SCDigest: What Does ‘Senior Management Support’ for Supply Chain Projects Really Mean?

Jul 10, 2009

Commentary by Dan Gilmore, Editor-in-Chief, Supply Chain

a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of
a current article
from Supply
Chain Digest

Almost universally, presentations mention
the need for “senior management support” for supply chain project success.
A quick logical conclusion: such support must often be lacking, or else
it is pointless to emphasize the need for it.

Do companies launch supply chain projects
– or any major initiatives in retail, for that matter – that don’t have
senior executive support? I think they do, and that this happens in several

For example, someone in the supply chain organization
might have an idea that can really lead to solid improvements in cost or
performance – and it really is a good idea. While the supply chain executive
intellectually understands that this is a good thing, it is not connected
in a deep way to what is important to him or her right now. So, sometimes,
we let the thing move forward because we don’t have good reasons to oppose
it, but we are not really engaged in its success.

Second, a project or initiative can have what
appears to be support from the senior supply chain executive, but somewhere
along the way that support is at least partially withdrawn, usually because
other priorities emerge in the meantime. If you have ‘Project A’ starting
out and not long after a merger is announced that will require substantial
integration effort and time from the VP of Supply Chain, the initial and
well intentioned support for a relatively minor project may dissipate.

The third type is more complicated. That is
where the supply chain group and leader are fully behind a project, but
the CEO/COO and/or the leaders of other functions are not really behind

So what’s the point of all this?

First, if you are a supply chain leader, you
have to discipline yourself to not let projects that make sense intellectually
get approved if in your gut they are not really supportive of your current
goals and objectives. Second, if you are a manager, you need to put your
passion for a project to the side if you sense you do not really have senior
management support. Third, companies should put some definition around
what “senior management support” really means (e.g., communications, ownership,
steering committees, etc.); confirmation of that support should be one
of the gates a project must go through before it is approved. Some companies
do have this practice in place now in one form or another.

The support of the CEO/COO and other CXOs
is a lot tougher. The CEO can only actively support a small number of major
projects. That means there inevitably will be projects that cross functional
boundaries but for which the CEO or COO just can’t really be supportive
in any meaningful way. This is where political and communication skills
come into place.

While my focus here is on supply chain, the
issues and questions are of course also relevant for any important retail
strategic or technology initiative.

So the bottom line – make darn sure you have
senior management support at whatever level makes sense for your project
and initiative – and validate that several times. And when it comes to
cross functional projects, you may just have to generate that support largely
on your own.

Discussion Questions:
How would you define “senior management support?” Do many projects/initiatives
really move forward without it? What are some best practices around

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10 Comments on "SCDigest: What Does ‘Senior Management Support’ for Supply Chain Projects Really Mean?"

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Dan Raftery
11 years 10 months ago

For this discussion I would define senior management support as change management sponsorship and involvement. Supply chain executives are 98% focused on keeping things moving. Disruption management, if you will.

To get them involved in a project, they need to believe that it is important to spend some of that 2% on something that could disrupt flow, at least initially. That’s a tough but not impossible sell.

Even if it is made, attention can decay over time. The best operators have a strong internal vetting process for the idea proposal stage and a routine process for progress reporting. They earn senior management’s attention and keep it.

