How to Create Cross-Functional Project Plans for Supply Chain Management

By Daniel Stanton

One of the best ways to deal with the challenge of leading a cross-functional supply chain project is to have a solid project plan. Building the plan gives everyone a chance to provide input and catch interdependencies. Human resources, for example, may not be able to start training employees in a new process until the necessary equipment has been delivered and installed.

An integrated, cross-functional project plan makes it easy to see these connections and provides a clearer picture of the time required to complete a project. Creating an integrated plan also provides a natural opportunity for anyone on the team to ask for clarification on unusual words or jargon.

You can use many approaches to build an integrated project plan, but the following system works best for me:

1. Bring representatives from all the necessary functions together for a planning meeting.

Representatives may include people from logistics, operations, information technology, human resources, and accounting.

2. Ask the team to come up with a list of deliverables.

Deliverables are clearly defined results that the project must produce.

To tell whether a deliverable is a good one, use the Done/Not Done test. You should be able to ask whether a deliverable is done or not. The answer shouldn’t be “Almost,” “Mostly,” or “It’s 64.67 percent done.” The answer should be “Yes, it’s done” or “No, it’s not done.”

3. Ask the team to create ten tasks for each deliverable.

You might ask the team members, “If you were to summarize what it takes to complete this deliverable in ten steps, what would those steps be?” Each step is a task. A structured list of tasks, like the one shown, is called a work breakdown structure (WBS).

supply-chain-structure
Sample work breakdown structure.

Deliverables and tasks start with verbs make it easy to tell what needs to be done. “Design receiving process” is more descriptive than simply “Receiving process,” for example.

4. Ask the team to decide which tasks have to be completed before another task can begin.

Relationships among tasks are called dependencies. The task that needs to happen first is called a predecessor. The task that has to wait is called a successor. For small, simple projects, you may be able to track dependencies manually, but in most supply chain projects, the dependencies make the projects complicated. This figure shows a network diagram that illustrates the predecessor and successor relationships between tasks.

supply-chain-diagram
Sample network diagram.

Using project management software to track tasks and dependencies can help you avoid mistakes and save a lot of time.

5. Evaluate the timeline, and crash the plan.

Dependencies often mean that it takes longer to complete a project than anyone expected or considered to be reasonable. At that point, you need to look for logical ways to shorten the timeline. This process is called crashing the project plan.

Start by looking at the tasks that are driving your schedule — the ones that are taking the longest time to complete. The longest series of tasks is called the critical path. The only way to shorten a project is to change the tasks on the critical path. Perhaps some tasks don’t need to occur in sequence or in series. Instead, those tasks could run at the same time or in parallel, or they could be independent of one another. Continue analyzing the tasks on the critical path until you have a timeline that seems reasonable to the team and to your sponsor.

Creating a list of project deliverables and tasks is relatively easy and can be done with a word processing or spreadsheet program, but calculating project timelines and the critical path are cumbersome work. Project management software does this work automatically, which saves a lot of time when you are crashing a project plan.