How to Tell You Don’t Really Have an Inventory Planning and Forecasting Policy

The Smart Forecaster

 Pursuing best practices in demand planning,

forecasting and inventory optimization

You can’t properly manage your inventory levels, let alone optimize them, if you don’t have a handle on exactly how demand forecasts and stocking parameters (such as Min/Max, safety stocks, and reorder points, and order quantities) are determined.

Many organizations cannot specify how policy inputs are calculated or identify situations calling for management overrides to the policy.   For example, many people can say they rely on a particular planning method such as Min/Max, reorder point, or forecast with safety stock, but they can’t say exactly how these planning inputs are calculated.  More fundamentally, they may not understand what would happen to their KPI’s if they were to change Min,Max, or Safety Stock. They may know that the forecast relies on “averages” or “history” or “sales input”, but specific details about how the final forecast is arrived at are unclear.

Often enough, a company’s inventory planning and forecasting logic was developed by a former employee or vanished consultant and entombed in a spreadsheet.  It otherwise may rely on outdated ERP functionality or ERP customization by an IT organization that incorrectly assumed that ERP software can and should do everything. (Read this great and, as they say, “funny because it’s true,” blog by Shaun Snapp about ERP Centric Strategies.)  The policy may not have been properly documented, and no one currently on the job can improve it or use it to best advantage.

This unhappy situation leads to another, in which buyers and inventory planners flat out ignore the output from the ERP system, forcing reliance on Microsoft Excel to determine order schedules.  Ad hoc methods are developed that impede cohesive responses to operational issues and aren’t visible to the rest of the organization (unless you want your CFO to learn the complex and finicky spreadsheet).  These methods often rely on rules of thumb, averaging techniques, or textbook statistics without a full understanding of their shortcomings or applicability.  And even when documented, most companies often discover that actual ordering strays from the documented policy.  One company we consulted for had on hand inventory levels that were routinely 2 x’s the Max quantity!  In other words, there isn’t really a policy at all.

In summary, many current inventory and demand forecast “systems” were developed out of distrust for the previous system’s suggestions but don’t actually improve KPI’s.  They also force the organization to rely on a few employees to manage demand forecasting, daily ordering, and inventory replenishment.

And when there is a problem, it is impossible for the executive team to unwind how you got there, because there are too many moving parts.  For example, was the excess stock the fault of an inaccurate demand forecast that relied on an averaging method that didn’t account for a declining demand?  Or was it due to an outdated lead time setting that was higher than it should’ve been?  Or was it due to a forecast override a planner made to account for an order that just never happened?  And who gave the feedback to make that override?  A customer? Salesperson?

Do you have any of these problems?  If so, you are wasting hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars each year in unnecessary shortage costs, holding costs, and ordering costs.  What would you be able to do with that extra cash?  Imagine the impact that this would have on your business.

This blog details the top 10 questions that you can ask in order to uncover what’s really happening at your company.  We detail the typical answers provided when a forecasting/inventory planning policy doesn’t really exist, explain how to interpret these answers, and offer some clear advice on what to do about it.

 

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    Infrequent Updates to Inventory Planning Parameters Costs Time, Money, and Hurts Service

    The Smart Forecaster

     Pursuing best practices in demand planning,

    forecasting and inventory optimization

    Inventory planning parameters, such as safety stock levels, reorder points, Min/Max settings, lead times, order quantities, and DDMRP buffers directly impact inventory spending and ability to meet customer demand. Based on these parameter settings, your ERP system makes daily purchase order suggestions.

    Ensuring that these inputs are understood and optimized regularly will substantially reduce wasteful inventory spending and dramatically improve customer service levels.

    Given the importance of getting these planning parameters right, we spend a lot of time during our consultations asking (1) how these parameter values are calculated and (2) how often they are updated. Most often the methods for calculating the parameter values are rule of thumb. You can read about why using rule of thumb approaches is so problematic here  – Beware of Simple Rules of Thumb for Managing Inventory.

    This blog will focus on the frequency of updates. When we interview companies and ask them how often they update planning parameters, the answer we nearly always hear is “every day!” A follow up question or two most often reveals that this just isn’t true. What “every day” actually means in practice is this: Every day, the ERP system suggests dozens to hundreds of purchase orders and/or production jobs. The planner, let’s call him Peter, reviews these orders daily and decides whether to release, modify, or cancel them. If the order suggestion doesn’t “feel right”, Peter reviews the planning inputs and modifies the order if necessary. For example, Peter may feel there is already enough inventory on hand. To “fix” the issue, he will reduce the reorder point and cancel the order. Or if he feels that the order should have been placed weeks ago, Peter may expedite the order and increase the reorder point and order quantity to ensure there will be plenty of stock the next time.