Carol Spieckerman
11 years 10 months ago
All too often, “Senior level support” takes the form of “Sure, go knock yourself out” or dare-to-succeed scenarios that are poorly staffed/funded and ripe for undermining. In these cases, not only are the initiatives doomed to failure, so are the hard-working team members who truly are invested in success. The double-whammy wake that follows is soul-killing on many levels (morale, trust, drive). True senior-level support means that every department within a company is clear that the CEO and top management aren’t just providing passive endorsements or lip service buy-ins; they are actively driving the chosen initiative by staffing, funding and directly supporting it in everything they do. Accountability is a huge component; if middle managers aren’t held accountable for driving the change, it either won’t happen or it won’t be full-strength. Walmart’s sustainability drive is a great example. Lee Scott didn’t throw sustainability into a siloed task force; it was clear from the beginning that every single employee (through WM’s PSP, Personal Sustainability Project) in every division was to take responsibility and aggressive metrics were… Read more »
Ian Percy
11 years 10 months ago
Two things feel a little strange about this discussion. The first is the obvious domination of a “Mechanistic” focus. This is a mindset that treats an organization as a collection of parts. 93% of organizations are stuck here. They constantly complain about “silos” and the “parts” spend more energy and money working against each other than the organization spends against its competitors. The Quantum Principles of nature teach us that you can’t alter one part of the supply chain without altering the whole system. It’s all one thing. If more leaders would understand this they wouldn’t see competing initiatives moving in and out of executive favor creating uncertainty and driving everyone crazy. Second is the very phrase “senior management support.” This is like the phrase people use when they have a new initiative: “We have to get this past Finance.” Like Finance is a barrier rather than an enabler. The message is “senior management” is over there and the rest of us are over here and somehow we have to win them over because heaven… Read more »
Dan Gilmore
Dan Gilmore
11 years 10 months ago
I agree with Ian Percy’s comments above: “There is something more important than senior management support when it comes to new initiatives and that’s employee support. No matter what senior execs may think, it’s always the front line that will win or lose the war.” However, I think the virtually 100% of case studies that talk about the need for senior management support are referring to it in that context: i.e., that the rank and file won’t get behind something if “senior management” doesn’t make it clear this is important to them. The two concepts are joined at the hip. The fundamental question to me remains: how are projects moving ahead and getting approved that do not really have senior management support? Not only in supply chain but throughout the corporation. And it begs the question: since senior executives can only truly support, a la Lee Scott and sustainability at Wal-Mart, a handful of initiatives say at any one time, is the real insight that companies generally try more initiatives than they can really expect… Read more »
Mike Nichols
Mike Nichols
11 years 10 months ago

Many supply chain improvements create savings across disciplines. If the funding is restricted to one area of responsibility, there is often insufficient benefit to that one area to support the change. Senior management support is required so that the benefits are analyzed company-wide rather than for one part of the company. Funding should then be dispersed across multiple disciplines.

Nikki Baird
Nikki Baird
11 years 10 months ago
Since this is “Retail” Wire, let’s bring it to the specifics of retail: when we at RSR hear this refrain, what it usually means is that the merchandising exec is not behind or engaged in a supply chain project. Why wouldn’t they be? A couple of reasons – a bias for planning, against execution, is one reason. Merchandisers deal with plans, supply chain is just supposed to “get it done,” and when they miss, the root cause rarely goes back to merchandising in any meaningful way. Cost accounting is another reason. Merchandisers are typically not measured against supply chain costs, even though their plans are often direct drivers of those costs. Part of the reason they’re not measured this way is because for a long time it was too difficult to capture those costs, but that’s not true anymore. And the metrics have yet to change. In no other industry do you have this split between planning and execution in supply chain. It’s so strong a split that most merchants scoff at the idea that… Read more »
Ralph Jacobson
11 years 10 months ago

I agree with Nikki that companies need to take ownership for the WHOLE supply chain. If all stakeholders are taken into account, it will become more obvious to senior management and everyone else what’s important. The supply chain, or rather the “value” chain, encompasses all business functions. When CFOs, CEOs, CMOs, etc. see all the moving parts, and how those parts affect their domains, be they expense management, revenue growth, new market penetration, earnings, etc., those execs will participate in the efforts.

Bottom line, make the argument relevant to each stakeholder and then they won’t have to be convinced to believe it’s important.

David Biernbaum
11 years 10 months ago

To me, “Senior Management Support for Supply Chain Projects” means that someone with authority has delegated the time, funding, and resources, to plan and execute. This is usually not the case and that’s why most of the projects do not come to fruition.

jack flanagan
11 years 10 months ago

What Nikki Baird said – WRIT LARGE !!!

Robert Gotsch
Robert Gotsch
11 years 8 months ago

Senior management support means that a Senior Manager will “champion” the project. He will oblige functional managers to participate with their time and resources and hold the functional managers responsible for the successful implementation of the project within their functional area.

This support is provided at regularly scheduled “Steering Committee” meetings where the project manager reports on the progress of the project timeline and budget to the Project Champion and his functional managers.

Without the Steering Committee and participation of the Functional Managers, the Project Manager may find himself operating within a vacuum.


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