Supply Chain Project Management

Is there any difference between Generic Project Management and Supply Chain Project Management?  In my opinion fundamentally there may not be any difference.  However, Supply Chain knowledge will certainly give an edge over others in managing a project focusing on supply chain excellence as part of continuous improvement program.  Thought leadership is the key to improve supply chain efficiencies.  Basically, there could be two different projects; one could be dealing with technology improvements and the second one could be dealing with improving organizational efficiencies.  In case of the technology improvement projects, the role of the project manager is to act as a bridge between business and technology personnel to translate the business needs accurately.  Where as the other improvements projects, the project manager also acts as an internal consultant or work in tandem with an external consultant to develop solutions to address inefficiencies.  In order to deal with both types of projects, supply chain knowledge would be an added advantage to the project manger.

Supply Chain Project:

In my opinion, a supply chain project is a distinct attempt to deliver a set of identified and agreed deliverables with given resources and within agreed time frame and financial budget in order to elevate the current supply chain operations into next level of targeted excellence.  The projects could address Strategic Improvement; Technological Improvement; Structural Improvement; and Supply Chain Performance improvements.

Supply Chain Project Manager:

Project Manager is who brings skills, domain expertise, change management skills along with general management skills to execute the project within agreed time frame and cost budgets and ensure that targeted results are achieved to the satisfaction of all stakeholders.

Before we slip into the various milestones involved in managing supply chain projects, we should spend little time in understanding the ideal project manager qualities to handle a supply chain project management.  As most of the projects within supply chain target to put a smile on customer’s face in order to maximize top line revenues and improve profit margins, the project manager’s thought leadership is the critical requirement in  project management.  There are several definitions for thought leadership.  I love the one published by Wikipedia, “A thought leader is a futurist or person who is recognized for innovative ideas and demonstrates the confidence to promote or share those ideas as actionable distilled insights (thinklets).” In order to deliver competitive advantage to the organization through supply chain innovation project, the manager who leads the project should be a visionary.

The second most important quality for a successful supply chain project manager would be effective communication skills.  The project manager will use communication skills to negotiate with the stakeholders as well convey the object objectives with all the team members.  S/He is the key link between the organization and the people involved in the project.  Openness and directness in the communication style of the project manager will establish transparency which is critical in eliminating ambiguity in the minds of people involved.  According to George Bernard Shaw, “To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.”

The third quality would be that of a Change Agent.  All improvement projects deal with process changes.  People often feel uncomfortable, if they are drawn out of their comfort zones.  Hence, it is essential for a Project Manager to work as a change agent and establish informal channels of communication in order to get things done in a highly matrix organizations.

Apart from the above three important qualities, the project manager have to don the roles of a politician, guide, friend and philosopher.  Further, the project manager should also demonstrate personal attributes such as integrity, competence and empathy.  Empathy is not sympathy, it is essential that the project manager understand the feelings of the team members and act accordingly to improve the project management efficiency.

Supply Chain Project Management Methodology

Supply Chain Projects objectives could vary depending upon scope of the project.  Some projects could be undertaken to implement IT systems, some projects could be undertaken to improve efficiency of identified tasks and some projects could be part of continuous improvement plan or tear down reengineering activity.  What ever is the plan, we need methodology to executive the plan.

The project life cycle would include three critical phases, the first one is project initiation, the second phase would be execution and the third and final stage would be control and reengineering phase.  The success of the project largely depends upon efficiencies demonstrated in project initiation phase which is pre implementation phase.  Based on several years of experience in supply chain/logistics process optimization, I have developed a methodology called DARER.  D stands for Define; A stands for Align; R stands for Run (execute); E stands for Evaluate; and R stands for Reengineer. The purpose of developing this methodology is not to showcase my talent, but to customize the methodology to maximize the benefits of project management.

Project Initiation – Phase 1:

As mentioned earlier, this is the critical phase.  If this phase is not handled efficiently, the success of the project is not assured.  During this phase, the project manager may have to understand the scope of the project, mission statement and project deliverables clearly and also ensure that the Executive Management endorses the project and key deliverables.  People come up with very fancy deliverables without understanding the strength of the resources available to execute the project.  It is very much essential to make sure that the deliverables and resources are aligned and balanced.  For example, the primary objective of the project is to provide end to end supply chain visibility in order to align supply with demand and at the same time management is not willing to invest in IT systems, then there is a huge gap between expectations and reality.  The project manager may have to prove at this point that h/she is not a mere post man delivering what is entrusted to him.  The project manager may have to critically audit the project scope and deliverables and ensure that the organization has the required resources to deliver the targeted benefits by executing the project.  If necessary, the project manager should not hesitate to highlight the threats and weaknesses of the project resources upfront and make a sincere attempt to balance the resources and deliverables and if necessary to stall the project until the anomaly is corrected.

