How supply chain implementations fail – even when they ‘succeed’

“Is this really very much better than what we had before?”

It’s probably the last question anyone wants to hear after a major supply chain software implementation. It’s also surprisingly common.

Unlike the multi-million-dollar implementation disasters that hit the headlines, this kind of failure is less obvious – but just as damaging. I’m referring to the many minor ‘successes’ that fail to live up to the promise of significant improvements.

So how do supply chain implementations that begin with high hopes of a breakthrough in key performance indicators, end with white elephants that are more trouble than they’re worth?

How does an organization that’s aiming for big leaps in productivity find itself stuck with incremental improvements and a planning system of hair-raising complexity?

The road to implementation hell often starts with a vague notion that certain processes should be improved, and that these improvements will have a significant impact on KPIs. These goals – those all-important KPIs – may or may not be quantified, but they are soon forgotten as the task of preparing an RFP gets underway. End users are surveyed, colleagues give their input, and an impressive wish list of strict requirements is generated.

Naturally many of these requirements reflect what’s lacking in the current system. (It’s far easier to improve the current way of working than it is to envision a new world with new processes.) In fact you could say that the whole process of soliciting input is weighted in favor of incremental improvements to the status quo.

The result?  A depressing grey mass of requirements with no clear link to the original goals of the project.

What happens next is tragic.

(i)   The grey mass (which can run to thousands of detailed requirements) turns into an RFP.

(ii) The RFP turns into a supply chain implementation.

(iii) The supply chain implementation is quickly recognized as being… you guessed it… a depressing grey mass of features with no clear link to the original goals of the project.

So yes, a traditional RFP process isn’t your best bet if you’re looking for real change. But I’d go further than that. Change isn’t something that happens after an implementation. It has to be built into the process, right from the very beginning.

Of course it’s easier to tinker than to create completely new processes and capabilities, which is precisely why it’s so crucial to begin – and continue – with the end in mind.

Join me next week to explore the key success factors behind all highly successful supply chain implementations.

Arjen Heeres

About Arjen Heeres

There are few things in life that give me more satisfaction than uncovering hidden optimization potential. My interest in this intersection between business and technology began at university where I researched the application of intelligent technologies to business problems, and earned a master’s in management science from the University of Groningen. I’ve been the COO of Quintiq since 2000, and have helped countless businesses in all kinds of industries realize their optimization potential. What a privilege!