Should Supply Chain Own Product Management?

By August 6, 2019Power of the Profession
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The ouroboros is an ancient symbol that illustrates a serpent or dragon eating its own tail, a representation of the beginning and end of an entity meeting or “closing the loop.” Product and brand life cycle management is a modern-day corporate version of an ouroboros, a framework for closed-loop management of a product or brand to create the most value for a company, its trading partners and its customers.

What does this have to do with supply chains? Well, everything.

Supply chain teams are increasingly involved in decision-making about beginnings (product launches) and ends (SKU retirement) of products’ lives. They’re responsible for keeping established products in the portfolio flowing to market in the right quantities to the right places at the right times, and matching supply to demand using the S&OP process. Supply chain is also often the team with the best information about how much products “really” cost to produce and sell, what products are selling where and what other products or services customers are asking for.

With all of this insight and responsibility already in supply chain’s hands, might it make sense to put supply chain in charge of managing products from the beginning to the end of their lives?

“But,” I hear you saying. “Supply chain isn’t the right place for product management! It belongs in marketing or a separate product management team.”

Well, maybe or maybe not. I’ve spoken with supply chain leaders who, under the aegis of their senior executive management, are evaluating what a product management team reporting into the supply chain function could look like. They are looking at how that team would work with marketers, brand managers, project managers or — in the world of agile product design and development — product owners.

The idea with this model is to let brand managers, marketers and project managers do what they do best: market research and analysis, designing and running marketing programs, and/or managing cross-disciplinary teams. These roles, across which product management responsibilities have been fragmented, hand those responsibilities to a team of product management discipline experts reporting into the supply chain function.

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Another way to leverage supply chain’s knowledge more effectively within existing product management frameworks is to establish a supply chain product management role.

If you search various job sites, this title already exists in some companies. While the title varies, a consistent set of responsibilities for this role emerges. The role is responsible for managing the value chain for an assigned product portfolio and executing product strategy, vision and roadmaps to deliver products that achieve bottom-line financial targets. The scope of the role may include SKU portfolio management, project management and strategic planning.

Collaboration is absolutely essential to the role, which will coordinate discussions and decision-making with the following functions, and others, to deliver product management excellence from product launch through to retirement:

  • Marketing
  • Operations
  • R&D
  • Quality
  • Customer service
  • Finance
  • Strategic suppliers

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This role is the ouroboros in the product management world, the role that has visibility to the beginning, middle and end of a product’s life cycle. If the role is designed well, the translation of product strategy, vision and roadmaps comes together. This links the beginning and end of a product’s life to ensure it is playing the desired role in the portfolio, to meet financial and strategic targets.

The role could also play a big part in seamlessly transitioning products into and out of portfolios, particularly when new generations of products replace older ones. Companies struggling with managing inventories during product transitions may find this role fills a gap in the management of these and other product life cycle management issues. This may also be the case for companies struggling with matching invoices when a purchase order for old product A was received, but new product B was shipped to fulfill the order.

Does the idea of a role that consolidates fragmented product management activities appeal? Or might your company be ready to consider a supply chain product management role to complement existing product management frameworks? We’re excited to learn more about how your supply chain team sees its role in product management evolving over the next three to five years.

Janet Suleski, Research Director, Analyst, Gartner Supply Chain

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