Putting a smooth gloss finish on S&OP education

With the glorious weather this summer, a few of our neighbours and I took the opportunity to spruce up our houses. Nothing rekindles that sense of newness better and faster than a good lick of paint.  Believe it or not, this observation got me thinking about S&OP education and training efforts. I know, I know, I should get out more… but please hear me out!

Painting skills

First of all, in S&OP as with painting, the tools of the trade are essential but they alone can’t do the job. When it comes to the details that really matter, it’s the people with their skills, judgement and experience that deliver that high-quality finish.

Next, it’s crucial to select the right paint for a surface. If you use flat wall paint on your front door, it might look okay for a week, but then it’s going to start to peel, crack and look terrible. Likewise, if you use one S&OP educational approach and style for all your people, it will only stick with one audience. One-size-fits-all S&OP courses are about as stimulating as watching paint dry!

Apply several coats

Most people know that to do a paint job properly, you need to apply several coats.  The first coat of paint creates a patchy impression, with the old colour still showing through.  The bigger the contrast between the old and new shade, the more coats of paint will be needed. You also need to take care in between coats to clean your brushes, so they don’t get contaminated with old residue.

Similarly, with S&OP, people cannot expect to gain a thorough understanding after just one session.  The knowledge will be patchy at first and the old ways of working will still show through.  It is better to clean out some of the old assumptions and let the first layer of education sink into people’s minds before applying the next ‘coat’.  This will make for a more durable finish because individuals will have had time to reflect on what S&OP means to them, and the changes involved. Depending on your company’s culture, it may be appropriate to introduce changes gradually in order to gain wider acceptance.

Changing colours

If you’re feeling uneasy because running an S&OP process is vastly different from the way you have been working to-date, consider that you are effectively changing the colour of the walls from orange to green.  It will take time and you will have to re-learn and re-apply your knowledge over and over until it becomes second nature.  This is the only way to build up sufficient layers of knowledge to eliminate traces of the old ways.

And finally, changes to S&OP do not stop just because you have ‘painted the wall’ once.  Business and market conditions change, companies merge and get acquired and other unexpected events happen. All this means that someday you will need to redecorate, probably in a different colour!

Alain Vix, Account Director and Co-Founder, Hughenden Consulting