Juan Jose Salas
Managing Partner
Netlogistik

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Nine Tips for a Successful Digital Supply Chain Project

By Juan José Salas | Wed, 05/18/2022 - 09:00

For 20 years, I have been involved in the implementation of technology for supply chains and with the help of my great colleagues, we have documented a list of nine good practices that any company should follow to ensure success when implementing such a project.

  1. Take ownership of the project and use your provider as support and guide

We analyzed the most successful projects for the last 20-plus years and found that all those projects have one characteristic in common: the customer takes ownership of the implementation and relies on the provider as a support and guide. During my career, I have heard multiple times that providers should be responsible for the project’s success because they are the “experts.” Unfortunately, this is not the case. You must make sure your team feels responsible and takes ownership of the project. Do not leave your future in the hands of others because you won’t find anyone more interested in succeeding than your own team and company. This does not mean the provider has no responsibility; make sure they contribute to all required aspects because they are the experts on technology and methodology.

  1. Assign a dedicated team to the project, including a “respected” manager

Your technology provider should help design the team you will need to assign to the project. They should have experience implementing technology for customers like your company. Don’t succumb to the temptation of asking your team to continue doing their regular work in addition to the new activities for the project. Depending on the project and the recommendations, people should be partially or fully assigned and you must make sure they are partially or fully released of their actual responsibilities. Also, make sure the project manager or project leader on your side has the required credibility and authority within your organization.

  1. Involve the operational team during the design of the new processes

A common mistake in implementation is to make the IT team responsible for the design and the construction of the final solution and involve the final users (or operational team) in the final activities of the project. If so, in the best case, the operational team will accept and adopt the new technology and processes without any resistance but what is more likely to happen is that there will be a great deal of resistance. Make sure that the operational team is involved from the beginning, when the design is defined. Depending on the complexity and relevance of the project, a change management expert could be involved.

  1. Properly document the solution design

Often, documentation is underestimated and seen as a waste of time; the team becomes impatient and wants to move onto the construction phase. In our experience, it is important to assign enough time to document the design, including, at least, flow diagrams of new processes, interface mapping, business rules and exceptions, and a list of use cases. Getting all involved parties to sign off on a solution design could take a third of the project’s duration. Make sure you assign enough time to this activity and do not move to the construction phase until all parties agree with the new operating model.

  1. Assign enough time for user acceptance testing (UAT)

The UAT is usually the final test before the new technology and processes are released. I’ve seen  cases where the implementation teams believe the technology is ready and they are willing to put it into production without enough final testing. Make sure you have a strong use-case matrix. Customers are often amazed when we tell them they need hundreds of use cases documented but, in the end, they understand that more testing equals less risk. The use cases will vary depending on the project and its complexity, and depending on how mission-critical the technology is.

  1. Provide enough time and focus on the training of final users

In the end, the new technology will be used by the final users. Frequently, projects accumulate delays and it is a big temptation to reduce the time for training to recover some of that lost time. At this point, you are very close to releasing the new technology, you have designed, documented, and tested successfully. Do not increase the risk of failure by reducing the time for training. The technology will have lots of features to avoid human errors but if final users are not well trained, the technology will fail. Your provider must help you design a good training plan.

  1. Make sure you have a monthly steering committee

Usually, there are issues that can’t be solved by your teams or the provider. You need a steering committee meeting to make sure there is someone to escalate and solve the problem. Make sure you include at least the following topics: percent of progress versus planned (are we in a green, yellow or red status?); description of progress in the last month; main open issues and those that require escalation; description of the activities for the next month; and next milestone to be completed. It is a common mistake for teams to cancel or delay this meeting. Usually, this indicates there are problems and you should not allow this. Make sure the meeting continues.

  1. Start with the integration’s design and construction as soon as possible

One of the main reasons for delays is the integration of the new technology into your actual systems. Most technology providers will sell a “seamless integration” but that is too optimistic. For a successful integration, there is work to be done. Integration could take several weeks (even months, depending on complexity), including the design, definition of use cases, and configuration or development and testing. Also, the integration design will suffer adjustments during the project, and depending on the technology, if integration fails, the whole project could fail, or the impact could be very high (like losing sales). Make sure you start discussions as early in the project as possible.

  1. Follow the methodology and never start a deliverable before finishing the previous one

Make sure your provider has a proven methodology or use your own (some companies already have one). Also, make sure there are enough deliverables or milestones defined. Unless there is an important exception approved by the steering committee, never allow your team to start a new milestone before finishing the previous one. In my experience, when an activity is delayed, the team is greatly tempted to adjust the plan and start working in parallel on multiple activities. Sometimes this is a mistake. In the end, it snowballs and the project will start accumulating delays. The best approach, in our experience, is to turn the status of the project to red and focus on finishing the delayed milestone, assigning enough resources and creating more steering committees to report progress, for example.

Implementation of new technology is not only about software or hardware; you also need to consider the people and the processes. Remember that technology is required to increase profitability, improve efficiencies, get more visibility, and reduce costs but, first, you need to implement it. By following these steps, you will increase your probability of success.

Photo by:   Juan Jose Salas