Lessons learned: Project and vendor management

Here are some key lessons learned from those who have conducted live supply chain pilot tests. This article focuses on lessons learned about project and vendor management.

Project management
1. Start simply with goals and metrics. When conducting pilots, there is a strong temptation to test as many goals and collect as many metrics as possible. In actual practice, some serialization teams have found that defining too many goals and metrics up front simply overwhelmed the team with data before they had a good grasp on what goals were really viable. Beware of defining too many goals and metrics at the beginning because it’s likely you won’t know enough at that point to understand what goals are achievable, or what metrics are valuable.

2. Getting adequate testing time on production lines can be a major challenge. Especially for high-revenue products and highly utilized production lines, it can be very difficult to get time on the line to make improvements. Scheduling requirements, revenue targets, and production needs will always work at cross purposes with pilot testing. Buy-in from top management regarding the importance of pilot testing is key to keeping the project moving forward. Prepilot prototyping can help smoke out issues before the pilot and maximize the time on the actual packaging line.

3. Frequent meetings are necessary. The plant-level project team should plan to meet about every other day two weeks prior to and during the implementation and go-live phases. Such feedback helps to solidify plans and identify many minor issues for corrective action.

4. Consider producing more serialized product than you need for your current pilot. That allows you to respond to trading partners that request serialized product for their pilots without having to touch your production line.

5. Don’t rely on a sandbox as your only pilot. Sandbox environments can never duplicate the real flow of products and data, and hence will not give you good visibility into the actual problems you’re likely to encounter once your volumes scale.

6. Don’t pilot-test with just one trading partner.  The more trading partners you test with, the more you will stress-test your own system by careful scaling, and the more use cases you will encounter, to assure you’re building a robust serialization capability.

7. Give your wholesaler/distributor a heads-up when the first serialized pilot shipment is released. This ensures that the wholesaler/distributor’s staff is ready to watch for and oversee the first few shipments, where processing exceptions could be likely.

Dealing with vendors
1. Vendor evaluation is important.  How does their technology contribute to accurate aggregation? Does the price go up depending on how accurate a level you require? If they do not bring aggregation up themselves, it may signal a lack of experience. Confirm the vendor’s knowledge of the industry. Identify weaknesses such as ability to scale, staffing, global support, familiarity with standards, etc. 

2. Beware of multi-vendor software collaborations. Having two vendors collaborate on software requirements, design, and implementation on your behalf may not work out for the best. It can be preferable for one vendor to own the total solution. Consider leveraging vendor-independent subject-matter experts to ensure that the requirements are tailored to your business and not the limitations of the vendor solution.

3. Consider speed and quality when selecting individual system components.

4. Dedicate a project management resource to each external vendor. This helps properly manage delivery.

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