Lockdown Loosening, Backlog Growing

Good news but there are Risks, by Catherine Cross

Supply Chain Jeopardy!

As lockdown nears the end of its second month, pressure is building for it to be released, but this will produce pressures of its own: increased backlogs in customer applications, requests for service and processes and many more, some visible and some not yet apparent.

The fragmented nature of service delivery means that the speed and cost of clearing backlogs is often not within your control. Supply chains will not be the same, particularly if they include small businesses or goods from overseas. They will themselves become stressed as lockdown restrictions are eased globally, creating demand far outstripping supply.

Politicians tout the ‘new normal’, implying that no-one expects service delivery to be what it once was. As a nation we have developed a sort of Gallic shrug during lockdown. My feeling. however, is that human nature being what it is, expectations will rise quickly as restrictions are lifted.

Recovery Plan Resolution

My personal experience in managing the development and delivery of recovery plans tells me that there will be multiple requests for progress updates as customers, boards and stakeholders seek assurance that plans are in place and being effectively managed. A plan gives them confidence that the predicted rate of recovery is on track; without one, you will end up managing noise rather than the backlog.

I can’t emphasise enough the value of a plan and a forecast of performance in these situations. Just because you don’t know all the answers or have all the data doesn’t mean that you can’t develop a plan based on what you do know, e.g. knowledge of your teams, of the supply chains and some common-sense assumptions. Do this and do it now. You can refine the plan as you go and more information comes to light. That’s something that we can help with – Repairs Backlog Management, if you think you need some insights or support.

Near the top Tips

Here are some other insights that I’d like to share

  • Create and make visible a concise set of reports that show daily, or weekly, performance against forecast. This should help you keep the noise down. A graph that tracks performance also helps. Think of all Covid-19 graphs we are keeping an eye on – a downward trend gives us a sense of comfort
  • Co-develop the plan with the front line and the supply chain. The plan needs to be workable so ask the people who are going to deliver it. You need to remember that increasing the output at one point in the process can inadvertently create a bottleneck and additional cost elsewhere
  • Not everyone’s priority will be the same as yours. You’ll need a structured process to allow you to understand the impacts on people, process and technology, across the supply chain, who may have different commercial drivers and your own organisation, who may be managing a different set up pressures
  • Don’t assume that IT will fix all problems – they have a supply chain too.
  • Your plan should clearly spell out roles, responsibilities and accountabilities. Ambiguity creates more work. Often senior leadership fire off multiple requests for actions and information and this needs to be managed
  • Have frequent and regular performance meetings with the right information in them. You may need to develop new measures. You need to know what is working and not
  • Lastly, link all of the above to resource. Clearing backlogs takes additional effort. Resources are finite. Avoid setting a performance forecast that is not underpinned by a robust and approved resource plan

In Summary

Getting a plan and forecast in place is not as easy as it sounds. It takes time effort from a wide group of people within your organisation who in turn need time and space to think things through. You’ll need technical help to develop models and performance measures.

From experience this is effort that is well spent. Time spent developing the plan and forecast pays back in dividends and helps keep everyone calm and sane. I’d be more than happy to share what we know.

For more information

If you’d like to speak to Catherine about some of her experiences on Backlog Management, Scenario Planning, Supply Chain Management or just plain anything, send us a note and she’ll get right back to you.