It is also necessary to agree on the project cost and timeline at this stage.  In order to complete this activity, the project manager may have to understand the activities involved and estimate the cost and time to be invested in the project.  This would act as a base line to compare with the actual performance in order to understand the project management efficiency.

It is time now to create a project team.  The project team consists of full-time and part-time resources assigned to work on the project in order to help the project leader to achieve the objectives.  The Project team could include internal, part time and full time, cross functional and external members.  This team could be dynamic, depending upon the requirements of the project few may join and few may quit the team from time to time.

Project Execution – Phase 2:

The first step is to align individual key performance indicators of the project team with project objectives.  The second step would be to analyse the current challenges, including process mapping and recording the current performance.  This activity helps the project team to understand the current process and challenges clearly and at the same the current level of performance is captured to use as a baseline to be used in the review phase of the project.

The third step deals with the change management strategy. All projects involve change management.  It is essential to have a change management strategy developed at the very beginning to address the resistance to the change. “Change management is a structured approach to transitioning individuals, teams, and organizations from a current state to a desired future state.” Initially the project manager would act as a Change Agent.  As the project progresses, the project manager should identify and develop few more change agents who can help the project manager in influencing the team members resisting the change.

The fourth step in the Phase 2 involves developing contingency plan.  “A contingency plan is a plan devised for a specific situation when things could go wrong.” Some call this as Plan B.  The objective of this activity is to identify the risks (scope, deliverables, cost implications and timeline) involved and quantify in order to develop the contingency plan accordingly. Basically, this activity is all about thinking in advance using “What If” condition.  This would be the last step involving preparatory work.  It is the time to walk the talk.

The fifth and the penultimate step would deal with developing a solution or managing a solution.  As explained earlier, the supply chain project objectives could vary based on project scope.  Some projects objective is to implement set of identified solutions and some could be to improve overall supply chain efficiencies.  The role of the project manager is to manage the identified solutions in some projects and develop solutions with the help of project team to improve the efficiency of identified activity.  Managing a solution implementation could be a straight forward activity.  Where as developing a solution to improve performance efficiency is quite challenging.  At this stage, the project manager should have end to end supply chain knowledge and thought leadership.

The sixth step which deals with the implementation of the solution is the second part of “walk the talk” activity and developing the solution would be the first part. “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” Henry Ford. It is the time to work together with all involved to implement the solution successfully.  Team work is the essence to the success of the project.  A typical team could include internal team members, cross functional team members and external team members.  The project manager has to manage every one in the team with dignity to make sure that the project objectives are not compromised.  Big or small, every team member is important and has a role to play and that is the very reason that person is part of the team.  Hence, the project manager should make sure that s/he handles every one efficiently.

Project Control and Reengineering – Phase 3:

This phase is about measuring the efficiency of improvements implemented.  This is the evaluation process to asses the success of the project against the baseline data captured at the execution phase and deliverables.  If everything goes well as per the plan, this could be the project closure step.  The purpose of this activity is to hand over the documentation; improved process flows; deliverables; and results in the dry runs to the key stakeholders and seek permission to close the project.  The success of the project is determined by collecting answers to some critical questions such as:

  1. Did the project achieve the targeted deliverables?
  2. Did the customer/key stake holder agree the proposed changes?
  3. Did the project meet the guidelines such as time and cost?
  4. Did the project outcome meet the overall quality standards?

The project is not considered as completed unless the answers to the above questions are ascertained and they are satisfactory and at the same time the stakeholders agree to close the project.

However, business environment is so volatile, some times every thing may not go according to the plan or key stakeholders may not be happy with the outcome of the project.  There is a need to go into a reengineering process.  Reengineering is fundamental rethinking in order to achieve desired improvements in performance.  Some call it as “going back to drawing board” and this means start all over again and continues from the fifth step of the phase two until desired results are achieved and stake holders are happy about the outcome.

“Project management is the discipline of planning, organizing, and managing resources to bring about the successful completion of specific project goals and objectives.” In my opinion, project management is as good as managing a business or an organization.  The project management involves planning, coordination, execution and evaluation.  These are the basic activities undertaken in any organization.  It is very important to develop meaningful and achievable project deliverables.  Attempting an unachievable result is waste of money, time and effort.  The project scoping should be undertaken very carefully and the project size should be kept at manageable level.  If the scope happens to be big, it would be recommended to break the project into small projects and integrate the same at the end in order to avoid project intimidation.  Ultimately, all’s well that ends well.

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