Enabling Profitable Agility: The Making of Agile Workbench

The recently released Agile Workbench for JDA® Supply Chain Planner brings the power of optimized planning during execution so master production planners can respond profitably to disruptive events at the speed of business (see press release).  This is a significant step towards JDA’s vision of integrated planning and execution enabling agile, profitable and resilient supply chains.  In this post, I would like to take you behind the scenes to share a bit of what led up to delivering these exciting new capabilities.

Watch JDA Software’s Adeel Najmi, chief science officer and senior fellow, and Jayakumar Nandakumar, product director, supply chain planner, discuss the making of Agile Workbench for Supply Chain Planner.

Shifting the Focus to User Experience

Back in 2010, we launched a usability initiative focused on the role of the master production planner. After a series of training sessions on user experience design, a small team of product managers visited over 20 JDA customers spanning food and beverages companies to high tech and industrial manufacturers who were gracious enough to make their planners available to talk to our team. By early 2011 we had traveled around the world and interviewed more than 40 master planners. Through these discussions we confirmed our hunch that planners spend most of their time managing execution instead of managing plans. We learned about what motivates planners, what they lose sleep over and what creative approaches they use to resolve day-to-day exceptions. We mapped these findings into user personas that represented the range of characteristics we had observed. Now, every design decision we make is reviewed against what it might mean to our personas. 

Six customers joined our Business Requirements Group. We met with each member about every four months to review work-in-progress. As always, our customers were not shy to give us candid and generous feedback. Going forward, we have shifted the conversation to early adopter customers who are upgrading to this release and have agreed to be part of JDA’s Premium Access program.

Developing Process Playbooks

Next, we set out to map planner activities. It was clear that exception management needed dedicated attention. We compiled data from our user research and developed fishbone diagrams connecting exceptions in supply chain metrics that planners care about the most to their possible root causes. We then asked the question “when can we first know” during execution, if each of these root-causes has materialized. We set out to develop automated diagnostic analytics that highlight patterns associated with known failure modes to help connect exceptions to likely root causes.  We called this “lining up the likely suspects and looking for red faces of guilt.” We also developed process maps of the most common actions planners use to resolve these exceptions and then automated them into resolution levers. Now planners can immediately see root causes and choose from a simple menu of available resolution actions shown with their estimated cost-benefit analysis.

Innovating In-memory Technology

Planners frequently want to ask “what-if ..?” before taking final action. The product team wanted it all:  optimization, speed and multi-user capability. Building on our past experience with fast, in-memory optimization solvers, our development team carried out a “spike” to evaluate several different technical alternatives before converging on a final design. The current release meets our design specifications.   We also plan to leverage JDA grid-computing framework in future releases to enable extreme scalability.

The Journey Continues

This year JDA launched an even more ambitious initiative that we call “Low Touch” to enable smart decisions and usability with minimal intervention across our end-to-end solution suite. We are conducting more interviews covering more roles and developing many more personas. I encourage you to attend overview sessions about these new capabilities.  We hope you will like our product direction and approach. Do send us your comments and feedback please.

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