What Makes a Good Demand Planner? Sugar and Spice?

By  December 6, 2013 Demand-planning.com

Over the years, I have been asked this question many times and there are multiple thoughts on the matter. However, as a practitioner, I have a realistic, hands-on, down in the dirt, approach to the answer.  Having worked in three different manufacturing industries, I have seen several different ways the demand planner is hired and developed: 1) Outside hire with experience, 2) Internal promotion, 3) Graduate Intern, and 4) a Warm Body. Hiring managers tend to get caught up in the hiring process but the avenue of hire is not as important as the specific skills and attributes that enable a person to become a successful demand planner.

Do you need an experienced employee? The first question to ask yourself is, do you have time to develop an internal candidate? It is my experience that it takes a minimum of one year to develop a demand planner. The first and most important qualification is the ability to analyze the situation, make knowledgeable decisions and influence others by getting their buy-in.  In today’s world of customer collaboration, soft skills are just as important as the mathematics and statistical background of a demand planner.The ability to lead by collective collaboration is a must.  In consensus forecasting, this individual should pave the way through the many silos within the organization.

How important are analytical skills? Of course, a good mathematic background is essential; but the ability to make the numbers tangible for others is a key ingredient. The demand planner must be able to analyze the data and use the data to communicate effectively.  All too often I see demand planners who can’t get their head out of the numbers long enough to build the bridge. When conflicts arise and the pressure for a decision is necessary they get caught in analysis paralysis. Effective communication skills and the confidence to deliver the message are critical.  This individual must be able to see the small details and the big picture and know which is needed and when.

Good computer skills are the glue that will hold it all together.  Even though we say that our systems are totally integrated, we know that most of us have a little more digging in the details to do. Advanced Excel skills such as Vlookups, Pivot Tables, and Macros are necessary to link all the data together. A demand planner must be able to understand the hierarchy process of the industry and connect the necessary data. Presentations and communication will flow much better if the demand planner has the skills to develop and analyze the data which will be used to tell the story to multiple levels of management and customers.

Supply Chain knowledge is the foundation for the demand planner.  A degree in Business, Engineering, Logistics or 5 years of demand planning experience tends to provide a high-quality start.  Moreover, I have found that most people think they understand basic supply chain theory; however, that could not be further from the truth. Most have only been exposed to a small segment of supply chain knowledge that can lead to poor planning and decision making.  The most fundamental part of building the knowledge necessary is to require the demand planner to have or obtain advanced training in the discipline of forecasting and supply chain. A professional certification is a huge benefit when linked to continuing education courses (CECs). Without this foundation, many will continue to operate within the silos which blind the supply chain view of the entire organization.

In closing, I have been in the forecasting field for close to 20 years and these are my observations, in an effort to learn more…please provide your feedback. What Makes A Good Demand Planner? Maybe you think it is snails and puppy dog tails?

Sylvia Starnes Market Planning Continental Tire