Firefighting to Flowcasting – The Six Step Program


Much of the day to day activity within most retail “planning” groups involves firefighting and ordering like maniacs.

Nod if you relate, shake if you don’t (and remember, you’re alone… be honest!).

So, a world in which reliable plans guide near flawless execution seems well…unimaginable, right?

Nope. Wrong.

Based on our extensive experience helping retailers to transform their planning processes, there are six steps to successfully transitioning from firefighting to Flowcasting.  That’s it, six.  Now we’re not promising that these are easy steps but there are just six of them.  So, is it worth it?  You decide…

1. Sponsorship from Senior Management

Being an executive sponsor means far more than being a figurehead for the effort and it requires more than attending a kickoff meeting and chairing the bi-weekly steering committee briefings.

Any change effort that is as transformative to an organization as adopting Flowcasting needs a true champion. Someone in the senior ranks who is a zealot and evangelist:

  • They totally “get it”
  • They have the credibility within the organization to bring about the change
  • They are willing and able to work with their peers in other areas of the organization to bring about the cross-functional changes necessary to make it all work.

When a problem arises that the implementation team can’t deal with, the sponsor picks up the ball and runs interference.

2. Education and Change Management

Making wholesale changes to an organization’s processes is disruptive. It’s commonly believed that people fear change – that’s bunk. People fear what they don’t understand. Ergo, if you want to allay people’s fears about the change, invest some time and energy to make sure they’ll understand it.

Will Flowcasting dramatically change the way people do their jobs? Absolutely.

Will it require them to learn new skills and abandon old habits? Yes again.

Is it a sophisticated process that requires a graduate degree to understand? Nay. You learned the math in 4th grade.

Flowcasting may be a simple process at its core, but the scope of its impact to the organization will definitely take some time to digest and you’ll probably need some professional help to do this right. The earlier you get to it, the greater the likelihood that the change will be eagerly embraced by those who will live and breathe it in the future.

3. Customer Focus

Every retailer knows that they need to “focus on the customer”, but embarking on an implementation of Flowcasting will really put their mettle to the test in that arena.

It can be easy for supply chain types to get wound up in trying to optimize transportation and distribution centres, inventory levels and order fill rates.

It’s all worthless activity unless the product is on the shelf when the customer is standing in front of it. That’s not to say that having an efficient operation isn’t a good thing – as long as it doesn’t come at the expense of making it easy to get product in front of the customer in the store.

4. Simplicity

Without fear of contradiction, it’s safe to say that virtually every retailer has some messed up processes that are not compatible with the principles of Flowcasting.

Whether it’s promotion planning, assortment transitions or on hand management at the store, a Flowcasting implementation will quickly shine some harsh light on the shortcomings of your existing processes.

You can choose to complicate your Flowcasting implementation by trying to force a square peg into a round hole, or you can take the opportunity to make adjustments to other processes in the organization to ensure product flows to the shelf as effortlessly as possible. Choose wisely and get professional help if you think your organization will have trouble keeping things simple.

5. Trust

When suppliers have to work in the dark about what the retailer’s intentions are, they are always responding in a knee-jerk fashion to surprises. This is the most expensive way to do business and the cost will always be passed down to the customer.

Historically, retailers have been reluctant to share vital planning information with suppliers in the fear that this information may somehow end up in the hands of their competitors.

At odds with this belief, Flowcasting takes information sharing between trading partners to an unprecedented level and completely changes how they do business together.

It’s true that sharing information with your trading partners involves some element of risk – but it’s dwarfed by the costs of NOT sharing information.

6. Software

It’s true that Flowcasting simply can’t be deployed without new technology, in the same way that one can’t live without air. Yet people don’t tend to devote every waking hour of their lives to breathing. By the same token, you shouldn’t treat a Flowcasting implementation as a software project.

  • Design your process FIRST, then select your software based on its ability to support what you’ve designed.
  • Planning software has a lot of data fields, radio buttons, options, menus and reports. Don’t make it a goal of your implementation to try to use every possible bit of functionality. Keep it simple!
  • Always remember that people are smarter than the system. If you don’t design, configure and implement it in such a way that people can work with it, they’ll work against it – that’s an ironclad guarantee.
  • For the love of all that’s holy, buy a packaged solution and don’t try to build one of these systems yourself! Retailers shouldn’t be building systems any more than software companies should be selling corn flakes.

While the Flowcasting process itself is simple and intuitive, getting to that point can be fraught with challenges and compromises. Processes must change. Trading partners will need to be engaged. Your people will need to adapt.

But to say that the benefits are substantial is the understatement of the decade.

So here’s the question now before you: Is it worth properly investing in these six steps to permanently bring order to the chaos?

Guess it depends on how much you enjoy chaos.