Sales and operations planning

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Sales and operations planning (S&OP) is an integrated business management process through which the executive/leadership team continually achieves focus, alignment and synchronization among all functions of the organization. The S&OP process includes an updated forecast that leads to a sales plan, production plan, inventory plan, customer lead time (backlog) plan, new product development plan, strategic initiative plan and resulting financial plan. Plan frequency and planning horizon depend on the specifics of the industry. Short product life cycles and high demand volatility require a tighter S&OP than steadily consumed products. Done well, the S&OP process also enables effective supply chain management.

A properly implemented S&OP process routinely reviews customer demand and supply resources and "re-plans" quantitatively across an agreed rolling horizon. The re-planning process focuses on changes from the previously agreed sales and operations plan, while it helps the management team to understand how the company achieved its current level of performance, its primary focus is on future actions and anticipated results.

Newest developments in Sales and Operations Planning on how the planning process becomes more customer centric was written by Richard (Dick) Ling and Andy Coldrick in chapter 20 in the 3rd edition of Orlicky's MRP.[1]


APICS defines S&OP as the "function of setting the overall level of manufacturing output (production plan) and other activities to best satisfy the current planned levels of sales (sales plan and/or forecasts), while meeting general business objectives of profitability, productivity, competitive customer lead times, etc., as expressed in the overall business plan." Institute for Supply Management defines it as "working cross-functionally with internal business units to forecast anticipated demand, inventory, supply and customer lead times based on the sales forecast, actual demand and capacity forecast." One of its primary purposes is to establish production rates that will achieve management’s objective of maintaining, raising, or lowering inventories or backlogs, while usually attempting to keep the workforce relatively stable. It must extend through a planning horizon sufficient to plan the labor, equipment, facilities, material, and finances required to accomplish the production plan. As this plan affects many company functions, it is normally prepared with information from marketing, manufacturing, engineering, finance, materials, etc."[2]

Sales and operations planning has evolved into a major business process adopted to manage the balance and trade-off between the conflicting preferences of the supply and demand side of the supply chain and offers many value creation opportunities. It is one of the most critical business processes used to achieve best in class performance to consistently outperform competitors. It is increasingly being viewed as essential to synchronise the entire supply chain in order to improve its efficiency.[3] It has also been described as "a set of decision-making processes to balance demand and supply, to integrate financial planning and operational planning, and to link high-level strategic plans with day-to-day operations."[4]

The planning process[edit]

S&OP is the result of monthly planning activities. It is usually based on an Annual Operations Plan (AOP) that acts as the company's annual target in terms of sales and supply. Therefore, the sales and operations plans are a means to gradually accomplish the AOP targets – by linking monthly sales and marketing planning directly to the operations side of a business.[5] The process for deciding upon the monthly S&OP is illustrated in the figure below.

The planning horizon for a typical S&OP process is long term and extends over 18–36 months. The selection of a time horizon is an important decision and there are different factors that influence this decision including type of industry, product characteristics, and the time of the year when S&OP planning takes place. Additionally, the S&OP process is conducted at an aggregate level. The focus is commonly on product families and not every single product.

Best practices[edit]

S&OP best practices share a common set of approaches:

  • Rely on a phased approach: S&OP is much more an integrated set of business processes and technologies than a single, all-encompassing process or technology. If you just focus on the implementation of a new technology and think that S&OP will miraculously take shape, you're wrong.
  • Develop an "outside-in" sequence of S&OP initiatives: typically, the events that will have the most profound and negative impact on your sales and operations planning are those outside of your control. For the most part, these are due to the decisions and actions of your customers, partners, and competitors, which have a direct impact on your revenue and your competitor's strategy.
  • Focus on more information, less data: another key to successful S&OP is clean, current, and accurate data. Plans are often slowed down by the effort of gathering data that has minimal importance to the overall project. It is important to ensure that you know exactly what business problem you are trying to resolve and understand the minimum data necessary for the project.
  • Provide effective leadership for the process. S&OP crosses organizational boundaries – that is its strength but also its vulnerability. Many businesses find that their attempts to implement S&OP are frustrated by internal tensions between departments. Classic best practice suggests that S&OP must be owned to the Chief Executive Officer. If that is not possible then a strong united coalition of department heads may be able to lead the process if they set clear ground rules and boundaries for working together.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ptak, Carol & Smith, Chad (2011). Orlicky's MRP 3rd edition, McGraw Hill, New York ISBN 978-0-07-175563-4.
  2. ^ Dougherty, J.R., "Getting Started With Sales & Operations Planning", text available here Archived 2007-12-03 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Kumar, Rakesh and Srivastava, Samir K, "A Framework for Improving 'Sales & Operations Planning"', Metamorphosis, 13(1), 2014, pp.16-25.
  4. ^ Wallace, Tom, author of textbooks on sales and operations planning, see for example S&OP 101 Archived 2007-10-13 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Ling, R.C. and W.E. Goddard (1992). "Orchestrating Success: Improve Control of the Business with Sales & Operations Planning", Wiley

External links[edit]

An article outlining the different perspectives that should be considered when designing an S&OP process

An article from the Journal of Business Forecasting explaining the link between S&OP and strategy

A series of papers authored by Dr. Larry Lapide of the MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics:

A series of practical papers authored by Robin Goodfellow and Ian Henderson of MLG Management Consultants:

A series of infographic images authored by Jay Sharma of SupplyChainPro Consultants: