Why Trust Is Critical in Demand Planning
Jay Matthews, a former demand planner at AB InBev, explores how soft skills such as building trust, effective communication, and empathy are critical for a successful demand planning process.
Develop Strong Relationships with Key Stakeholders
Jay Matthews, a former demand planner for AB InBev in West Africa, emphasizes the importance of building strong relationships with key stakeholders. This includes colleagues in supply, marketing, and logistics, as well as analytics teams and data teams. Trust is a critical component of these relationships, particularly when it comes to trusting the data that is being used for demand forecasting.
"Trust comes up a lot, and primarily being able to trust the data. And really understanding that with demand planning, you not only need to trust that the right data has come to you, but you need to trust that the people who are inputting the data at the warehouses are inputting it in a way that makes sense."
Former Demand Planner -
Building strong relationships with stakeholders requires effective communication and collaboration. It also involves understanding the needs and priorities of different departments and finding ways to align them with the overall objectives of the organization.
Embrace Automation and Big Data
Automation and big data are transforming the consumer goods industry, and demand planners need to keep pace with these changes. According to Matthews, the question that demand planners should be asking themselves is: "What can I do to improve now, that's not going to compromise my ability to grow into the future?"
Automation can help demand planners to streamline processes, reduce errors, and save time. Matthews recommends introducing small automations one step at a time, and making things easy to find. Examples of automations include data cleaning scripts, standardized data formats, and automated emails for data updates.
Big data also plays a crucial role in demand planning. Matthews highlights the importance of understanding how to model data and how to use data to forecast demand. This requires a combination of technical skills and strategic thinking. It also involves keeping up to date with the latest developments in data analytics and machine learning.
Prioritize People Skills
Demand planning is not just about technical skills and data analysis. It also requires strong people skills. Matthews emphasizes the importance of building relationships with colleagues and stakeholders, as well as understanding their needs and priorities. This involves effective communication, empathy, and the ability to listen and respond to feedback.
"I think the real spirit of logistics is: What do I know? What can I make do with it? And how do I make this work?"
Other people skills that are important for demand planners include leadership, teamwork, and the ability to negotiate and collaborate with different departments.
Take a Long-Term Approach
Demand planning is a marathon, not a sprint. Matthews notes that demand planners need to take a long-term approach and focus on making incremental improvements over time. This involves being patient, persistent, and willing to learn from mistakes.
"I think one of the major differences to me, between moving from a project space to moving to the demand planning space is in the project space, you have these quick turnaround cycles. And so you're constantly producing things, and it's very high intensity, and then you have a little bit of a low period. Whereas I found that the stamina for demand planning is a little bit more like a marathon."
Demand planners need to be able to balance short-term demands with long-term priorities. This involves understanding the drivers and factors that shape demand, as well as the broader trends and developments in the industry.
1.Building strong relationships with key stakeholders is critical for successful demand planning.
2.Trust is a critical component of these relationships, particularly when it comes to trusting the data that is being used for demand forecasting.
3.Embracing automation and big data can help demand planners to streamline processes, reduce errors, and save time.
4.Prioritizing people skills, including effective communication, empathy, and the ability to listen and respond to feedback, is essential for demand planners.
5.Demand planning requires a long-term approach and a focus on making incremental improvements over time.
6.Demand planners need to balance short-term demands with long-term priorities and understand the drivers and factors that shape demand.
Hi, Jay. It's great to be speaking with you and thank you so much for giving me your time for this Aim10x Knowledge interview. I'd like to just start by asking you to introduce yourself and what you do. Cool.
Thanks for having me. So I'm
Jay, and currently I'm a researcher, slash, working a little bit in data. But the way that I came to the Aim10x community is I got into Demand Planning after doing a bit of a detour through some edtech and projects and continuous improvement. I kind of fell into it from getting involved a lot more with building systems, needing to understand the data and then working on some logistics projects and then landed it into Demand Planning at ABI or AB InBev (Anheuser-Busch inBev).
And, they're the big, big player in the beer industry globally. And I specifically worked in Africa. Okay. Amazing.
I'd love to talk a little bit more about your experience as a demand planner at ABI and given that
you have such a diverse background, I'm very curious about the kind of skills that you needed to do your job as a demand planner in that setting. What was that like? What was that experience like? I think the way to describe it is maybe landing into it was overwhelming in the best kind of way.
So very much in the deep end. And I think that when I was there in that particular role, the Demand Planning role covered everything from S&OP to statistical forecasts for the next few years to all of the presentations and prepping the decks and then, I guess, I would add an extra thing of like maintaining relationships between people as well. And so that was all handled by one person for an entire business region. So I think there's all of these things at once happening.
And so the easiest way for me to do it was I kind of split my week into five different days. So one skill is more like, what are the long term needs and what do I need to be building? And that for me was a lot more of how do I build a dashboard so that I don't have to spend days prepping decks and how do I build the data infrastructure and the transport systems to get that going, which was it's own project, and then also the relational skills as well. So checking in with key people in supply and marketing in some of the data teams as well, like very importantly with commercial and logistics.
I think having all those things and also having time to prep sort of the weekly forecasts and check up on what has been happening over the past couple of weeks and months to be able to respond to that. So I think there's all of these individual skills and then also being able to switch between them and prioritize what you need to focus on right now, because I think everything is important to have done yesterday in logistics. So, yeah, I think the prioritization, the people skills, the numerical skills to keep asking, is this the right metric that we should be measuring this on? Where does the data come from?
How do we do that? And then also the big communications piece as well. And so did you learn a lot of this on the job? Did you upskill yourself?
How did you navigate having to manage so many different skills? I mean, I think I'm still aspiring to a lot of those skills to have them as much as I can. But I think for the real spirit of logistics is what do I know, what can I make do with and how do I make this work? But yeah, I had already started doing a lot of data courses and building some basic infrastructure and automations before I even got into the role.
And I started working with some of the analytics teams within an ABI, so I think that really helped so that I wasn't walking up to the job and going, Oh, I don't know how Excel works.
So I was able to, I guess, build those skills and figure out where to upskill. And I think sometimes you don't have to know the skills so much as know where to find that skill. So, a lot of the analytics stuff was more programming like on Python or similar, which wasn't compatible with the systems that we were using.
So there it was like, okay, because Excel is the language of these logistical teams, I'm going need to learn how to use Power Query so that I can automate a lot of that in a way that is compatible with the current infrastructure or learn how to read SQL that they're using for their scripts. So I think a lot of it was like building on skills that I already had, which is helpful. Although the whole terminology for logistics and a lot of the calculations and stuff was new. But I think I had a couple of textbooks, I had some great colleagues and I had the Aim10x community to bother with questions.
Well, that's great to hear. I definitely want to get back to this question later in terms of what does a Demand Planner need to thrive in their role, but we'll get to that. You mentioned previously
that you were one Demand Planner for this one region and that's West Africa, and that seems like quite a big region. So I'm curious for our users since we're a global community, what was that like?
Could you give us some insights into working in that context? Hmm. Yeah, I think well, it was very exciting. Economically, there's a lot of tech jobs that are actually being sourced to West Africa.
I follow a couple like LinkedIn pages and meme pages for logistics, and it feels like the general sentiment is it's stressful and there's never enough resources and there's no telling what could go wrong tomorrow. So there's this definite time pressure. But even within there, I found that my colleagues were really eager to learn and very responsive to new technology, which is always where you want to be in the field and especially somewhere like in logistics and supply chain, where we have all of this new technology that's been coming in. So I think That was one aspect that I really enjoyed about working with West Africa.
The other thing is that it was very variable because power (electricity) was not always consistent. You maybe have some political unrest. I mean, over the last couple of years there have been a couple lock-ins or stay-at-homes within that region as well. And so being able to navigate that and know that you can make the most perfect plan, but you can't control a lot of these external circumstances that are happening.
And then also trying to navigate, which I think is true for any kind of cross country work, is that there's maybe different legal situations or the legal requirements might be different when you're talking about projects and how things work. So I think the that's where the people skill and the empathy comes in a lot as well because sometimes the way of responding is not maybe what you're used to. So I think for me just being aware of how do I listen to what people are saying, the words that they're using, then how do I listen to what's sitting underneath that as well and just trying to pick up as much as I'm able to, because I was working from Johannesburg to West Africa.
So I wasn't even in the same place as my colleagues. But how to respond well to what their needs are. When I have a meeting, how do I make sure that there's enough space to check in and to hear what their needs are? I think there will always be some sort of cultural differences as well.
