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  • Doug Dedman

S&OP: Answering Six Fundamental Questions in One Graph.

Updated: Nov 17, 2022

A printable PDF is available here.

If you follow any of the work/writing that we do on S&OP, you will quickly realize that we believe data to be an important part of the S&OP process. At the center of our philosophy on S&OP is the 5-Section Sheet. This sheet is a family view that connects demand with supply AND covers the buffers or levers that you must manage the business. These being inventory, backlog and flex capacity.

The 5-Section sheet presents the story for the family. By being able to view all of this information at together, you have an actionable plan. You can read more about the 5-Section Sheet in Duncan’s article “Getting to the Story” or pick up his book: Sales and Operations Planning How to Run an S&OP Process Everyone Understands.

Sometimes however data, or numbers, can make it difficult to see the story. This doesn’t mean the data is not important, however for some of us, it is hard to “feel” what is happening if the data is overwhelming. As a result, people push for graphical representations or dashboards for S&OP. But what is the right way to do this? Too often, graphs are over-simplified or over-complicated and the understanding of what you are presenting is lost.

The graphical view still needs to answer the fundamental questions you should look for out of S&OP. These are:

  1. What happened in the past? Did we do what we said we wanted to do?

  2. What has changed in our plan going forward?

  3. What are the risks in the plan?

  4. Are we tracking to our objectives (budget, backlog targets)?

  5. Do we have a viable plan (i.e.. are demand and supply balanced)?

  6. Is our process in control?

To understand this, let’s start with the 5-Section Sheet below:

I’m not going to go into the details the data presented here (check out the links above if you are interested in digging into this), but by understanding the data in this presentation you can answer these six questions. I’ve worked with many executives over the years, and once they know how to read this, they are able to quickly get a handle on what is happening in the business.

Now consider one section of the 5-Section Sheet in a graphical view to see how it helps answer these questions. The section we will consider is the Shipment Plan. This is a good place to start because shipments usually represent the section of the plan that directly links to revenue. Often this is the focus of the S&OP process, so not a bad place to start. The graph is shown below, with the data pulled directly from the 5-Section Sheet.