Truth in Forecasting—Practical Advice at Year’s End

The Smart Forecaster

Pursuing best practices in demand planning,

forecasting and inventory optimization

At year’s end, we are often caught up in thinking and planning for the coming year. Did 2013 turn out the way you expected? Will 2014 be dramatically different? Are there other factors—things we are planning to do; things we think our competitors might do; outside forces like changing taste, demographics or economics—that might change the course of business in the coming year?

Most companies that do a formal forecast start out with a statistical projection of past sales patterns into the future. Your forecast model should detect and characterize any seasonality inherent in your markets and include that in the projection. But that’s just the first step.

The next thing to consider is product lifecycle. Nearly all products go through a predictable cycle of introduction, acceptance and growth, maturity (demand levels off) and finally decline to obsolescence. These cycles can be as short as weeks or as long as decades. Clothing fashions and consumer electronics would be on the shorter end of the scale, while products like plumbing fixtures and construction equipment would experience longer cycles. In specialized situations like bus fleet management, entire fleets may be replaced over defined transition periods. In any case, the demand forecast should be adjusted to reflect increasing or decreasing demand according to the product’s position in its lifecycle.

Now comes the hardest part—predicting the unpredictable. In general, the future is likely to look a lot like the recent past in a similarity to Newton’s first law of motion: a body in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by an external force. But it’s those external forces that can send your carefully calculated forecast right into the gutter. A competitor might slash their prices to take away some of your market share. New technologies might obsolete your product before the end of its expected life span. Changing tastes or new regulations might stop sales in their tracks.

But good things might happen as well. You might be the one to slash prices or improve your product and take away a competitor’s business. Your product may catch the fancy of the market and sales will skyrocket. A competitor may abandon the business or go bankrupt, leaving you with more opportunity.

Should you plan for these kinds of things? Certainly, to the extent that you can. You may know when you’ll run promotions or phase in the next product line. But the future, by nature, is uncertain. History and your business knowledge of the past lay the foundation for your view of the future. Statistically-based tools can help you create a risk-adjusted forecast, with safety stock recommendations that correspond with the level of risk you are willing to take. Beyond this, your key to success is agility—the ability to adapt to changing conditions. Prepare the best forecast you can, build your plans around that forecast—then monitor sales and market conditions closely and continuously. Look for early warning that things may be going in a direction other than you predicted.

You must be willing to recognize and adapt to changing conditions—in other words, don’t fall in love with your forecast and ignore evidence that it may be wrong. Pride of authorship in this case can be deadly to the business.

It is also important to have contingency plans in place so you will be prepared to make the necessary changes to procurement, production and inventory to respond to the new estimate of demand. The best tools for this are the shortest possible lead times (both production and supplier), good supplier relationships and a clear view of the world and your markets.

Forecasting is difficult mainly because people know it is likely to be wrong and nobody likes to be publicly and visibly wrong. Nevertheless, a good forecast is necessary to position the resources necessary to satisfy customer demands. Just be open to the first signs of change and be prepared to react quickly and decisively.

Dave Turbide, CFPIM, CIRM, CSCP, CMfgE is a New Hampshire-based independent consultant and freelance writer. He can be reached via e-mail at dave at daveturbide dot com.

Leave a Comment

Related Posts

Constructive Play with Digital Twins

Constructive Play with Digital Twins

Those of you who track hot topics will be familiar with the term “digital twin.” Those who have been too busy with work may want to read on and catch up. While there are several definitions of digital twin, here’s one that works well: A digital twin is a dynamic virtual copy of a physical asset, process, system, or environment that looks like and behaves identically to its real-world counterpart. A digital twin ingests data and replicates processes so you can predict possible performance outcomes and issues that the real-world product might undergo.

Direct to the Brain of the Boss – Inventory Analytics and Reporting

Direct to the Brain of the Boss – Inventory Analytics and Reporting

In this blog, the spotlight is cast on the software that creates reports for management, the silent hero that translates the beauty of furious calculations into actionable reports. Watch as the calculations, intricately guided by planners utilizing our software, seamlessly converge into Smart Operational Analytics (SOA) reports, dividing five key areas: inventory analysis, inventory performance, inventory trending, supplier performance, and demand anomalies.

How Are We Doing? KPI’s and KPP’s

How Are We Doing? KPI’s and KPP’s

Dealing with the day-to-day of inventory management can keep you busy. But you know you have to get your head up now and then to see where you’re heading. For that, your inventory software should show you metrics – and not just one, but a full set of metrics or KPI’s – Key Performance Indicators.

