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A Salute to Demand and Supply Planners Everywhere

Business Leadership  

At the risk of preaching to the choir, I want to share with you an important insight that I didn’t fully appreciate until only recently: demand and supply planners deserve more respect. Plain and simple.

I thought I had a good idea of what these individuals had to tackle day to day. But that was before I attended an Oliver White Demand Management training not long ago. During the two-day course, I learned a great deal about the nuances of demand management. Along the way, however, I gained a whole new understanding for the often-unheralded professionals that handle the extraordinarily difficult duties the discipline requires. In fact, I came away with the awareness that the function they provide should be viewed not merely as a facilitator of efficiency, as it generally is, but primarily as a strategic contributor to and enabler of business growth. Here’s why I believe this to be true: Planners are fundamental to profitability. The job that supply chain planning pros perform can make a huge difference in how well a company works.

It’s not a stretch to say that a good planner is worth their weight in gold. Just consider what can go wrong with poor planning. Inventory over or under stocks, missed contract deadlines, or dissatisfied customers. Failed product launches. Staff frustration, especially among sales. Wasted dollars that ripple across operations and production. The list goes on and on. To see the impact a top-notch planner can have on a business, imagine the reverse of all those consequences. Then multiply a hundred fold.

Uncommon traits. What impressed me the most from the course was discovering what it takes to be a successful supply chain planner. The person who fills these shoes truly is an uncommon individual. Here’s an abbreviated list of traits they need to possess:

  • Broad comprehension and resilience. I find it fascinating that this individual is expected to understand the entire business flow, from sales to procurement to engineering to service. They must digest a massive amount of input from a multitude of stakeholders. It’s not for the faint of heart. This is real high-wire stuff, with a lot riding on the outcomes. And it’s not a one-time or once-a-year undertaking. It’s ongoing—at least monthly.
  • Emotional intelligence. These individuals must have people skills in spades. They must gracefully handle the many different personalities, egos, company politics, and reluctance to share that come with the job—while making sure that all parties are heard and understood.
  • Data ninja. This person must be able to capture all relevant data from past and current trends and forecasts, from sales, from all the different departments across the business. They must also be able to present that data visually, through charts and graphs, so that stakeholders can see and understand the impact their activities and assumptions will have on the success of the business.
  • Change agent and consensus builder. Supply chain planners exist in a constant state of ambiguity. They’re continuously facing change, yet they are expected to consistently lead to data-driven supply chain decisions and enable timely actions regardless of the challenge or opportunity in the path. Keep in mind, planners don’t own the data. But it’s their responsibility to flag any issues that arise from the data they receive from everyone else. They must proactively point out data gaps and conflicting assumptions across different departments. And at the end of the day, they are seeking a consensus on the plan—across the enterprise.


A rare breed indeed. It’s important that supply chain planners get full support from an executive sponsor so they can shine like the rare diamonds they are. Take a look at that list again. It’s exceptional for most people to have even a handful of these traits. But supply chain planners have all of them. That’s pretty awesome. Something to think about the next time you sit across from one of them in a meeting or pass them in the hall.


Author: Hemant Makhija, Sr. Director Product Marketing  

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