SCDigest: What Does ‘Senior Management Support’ for Supply Chain Projects Really Mean?
Commentary by Dan Gilmore, Editor-in-Chief, Supply Chain
a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of
a current article
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along the way that support is at least partially withdrawn, usually because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.
How would you define “senior management support?” Do many projects/initiatives
really move forward without it? What are some best practices around