Managing the availability of supply to meet volatile demand has never been easy. Even before the unprecedented challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, synchronizing supply and demand was a perennial struggle for most businesses. In a survey of 54 senior executives, only about one in four believed that the processes of their companies balanced cross-functional trade-offs effectively or facilitated decision making to help the P&L of the full business.
That’s not because of a lack of effort. Most companies have made strides to strengthen their planning capabilities in recent years. Many have replaced their processes for sales and operations planning (S&OP) with the more sophisticated approach of integrated business planning (IBP), which shows great promise, a conclusion based on an in-depth view of the processes used by many leading companies around the world (see sidebar “Understanding IBP”). Assessments of more than 170 companies, collected over five years, provide insights into the value created by IBP implementations that work well—and the reasons many IBP implementations don’t.
An effective IBP process consists of five essential building blocks: a business-backed design; high-quality process management, including inputs and outputs; accountability and performance management; the effective use of data, analytics, and technology; and specialized organizational roles and capabilities (Exhibit 1). Our research finds that mature IBP processes can significantly improve coordination and reduce the number of surprises. Compared with companies that lack a well-functioning IBP process, the average mature IBP practitioner realizes one or two additional percentage points in EBIT. Service levels are five to 20 percentage points higher. Freight costs and capital intensity are 10 to 15 percent lower—and customer delivery penalties and missed sales are 40 to 50 percent lower. IBP technology and process discipline can also make planners 10 to 20 percent more productive.
Our research shows that these high-maturity IBP examples are in the minority. In practice, few companies use the IBP process to support effective decision making (Exhibit 2). For two-thirds of the organizations in our data set, IBP meetings are periodic business reviews rather than an integral part of the continuous cycle of decisions and adjustments needed to keep organizations aligned with their strategic and tactical goals. Some companies delegate IBP to junior staff. The frequency of meetings averages one a month. That can make these processes especially ineffective—lacking either the senior-level participation for making consequential strategic decisions or the frequency for timely operational reactions.
By contrast, at the most effective organizations, IBP meetings are all about decisions and their impact on the P&L—an impact enabled by focused metrics and incentives for collaboration. Relevant inputs (data, insights, and decision scenarios) are diligently prepared and syndicated before meetings to help decision makers make the right choices quickly and effectively. These companies support IBP by managing their short-term planning decisions prescriptively, specifying thresholds to distinguish changes immediately integrated into existing plans from day-to-day noise. Within such boundaries, real-time daily decisions are made in accordance with the objectives of the entire business, not siloed frontline functions. This responsive execution is tightly linked with the IBP process, so that the fact base is always up-to-date for the next planning iteration.
A better plan for IBP
In our experience, integrated business planning can help a business succeed in a sustainable way if three conditions are met. First, the process must be designed for the P&L owner, not individual functions in the business. Second, processes are built for purpose, not from generic best-practice templates. Finally, the people involved in the process have the authority, skills, and confidence to make relevant, consequential decisions.
Design for the P&L owner
IBP gives leaders a systematic opportunity to unlock P&L performance by coordinating strategies and tactics across traditional business functions. This doesn’t mean that IBP won’t function as a business review process, but it is more effective when focused on decisions in the interest of the whole business. An IBP process designed to help P&L owners make effective decisions as they run the company creates requirements different from those of a process owned by individual functions, such as supply chain or manufacturing.
One fundamental requirement is senior-level participation from all stakeholder functions and business areas, so that decisions can be made in every meeting. The design of the IBP cycle, including preparatory work preceding decision-making meetings, should help leaders make general decisions or resolve minor issues outside of formal milestone meetings. It should also focus the attention of P&L leaders on the most important and pressing issues. These goals can be achieved with disciplined approaches to evaluating the impact of decisions and with financial thresholds that determine what is brought to the attention of the P&L leader.
The aggregated output of the IBP process would be a full, risk-evaluated business plan covering a midterm planning horizon. This plan then becomes the only accepted and executed plan across the organization. The objective isn’t a single hard number. It is an accepted, unified view of which new products will come online and when, and how they will affect the performance of the overall portfolio. The plan will also take into account the variabilities and uncertainties of the business: demand expectations, how the company will respond to supply constraints, and so on. Layered risks and opportunities and aligned actions across stakeholders indicate how to execute the plan.