So then understanding that just because someone responds differently to how my boss would respond doesn't mean they feel differently. So I don't know if that makes sense. No, it does. It does a lot, especially since you are working remotely.
So I can imagine having to read between the lines was something that you really had to navigate. And given the way that the world is now, there must be so many planners who are working remotely and you know, how do you navigate that or build that trust with your suppliers, with your colleagues to get things done? So that was actually my next question. If you have any, what would be your advice or how can planners in a remote setting make sure that they're on top of things, especially in the interpersonal realm?
You mentioned trust, and I think that is really what you want to be able to
build. So for me, what I really wanted to do and tried to do was make sure, first of all, that we trust each other's intentions because everyone has their own KPIs to look after. And if a business is run well, then everyone's KPIs get met at the same time. But part of that is also, I think, sometimes a necessary tension.
It's important and it's really good when there's maybe a little bit of conflict between sales wants to sell all of these things and logistics goes, but we need to balance what we can produce, when and how. And then together we collaborate and negotiate and throw in some demand data hopefully to say, okay, this is the best plan for everyone and then everyone's needs gets met. So I feel like when the S&OP process is working properly, that's the magic that can happen. So making sure that we are trusting each other's intentions and giving colleagues the benefit of the doubt of going, I'm interested in you being able to do your job well and I want to know how I can enable that.
And so how do I constantly be thinking about that in my work and how do I try and communicate that as much as possible, which I don't know if I did perfectly, I definitely didn't do perfectly. And then just so do trying to build that trust of I'm trying to make your life easier and in the process make my life easier as well. I think the other thing, that's interesting in supply chain, is quite sensitive data that you're working with in a world of like data democratization as well. And so, fortunately with a company like ABI, you've got such a big rich digital technological infrastructure that you have access to, I think part of what I tried to do is, is where possible, make things easy to find.
So instead of making colleagues ask me for something and then I send it to them, to have it easily available so that they can have the data whenever they need it. I think the tension there to navigate as well is that there's a way of relationship building where you ask for something and I can meet that need that that maybe then gets lost out on if I just expect you to go find it. I don't know exactly what that is, but especially because contact is so rare, because people don't have time to sit and talk to you about things, to try and make it as easy as possible for them to get what they need as soon as possible, which is where I think the data infrastructure helps.
I also adjusted my working hours to fit more within their time zones as well. Time is so rare a lot of the times. It's the eternal question to keep asking, but I hope that kind of answers it. Yes, it does.
I also wanted to bring up because you've mentioned this before,
Automation, A.I. and Big Data. So does that also play a role in this and how you were able to navigate your remote job with teams across the region? Yeah. Yeah.
And I think the question that I felt like I had to keep asking myself is what can I do to improve wow, that's not going to compromise my ability to grow into the future. And so for me, that was thinking about we want to get to this point where everything is super automated. I wasn't there when o9 was rolled in, but it was going to happen within the year. And so going, okay, if that's the benchmark of how we need to be thinking and operating with data, what are the intermediate steps that I can start to do and even just try.
People don't always like new things, and especially if you've got a lot to manage, you don't want something new happening. But if I can just keep introducing small little new things one step at a time, then hopefully by the time this big new thing comes in, it feels less overwhelming. Hopefully, that's the theory. So where possible, adding in small automations for the data.
So things like standardizing data was a big part of that to minimize error and minimize mistakes, which is I think, so important within the supply chain and data and so on. So having scripts for data cleaning rather than doing copying and pasting and then making, for instance, the dashboards and having exports that could be sent out. And I think it's something as simple as it's really difficult to get used to data formats. If I think about the kinds of formats that you would need for something like an o9, it has to be almost like a database format.
So you've got your fields and your columns and then you row entries. And maybe for some of the short term communications, people are used to using pivot tables. And then you have the data that is transposed, so you have this crosstab data. And so even just slowly starting to get used to visually what that looks like and being able to read that, I think, is like one of those stepping stones.
And then as much as possible, trying to introduce those kinds of automations where it's automatically sending people emails to say, "Hello, this thing's been posted," or "Hello, can you please update this thing?" Or it's automatically doing those cleaning processes and publishing it to a SharePoint site that is access controlled for the right people? Very interesting. And I think that leads well into the next question, which is about
the environment that a Demand Planning needs to thrive in their job because as we all know, they're the ones kind of doing the dirty work and it can be very, very stressful.
