Recently, I have written a blog post about the need for the human factor in planning. However, the hype for fully automated planning seems to be in full swing, illustrated by this article by McKinsey.
The title of the article suggests that human involvement in planning should be gradually decreased, especially the errors that humans make. Indeed, humans – and human planners – make mistakes. However, in most supply chain planning processes, it is mainly the human correcting the mistakes, omissions, inaccuracies of the planning system, thereby making sure that a plan is produced which can actually be executed. And although it is clear that humans make mistakes, it is hard to measure them in planning processes, as it is not possible to define a normative performance (except in forecasting). Consultants that claim that your planner makes mistakes, are at best guessing, and more likely, they do not know what they are talking about.
In some areas, the McKinsey article seems to rightfully indicate that repetitive, mechanical tasks should be automated as this is a waste of human effort. However, the tone of the article – set off by the title – is towards trying to minimize human involvement in supply chain planning. I firmly believe this is a wrong approach – supply chain planning is best executed by a combination of decision support systems, automating repetitive, predicable tasks, and humans, focussing on exceptions, solving problems, communicating, negotiating. In contrast to what McKinsey claims, I believe that technology is not the big enabler, or bottleneck, in developing decision support systems. Instead, what is keeping us from automated planning are the unpredictability in execution, our abilities to model supply chains and processes, and more pragmatically, available budgets in developing planning systems. When you can get a 80% fitting system for 10% of the cost of a 100% fitting system, the choice is easy for most companies. Especially since trying to achieve 100% is a very risky adventure, with unclear benefits.
Admitted, humans make mistakes. Decision support systems for planning will assist the human planner in recognizing these mistakes and avoiding them. Do not believe consultants that claim to automate your supply chain planning processes. Instead, minimise the uncertainty in execution, which will simplify your planning. And support your planners in doing their work as good as possible.