    The principal flaws with this approach are that it is reactive and incomplete. Here is why:

    Reactive

    It only assesses the handful of items marked for replenishment on any given day but not others. The trigger for reviewing an item is when the ERP suggests an order, and that will only happen when the reorder point or Min is breached. If the Min is too high and breaches earlier than it should have, an unneeded order will be placed unless caught by the planner. If the Min is too low, well, it is too late to fix the error. No matter how large the order suggestion is, you still have to wait to be resupplied and since the order was suggested late, a stockout during the replenishment period is highly probable. Where is the “planning” in such a process? As one customer put it, “Our former process was, in hindsight, spent managing the outputs and not the inputs.”

     

    Incomplete

    Graphics for inventory gets excess and shortage for all locations of a bill of distributionWhat about the thousands of other items that have a Min/Max, safety Stock, Reorder Point, or other parameters that isn’t being reassessed given the updated demand and supply data. The planner isn’t reviewing any of these items which means problems aren’t being identified in advance. Compounding the problem is that when Peter does make a change he doesn’t have any tools to assess the quality of his changes. If he modifies the min/max settings he doesn’t know the specific impact this will have on inventory value, ordering costs, holding costs, stock outs, and service levels. He only knows that an increase in inventory will likely improve service and increase costs. He doesn’t know for example whether his inventory has reached a point of diminishing returns. When inventory decisions are made with only a very rough understanding of the trade offs it creates more problems downstream. You wouldn’t want your carpenter making rough estimates of their measurements yet it’s commonplace for inventory planning professionals to do so with millions of dollars in inventory spend at stake.

    How Often Do Most Companies Update Parameters?

    So how often do most companies make system-wide updates to their planning parameters such as reorder points, safety stocks, Min/Max settings, lead times, and order quantities? Typically, mass updates occur quarterly, annually, and in some cases never – the only times changes are made are when an order is triggered by ERP. Not exactly agile.

    The biggest reason given for not intervening more often is that it takes too much time. Most companies set these key parameters using very unwieldy Excel programs or ERP applications that simply aren’t designed to conduct systemic inventory planning. This is where inventory optimization software can help.

    Using inventory optimization software and probability forecasting to update key planning parameters frequently, say every week or month instead of quarterly or annually, enables you quickly respond to changes in your business. You can seize on cost saving opportunities, as when demand turns down and you can reduce reorder points and/or order quantities and possibly cancel outstanding orders. Or you can respond to problems, as when demand increases threaten your service level commitments to customers, or supplier lead times increase and require re-computation of reorder points.

    How to do it Right

    The key is establishing an agreed upon set of performance and inventory value metrics and letting the software monitor the state of play in the background and alert you to exceptional situations. This is simply one more way of saying that, once systems have been established, you want to go forward using management by exception. You can set ranges within which things can bubble along as they normally do, but once a critical parameter like “stock out risk exceeds a pre-defined level” or “inventory value or costs exceeds a pre-defined level,” the software can provide a daily alert and can also recommend a response, such as raising a reorder point. With this level of automated assistance, it becomes possible to keep your finger on the pulse of the inventory without being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of data.

    For example, you may choose an initial set of inventory parameters as the policy because you could see from the software that it meets your service level goals within your inventory budget. You may let the system prescribe service level targets for you and be comfortable with the settings because inventory value is within the budget. However, if demand gets less predictable than historically, you won’t be able to achieve the same level of service without an increase in inventory. An exception report will identify this and enable you to make an informed decision on what to do. You can decide to modify the policy or keep it the same. If you keep it the same, you now know the additional risks and change in inventory costs. This can be communicated to all stake holders so that there aren’t any surprises.

    Plan Don’t React

    Rather than being constantly in reactive mode, you can handle what really needs to be handled and still have some time to do forward thinking. For instance, you can do “what if” analyses on such issues as which supplier lead times would yield the biggest payoff if reduced, or whether service level targets should be adjusted to account for shifts in customer criticality, or similar policy issues. After all, it’s not as if you are not going to end up with a full daily agenda, it’s just a question of whether you can elevate that agenda to a more strategic level. So if you are spending all of your “planning” time managing the outputs of your ERP instead of constructively reviewing and optimizing the inputs, it is time to reassess your inventory planning process.

     

     

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      MAX-MIN OR ROP – ROQ

      The Smart Forecaster

       Pursuing best practices in demand planning,

      forecasting and inventory optimization

      MAX-MIN OR ROP – ROQ

      by Philip Slater

      This guest blog is authored by Philip Slater, Founder of SparePartsKNowHow.com the leading educational resource for spare parts management. Mr. Slater is a global leader and consultant in materials management and specifically, engineering spare parts inventory management and optimization. In 2012 Philip was honored with a national Leadership in Logistics Education Award. To view the original blog post, click here.

