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CLIF Bar’s goal in launching a formal sales and operations planning process in 2012 was “to provide more transparency throughout the organization, so that everybody could understand what our one-number forecast was,” says Grillo. Previously, responsibility for generating a forecast was divided up among multiple functions. As a result, the company would come up with at least three separate forecasts that didn’t agree.
It was time to bring all of the numbers together, and achieve consensus in forecasting. The previous disconnect among disciplines within the company was creating problems with fill rates. On top of that, CLIF Bar needed to address its products’ seasonality. During periods of peak demand, such as the back-to-school shopping season, it was losing sales due to an inability to fulfill orders.
The company created a cross-functional team with two executive-level sponsors. Representation came from finance, marketing, demand planning, sales and operations. The team spent about eight hours a week devising its vision of an integrated planning process.
Despite previous friction, the members of the group were happy to be there. “The culture at CLIF Bar is such that people seem to embrace change maybe more than others,” says Grillo. At the same time, “people were unsure what they were being charged to do.”
The company did a lot of benchmarking, drawing on best-practice tips from the Institute of Business Forecasting and Planning, as well as help from the Oliver Wight consultancy. The consensus process involved standardizing procedures across all brands, with team members eventually agreeing to meld three separate forecasts into one.
By looking at all of the information together, the company was able to identify the numbers that would lead to the most accurate forecast. It had access to point-of-sale data, baseline trends, promotional results and input from marketing.
In the end, there were no bruised egos. “People were, if anything, more enlightened,” Grillo says. “They felt better about the number that they were putting through the system.”
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