Trade-offs arising from risks and opportunities in realizing revenues, margins, or cost objectives are determined by the P&L owner at the level where those trade-offs arise—local for local, global for global. To make this possible, data visible in real time and support for decision making in meetings are essential. This approach works best in companies with strong data governance processes and tools, which increase confidence in the objectivity of the IBP process and support for implementing the resulting decisions. In addition, senior leaders can demonstrate their commitment to the value and the standards of IBP by participating in the process, sponsoring capability-building efforts for the teams that contribute inputs to the IBP, and owning decisions and outcomes.
Fit-for-purpose process design and frequency
To make IBP a value-adding capability, the business will probably need to redesign its planning processes from a clean sheet.
First, clean sheeting IBP means that it should be considered and designed from the decision maker’s perspective. What information does a P&L owner need to make a decision on a given topic? What possible scenarios should that leader consider, and what would be their monetary and nonmonetary impact? The IBP process can standardize this information—for example, by summarizing it in templates so that the responsible parties know, up front, which data, analytics, and impact information to provide.
Second, essential inputs into IBP determine its quality. These inputs include consistency in the way planners use data, methods, and systems to make accurate forecasts, manage constraints, simulate scenarios, and close the loop from planning to the production shopfloor by optimizing schedules, monitoring adherence, and using incentives to manufacture according to plan.
Determining the frequency of the IBP cycle, and its timely integration with tactical execution processes, would also be part of this redesign. Big items—such as capacity investments and divestments, new-product introductions, and line extensions—should be reviewed regularly. Monthly reviews are typical, but a quarterly cadence may also be appropriate in situations with less frequent changes. Weekly iterations then optimize the plan in response to confirmed orders, short-term capacity constraints, or other unpredictable events. The bidirectional link between planning and execution must be strong, and investments in technology may be required to better connect them, so that they use the same data repository and have continuous-feedback loops.
Authorize consequential decision making
Finally, every IBP process step needs autonomous decision making for the problems in its scope, as well as a clear path to escalate, if necessary. The design of the process must therefore include decision-type authority, decision thresholds, and escalation paths. Capability-building interventions should support teams to ensure disciplined and effective decision making—and that means enforcing participation discipline, as well. The failure of a few key stakeholders to prioritize participation can undermine the whole process.
Decision-making autonomy is also relevant for short-term planning and execution. Success in tactical execution depends on how early a problem is identified and how quickly and effectively it is resolved. A good execution framework includes, for example, a classification of possible events, along with resolution guidelines based on root cause methodology. It should also specify the thresholds, in scope and scale of impact, for operational decision making and the escalation path if those thresholds are met.
In addition to guidelines for decision making, the cross-functional team in charge of executing the plan needs autonomy to decide on a course of action for events outside the original plan, as well as the authority to see those actions implemented. Clear integration points between tactical execution and the IBP process protect the latter’s focus on midterm decision making and help tactical teams execute in response to immediate market needs.
An opportunity, but no ‘silver bullet’
With all the elements described above, IBP has a solid foundation to create value for a business. But IBP is no silver bullet. To achieve a top-performing supply chain combining timely and complete customer service with optimal cost and capital expenditures, companies also need mature planning and fulfillment processes using advanced systems and tools. That would include robust planning discipline and a collaboration culture covering all time horizons with appropriate processes while integrating commercial, planning, manufacturing, logistics, and sourcing organizations at all relevant levels.
As more companies implement advanced planning systems and nerve centers, the typical monthly IBP frequency might no longer be appropriate. Some companies may need to spend more time on short-term execution by increasing the frequency of planning and replanning. Others may be able to retain a quarterly IBP process, along with a robust autonomous-planning or exception engine. Already, advanced planning systems not only direct the valuable time of experts to the most critical demand and supply imbalances but also aggregate and disaggregate large volumes of data on the back end. These targeted reactions are part of a critical learning mechanism for the supply chain.
Over time, with root cause analyses and cross-functional collaboration on systemic fixes, the supply chain’s nerve center can get smarter at executing plans, separating noise from real issues, and proactively managing deviations. All this can eventually shorten IBP cycles, without the risk of overreacting to noise, and give P&L owners real-time transparency into how their decisions might affect performance.