      There are essentially two ways that companies express their inventory control settings: either as MAX- MIN (sometimes MIN-MAX) or ROP-ROQ.

      Some people will say that it doesn’t really matter which you use, just as long as you understand the definitions and the pros and cons. However, in my experience it does matter and this is one aspect of spare parts inventory management that you really do need to get right.

      Let’s Start With the Definitions for MIN, MAX, ROP & ROQ

       

      MIN = short for minimum

      There is, confusingly, two schools of thought about what is meant by the MIN. Most typically this is the point at which the need to order more stock is triggered. Sometimes, however, the MIN is seen as the minimum quantity that can be safely held to cover expected needs. In this case the need to order more stock is set so that the reorder point is one less than the MIN value. That is. MIN -1.

      The key to managing when using a MIN setting is to understand the configuration of the computer system you use, as different definitions will change the resulting holding level, the re-order point, and perhaps even the actual safety or buffer stock.

      MAX = short for maximum

      This value is most typically the targeted maximum holdings of the item. Usually, in a MAX- MIN system, where the MIN is the reorder point, the quantity reordered after reaching the MIN is the quantity required to get back to the MAX. For example, if the MAX- MIN is 5-2, when the quantity in the storeroom reaches 2, procurement would need to order 3 to get back to the MAX.

      ROP = Reorder Point

      As the name suggests, quite simply, this is the stock level at which the need to reorder is triggered. This is calculated by determining the safety stock level and the stock required to service needs during the reorder lead time.

      ROQ = Reorder Quantity

      Again, as the name suggest, this is the quantity to be reordered when the ROP is reached. This is not the EOQ but rather the quantity that both makes economic sense and is commercially available.

      MAX-MIN OR ROP – ROQThe Differences are Meaningful and Important

      It is essential that every inventory manager understands that the MAX- MIN and ROP-ROQ approaches are not simply interchangeable.

      For example, in general terms:

      MIN can be equated with the ROP, except if you have a system set up for reordering at a point of MIN-1. In that case, there is no equivalence.

      For slow moving items the MAX can in some circumstances be equal to the ROP + ROQ. This is because for slow moving items it is possible that there will be no additional demand before the newly ordered item(s) arrive in stock.

      However, with all other items the MAX is UNLIKELY to be equal to the ROP + ROQ as items may be issued between the time of reaching the MIN and the newly ordered items arriving. In fact, there is a logic that says that the MAX would never actually be achieved.

      Do these differences matter? I think that they do.

      For example, what if you change IT systems? If you move from one type of MAX-MIN system to another but they define the MIN differently then you cannot just migrate your data. This may not seem obvious if everyone is using the language of MAX-MIN but is classic trap where words are used in different ways.

      Similarly, if you are benchmarking your holding levels with another company or site then you need to be aware of the different definitions and the outcomes that each approach would achieve. Otherwise you are comparing ‘apples with pears’.

      Or what about what happens when a new team members arrives at your company and their previous company used the terms MAX-MIN but with different parameters or meaning to that your company uses. There will likely be an assumption that the terms are used in the same way and this could lead to stock shortages or overstocks, depending on the differences in the definitions.

      To add further confusion, some software systems use the term ‘Safety Stock’ to represent the MIN holding level, despite this not being the universal definition of safety stock. This different nomenclature leads some people to assume that holding less than the so-called ‘safety stock’ according to your IT system is ‘unsafe’ or risky, when in fact it may not be at all. They may even be holding an excessive level of stock because they don’t properly apply the term ‘safety stock’. Calling it safety stock does not make it so.

      Pros and Cons

      MAX-MIN

      Pros:

      • Conceptually simple to understand.

      Cons:

      • Terms can be misleading in terms of safety stock and actual maximums.

      • Terms are used in different ways and so caution required to ensure a common understanding.

      • Values often set using ‘experience’ or intuition.

      • Often leads to overstocking while reporting misleading overstock data

      ROP-ROQ

      Pros:

      • Meaning of each term is clear and consistent.

      • Values set using auditable logic.

      • Safety stock values clearly established.

      • Holdings more likely to reflect the actual needs and commercial constraints.

      Cons:

      • Requires more work to determine the appropriate values.

      You Need to Get This Right

      The differences between MAX-MIN and ROP-ROQ are not trivial and the terms certainly are not interchangeable. In my experience, the ROP-ROQ approach produces greater transparency and is easier to manage because there is no confusion about the meaning of the terms. This approach also produces a more appropriate and auditable level of inventory.

      This suggests that if spare parts inventory management is important to you then you really do need to get this right.

       

      Leave a Comment

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