is “possessing the key information.” In soccer, you have to get the ball to your attackers at the right time and in the right place in order to score. Likewise, in the supply chain, you have to get the right information to the right people at the right time to beat the competition. If you are feeling dizzy from fighting fire after fire (playing “kick and run”) in your supply chain operations and don’t seem to be making any progress on making things better and more stable, it would be our privilege to help assess where you are at and work together to move your organization toward operating in championship form.