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IM1. To start out, can S&OP be conducted  on a smaller time frame?

If the issue is about the horizon, how many months out that are reviewed, this shouldn't be a problem to start out with a shorter horizon,  perhaps six or nine months.  Frankly, particularly in the beginning, most of the review, adjustment and discussion centers around the next two to four months anyways.  But until the horizon covers at least the balance of the fiscal year, it's hard to compare the S&OP plans back to the financial plans and budgets, or to use S&OP as the basis for next year's budgets and plans.   And occasionally, not every month, there may be some long-term decisions to be made, such as hiring, firing, new capital investment, etc. that should be based on plans looking out a year or more.  For this reason, your management team should see the need for extending the horizon after you get started.  We recommend a rolling 18 months.


IM2. Which S&OP software packages appear to deliver the best results?

There were a variety of ERP software packages used by companies successful with S&OP.  So by definition, all these various packages support success.  Most companies successful with S&OP do NOT use any commercial software package or module for S&OP.  Most develop their own S&OP functionality based on customized Excel spreadsheets, and Access databases.  This reinforces our experience of over 29 years of consulting, that no one software package has a significantly better track record than another.  The real issue is not the tool, but how well the users are trained and managed to use the tool effectively.


IM3. Can you give us some advice or guidance regarding S&OP families, especially in light of their use for sales planning and financial planning?  How many S&OP families make sense in a typical company?  

The aggregate, quantitative information in S&OP should be able to be compared easily to your financial, business and strategic planning numbers used by senior management, finance, and the sales and marketing folks. Therefore many people use the same groupings for their S&OP families as is used for financial planning and budgeting. 

If these groupings match logical groupings from a supply viewpoint, so that the family plans provide easy visibility into the impact on manufacturing resources, key suppliers, key raw materials etc., then use them for your S&OP families. 

However, if the financial/sales and marketing groupings don't provide clarity from a supply viewpoint, you may need to deal with the supply issues in a different way. In this case we would recommend using the financial/sales and marketing groupings as your S&OP families, but then use Rough Cut Capacity Planning to validate the supply plans, versus current capacity and resource constraints. This Rough Cut Capacity Planning could be used by making assumptions as to what percent of each of the sales families impacts given key supplier resources. If the product mix varies quite a bit over time, you may have to either calculate the Rough Cut Capacity Planning based on the detailed item level as it is readjusted to match new S&OP supply plans. 

In some cases, companies actually maintain a separate set of manufacturing family groupings, by disaggregating the sales numbers down to an item level and then aggregating them up to whatever grouping is meaningful to manufacturing and purchasing. 

In any case, we strongly recommend that the official S&OP families be a groupings that makes a lot of sense to sales, marketing, finance and top management, to facilitate and encourage their participation in the process. Any separate S&OP manufacturing families would probably only be viewed by interested manufacturing, supply chain or purchasing personnel. 

As to the number of families, our experience is that most companies review anywhere from 6 to 12 families in any given partnership or executive meeting. If you end up with more families than that, you will try people's patience and sometimes not spend enough time on each of the families. In those cases, some companies will review families by exception only, looking only at those that had significant changes since the last S&OP cycle, or ones where performance to plan varies the most, or is most critical.


IM4. Are global companies using S&OP across multiple sites involved in one S&OP family?

In some global situations, each region or division has its own families, which are then rolled into common global families.  In other cases where the same products are sold across multiple regions or manufactured at multiple manufacturing sites, each of their totals are  individually included in family plans that cover more than one region or plant.  Separate regional families are used, when performance is monitored and decision-making can be done independently in a region or location, separate from global decision-making. 


IM5. What software tools are available for S&OP?

Most ERP systems offer only incomplete tools to support S&OP, but each of them would be the source of the raw data needed for S&OP such as forecasts, production plans, actual sales, inventory and production, etc.

Though we don’t have enough experience to endorse any specific set of software tools, there are some software vendors that appear to offer more complete sets of S&OP support tools.  They include Demand Solutions, Interlace Systems, John Galt, McConnell Chase and Steelwedge.

My business partner and co-author Chris Gray , has recently published a new book entitled, Sales and Operations Planning Standard System, which provides the detailed specifications of the software support required to effectively run S&OP.  

Along with his book, there are also software templates (reference software) available that could be used to compare to any of the software choices listed above to determine how complete and effective they would be.  More information on this book and software is also available at:

S&OP Standard System    


IM6. What is the best way to get Senior Management to buy into the S&OP/Lean Process?  We've had some success through Step 4 (Partnership Meeting) but never seem to get to Step 5 (Executive S&OP Meeting).

And - are there any inexpensive software programs packages which can be utilized to setup an ideal data template/ dashboard for the Executive S&OP Meeting?

A software template won’t help much with top management.  You must understand top management’s philosophies, objectives and goals for the business.  You must then relate how S&OP and Lean will support the achievement of these.  Make sure you pay particular attention to the current or short term emphasis management may put on one objective over another, such as cash flow, improved customer service, shortened lead times, etc...

They must be convinced of the benefits of S&OP and/or Lean, which can support the achievement of business, financial, customer and cost objectives. 

The least expensive software toolset to do S&OP is offered by my partner and co-author Chris Gray , who offers a detailed and powerful S&OP toolset which you can use to help develop your own S&OP system in MS Office (Access, Excel, VBA).  It is available free with the purchase of his new book "Sales and Operations Planning Standard System".  You can learn more by visiting his web site:

Others that would cost more include modules offered by:  Demand Solutions, Interlace, John Galt, McConnell Chase and Steelwedge.


IM7. What are the product families that will be reviewed in global S&OP?  Is it the key product family in each zone? Or do we need to have consistent product families across different zones such that we can consolidate at global level, but knowing that the business at zone level is so different?

The answer here depends on the purpose of this meeting. If it is just to look at totals to reconcile to financial plans, then the families should match the financial groupings. If it is to highlight demand performance to a market segment, then they should be grouped in that way. Some companies insist on consistent families across the world, with certain regions looking at their own sub-families. The minimum is to always be able to roll-up the local families into some prescribed global grouping.


IM8. What is the most difficult part of implementing S&OP in a mid-size company ($100M)?

Regardless of the size of company, typically the most difficult part of implementing S&OP is gaining and maintaining active participation by the sales and marketing folks. Often they see forecasting and planning as the job of operational, planning or manufacturing people. They would rather spend their time working with customers and marketplaces external from the company. Therefore it is vital to get their attention and show them how an effective S&OP process can benefit them and the customer. In addition, inevitably, a strong, urgent and continuing support from senior management is usually necessary to win and sustain sales and marketing participation.



If you have specific questions about this article or want to discuss it with us, call John Dougherty at 1 978 375-7808. 

The Partners for Excellence specialize in helping companies set up comprehensive measurement programs and improving overall resource management performance.  Contact us at 1 603 528-0840 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..