Recent Posts

  • The Objectives in ForecastingThe Objectives in Forecasting
    A forecast is a prediction about the value of a time series variable at some time in the future. For instance, one might want to estimate next month’s sales or demand for a product item. A time series is a sequence of numbers recorded at equally spaced time intervals; for example, unit sales recorded every month. The objectives you pursue when you forecast depend on the nature of your job and your business. Every forecast is uncertain; in fact, there is a range of possible values for any variable you forecast. Values near the middle of this range have a higher likelihood of actually occurring, while values at the extremes of the range are less likely to occur. […]
  • Smart Software Partnership with Sage for Inventory Optimization and Demand ForecastingSmart Software Announces Strategic Partnership with Sage for Inventory Optimization and Demand Forecasting
    Smart Software announces today their strategic partnership with Sage. This collaboration brings Smart IP&O (Inventory Planning and Optimization) into the latest cloud and on-premises versions of Sage X3, Sage 300, and Sage 100. […]
  • Head to Head Which Service Parts Inventory Policy is Best SoftwareHead to Head: Which Service Parts Inventory Policy is Best?
    Our customers have usually settled into one way to manage their service parts inventory. The professor in me would like to think that the chosen inventory policy was a reasoned choice among considered alternatives, but more likely it just sort of happened. Maybe the inventory honcho from long ago had a favorite and that choice stuck. Maybe somebody used an EAM or ERP system that offered only one choice. Perhaps there were some guesses made, based on the conditions at the time. […]
  • The Forecasting Process For Decision-MakersThe Forecasting Process for Decision-Makers
    In almost every business and industry, decision-makers need reliable forecasts of critical variables, such as sales, revenues, product demand, inventory levels, market share, expenses, and industry trends.Many kinds of people make these forecasts. Some are sophisticated technical analysts such as business economists and statisticians. Many others regard forecasting as an important part of their overall work: general managers, production planners, inventory control specialists, financial analysts, strategic planners, market researchers, and product and sales managers. Still, others seldom think of themselves as forecasters but often have to make forecasts on an intuitive, judgmental basis. […]
  • Success Story: Procon Pumps Uses Smart Demand Planner to Keep Business FlowingProcon Pumps Uses Smart Demand Planner to Keep Business Flowing
    Smart platform’s advanced analytics, and smooth integration with Procon’s ERP system led to accurate forecasts, and optimal inventory levels. […]

    Inventory Optimization for Manufacturers, Distributors, and MRO

    • Spare-parts-demand-forecasting-a-different-perspective-for-planning-service-partsThe Forecast Matters, but Maybe Not the Way You Think
      True or false: The forecast doesn't matter to spare parts inventory management. At first glance, this statement seems obviously false. After all, forecasts are crucial for planning stock levels, right? It depends on what you mean by a “forecast”. If you mean an old-school single-number forecast (“demand for item CX218b will be 3 units next week and 6 units the week after”), then no. If you broaden the meaning of forecast to include a probability distribution taking account of uncertainties in both demand and supply, then yes. […]
    • Whyt MRO Businesses Should Care about Excess InventoryWhy MRO Businesses Should Care About Excess Inventory
      Do MRO companies genuinely prioritize reducing excess spare parts inventory? From an organizational standpoint, our experience suggests not necessarily. Boardroom discussions typically revolve around expanding fleets, acquiring new customers, meeting service level agreements (SLAs), modernizing infrastructure, and maximizing uptime. In industries where assets supported by spare parts cost hundreds of millions or generate significant revenue (e.g., mining or oil & gas), the value of the inventory just doesn’t raise any eyebrows, and organizations tend to overlook massive amounts of excessive inventory. […]
    • Top Differences between Inventory Planning for Finished Goods and for MRO and Spare PartsTop Differences Between Inventory Planning for Finished Goods and for MRO and Spare Parts
      In today’s competitive business landscape, companies are constantly seeking ways to improve their operational efficiency and drive increased revenue. Optimizing service parts management is an often-overlooked aspect that can have a significant financial impact. Companies can improve overall efficiency and generate significant financial returns by effectively managing spare parts inventory. This article will explore the economic implications of optimized service parts management and how investing in Inventory Optimization and Demand Planning Software can provide a competitive advantage. […]
    • Centering Act Spare Parts Timing Pricing and ReliabilityCentering Act: Spare Parts Timing, Pricing, and Reliability
      In this article, we'll walk you through the process of crafting a spare parts inventory plan that prioritizes availability metrics such as service levels and fill rates while ensuring cost efficiency. We'll focus on an approach to inventory planning called Service Level-Driven Inventory Optimization. Next, we'll discuss how to determine what parts you should include in your inventory and those that might not be necessary. Lastly, we'll explore ways to enhance your service-level-driven inventory plan consistently. […]