So I'm curious, based on your experience, what are some of the things that a Demand Planner should really have access to to just make that a more fulfilling role for them? Well, I think that the idea of trust comes up a lot. And primarily being able to trust the data and really understanding that within Demand Planning, where I was at, is that you not only need to trust that the right data has come to you, but you need to trust that the people who are inputting the data at the warehouses are inputting it in a way that makes sense. And oftentimes it is fine.
But I think that's where to build trust with commercial or with other logistics or with supply, they have to be able to trust what you're putting out. And so there's trust of the data that you're curating in that process, trust in how you're modeling and what that looks like, and then trusting that it's being outputed in a way that they can interact with. I think too, at least for me, in order for me to get to that point of trust, I needed to build a lot of connections with different people. So I think at least where I was, there was space for me to do that, to go ask questions of the MarTech or big data teams within the organization so that we could work a little bit more collaboratively.
So I think that a lot of strong networks and relationships with people in the organization, in various departments, the trust that's built there, and that you establish credibility through the way that you're processing your data. And then I think with the stress that you're talking about, what was interesting about the job is that you're looking at this granular two week/ four week level, which is a lot more intensive. And I think that's a different kind of skill than when you're looking at three year periods. You know, we don't do old school forecasting where I just have a rolling average of three months and I just need a couple of numbers to do that.
We're looking at what are some of the drivers and factors that feature into shaping what this forecast should be or even the nature of what is forecasting, and how do I know that what I'm saying is worth saying. And that sounds very philosophical, which is where I think the Aim10x community was really nice because I felt a little bit like, well, this is an impossible question to solve. So just being able to hear how other people are doing and how they're thinking about it was very reassuring. And then also just giving space to have that uncertainty and to know that the fact that I'm saying, well, I'm not sure, is something that as long as I keep saying that, I'm going to do my job well because I'm going to keep asking and keep looking for answers.
So having space to do that research or having space to connect with people, which is something that not everyone has, right? I don't have to work 12 hours a day, I can go, I can rest, I can speak to other professionals in other industries and I can really think about what they're saying. Or, I can go read a book that is going to really help me with my job. I think that was really important for me as well.
And just having that space to think about what is the future and then to try and implement that. You mentioned Aim10x and the community, and I know that you've been quite an active member of the community, so I was just wondering if you could share your thoughts and you know, what the community and the network has been able to provide to you as a Demand Planner, when you were Demand Planner. What's interesting for me
is that in the last however long, a lot of what I've been looking at and learning about is what makes work good for people. And one of the cool things around social change or making work fulfilling is that idea of communities of practice.
And so we had internal communities of practice that were always great. It was really great to be able to chat with colleagues. But there's also something about that that's very centered on the organization. I think in health care or medicine, you're required to do these check-ins with people who are working in other companies in order to keep your license to keep practicing.
And so I think just being able to benchmark understanding within the field I think was really exciting for me. I think Aim10x gave me a really a direct line into that, into what people who are spending full time developing the system so they're at a higher level of abstraction, how they're thinking about the future, how they're thinking about demand sensing, for instance. And so being able to learn all of these new terms to see what's coming into the future and then to be able to prepare for that. It creates a great amount of curiosity about what's happening, which I think curiosity then lays the groundwork for actually being able to enjoy what you're doing, because I know why I'm doing this as well.
And then also just being able to ask ask questions from people, and I think it's the same as like if you always stayed at home with your family, things could get a little bit annoying, and that's where you spend the most of your time. But being able to meet people outside and just hear those different perspectives and different points of view. I think it gives you something new to bring in and it expands your thinking in a way that might not happen if you just sort of stayed within the company. I think, I also I felt like with the shift coming with o9, I wanted to start thinking like the people who were building it in order to prepare my work for what would go into that.
And it was really fun. It was really fun. I still think about some of the concepts that were discussed in there. I think everyone was really, really great with letting me ask questions.
And sometimes you just need a story of someone else doing something because you're so involved in your own space that you just need a nice story of someone being like, I tried this, it worked, or I tried this and it didn't work. Thank you. I'm really happy to hear that Aim10x provided you with that. And I really like the idea of having a place to go to activate your curiosity, to get that relief of just a different space and also exposure to different ideas and benchmarking yourself with other practitioners and other companies.
So that's a really great way of describing Aim10x and your experience. So thank you very much.
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