A "Thoughtware" Based Approach to Network Planning Projects

July 6, 2009
Six steps to success

Are your network projects taking longer than expected? Do you have difficulty communicating the results or do you have to go through multiple iterations before operation managers accept your findings and recommendations? If "yes," try the following six steps and see a remarkable difference.

Step 1: Orient the Project

  • Document, circulate and obtain early agreement on the project's purpose, scope and objectives.
  • Clarify the problem to be solved and the elements to be modeled.
  • List all of the issues, opportunities and expected challenges that may affect the network plan or its subsequent deployment and operation. Then rate their importance and assign them to specific people for resolution.
  • Publish a plan and schedule for the project.

Step 2: Define the Variables

This is one of the most difficult steps in network planning. Before formulating variables into a model and software tool, you must:

  • Visualize the lanes and nodes to be modeled with a clear and explicit diagram.
  • Identify and confirm data elements and their sources in terms of specific information systems, files, records or spreadsheets.
  • Publish relevant constraints and the assumptions behind them.
  • Document the formulas or algebraic expressions that will be used.
  • Review documentation of with affected organizations, departments and people.

Step 3: Analyze the Sensitivities

This is the credibility-building step. Create a validated baseline by comparing model outputs to the actual performance of your current network during a recent period. Identify and explain any variances in results in writing. Adjust the variables and assumptions as necessary. Adapt and rerun the model until you are confident that it is producing defensible results.

Step 4: Create the Scenarios

The development and presentation of multiple scenarios and plans is central to Systematic Network Planning. There are always two or more courses of action and management will be able to choose more quickly and effectively when selecting from a set of good alternatives.

  • Identify potential scenarios that model the problem elements.
  • Add or remove variables from the baseline to represent each potential scenario.
  • Collect summary statistics for alternative plans and document the results.

Always develop two or more alternatives; then engage your operating personnel to determine which one is best.

Step 5: Evaluate the Alternatives

Evaluate the network plans in a formal way, scoring their performance against a set of weighted factors or considerations -- recognizing that lowest cost is only one factor. Common intangible considerations include business risk, ease of implementation, and effect on employee morale, societal or environmental concerns, image, and capital availability issues.

Step 6: Detail and Execute

In this step, details are worked out for the selected plan and changes are made to the network. To become more effective in future modeling, planners should be involved in the implementation. It is important to work closely with operations and to monitor the effects of network changes. Be sure to perform a post-implementation audit to make sure the model's projected savings were achieved. And, if not, why not? This helps capture lessons learned for future modeling projects.

There are many software packages that make network planning an exciting domain. With advances in computing capability, problems that once were difficult to solve are much easier to address today. That said, none of the software teaches or provides a systematic approach to network planning projects. Software is only of value when preceded by the right thoughtware. Applying these six steps in conjunction with the right software can significantly increase the effectiveness of your network planning initiatives.

Shekar Natarajan is a Director of Supply Chain at The Pepsi Bottling Group. He is the co-author with Lee Hales of Simplified Systematic Network Planning. He was recently recognized as a logistics Rainmaker by DC Velocity magazine. For more details on the book visit www.amazon.com.

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