Version Control for Commercial Project Management

The ubiquitous Gantt chart

The ubiquitous Gantt chart

I program. I am not a great programmer but I get around Java, Python and Ruby. I know a garbage collector is not the guy who collects the refuse at the dumpster (not at least this GC). I also know there are no true static methods in Python but there are ways around functions to simulate a class method. I also know how to check code in Subversion which is a great feat from someone coming from a marketing background =)

Version control is great when programming. It’s also great when managing projects among groups, but I find a total lack of tools when operating in my own company. Let me give you an example. I just finished working on our Seasonal Integrated Merchandising pitch back. This is a process where the sales, product and retail teams unite to choose the foundation of a product line for the upcoming season. We need to fill – and agree – on a thousand little charts. The product team decides on what apparel and shoes will make the assortment line and makes a forecast. That forecast has to coincide with the sales forecast we manage. And my sales forecast has a door schedule (the number of doors we will launch at retail) that needs to make some sense with the charts our retail people manage. The PowerPoint and Excel charts get updated quite a lot, and keeping track of who changed what and when is messy. These are teams of people with commercial and/or business backgrounds. For programmers used to sophisticated tools like GIT it might seem nonsense, but for someone whose life does not center around committing a code change, talking or learning how to use repositories, check-in updates, or keep a minimum scheme of update versions is alike quantum physics.

I work in the sales department, and despite the general dislike for charts and forecasts (my team is more the let’s just sale till it hurts type of people) we managed to create some order in the reigning chaos to make life easier on all of us. Now we are trying to tackle this complicated process of implementing a minimal and easy to learn version control system for our cross-functional projects that works for everyone. And I mean everyone, the guys in retail who are architects and mind space and contrast (but not concurrent change) and the guys in sales who mind their sales today (but not anything else).

We don’t use Basecamp. I love Basecamp, but if I were to use Basecamp I feel we would have to adapt to their methods and not the other way around. Yes, constraints are beautiful, but explain that to my team. Basecamp is a great starting point, but I would prefer something closer to home. My needs revolve around:

  • A central repository
  • Keeping one’s working document always updated with all changes
  • Keeping things that change often as stand-alone modules that can be edited often and quickly without having to change the master document (as in Excels linked inside a PowerPoint that change often and get updated on the fly with the master document.)
  • Keeping a standard naming scheme for versions
  • Being able to see if the version is draft or release candidate
  • Having the power to freeze a version

Again, nothing ground breaking here but keep in mind these terms are unknown to the average sales/commercial team. There is not a simple tool that I know of.


The Drawbacks of Overloading Sales

Overloading sales will come back to hunt you

Overloading sales will come back to hunt you

There is a danger inherent to sales teams and sales people everywhere: overloading. Overloading is evil, but its effects, despite usually short-term, do not seem to affect sales teams, who will soon oversell and overload the market with despicable effect.

Overload happens whenever you sell more than you originally forecasted. I know many forecasts are weak and prone to change according to the dynamics of the market. But in many other cases forecasts are easy to project and analyze. Accounts with a long standing history and little change in the trade channel are good candidates for very accurate forecasting. If you did your math right, and set good targets, you should hit those targets more often than not and come very close to the median of above and below the forecast target. But if you happen to surpass your target by large, let’s say anything above 10%, than you might be a victim of overloading.

I speak from experience. I have seen many times how my sales team surpassed its targets by 40% or more, only to miss them the next month (usually by the same amount, thus losing any advantage gained.) Sales managers should be very dubious of easy numbers. If you met your target and blew it out by the 20th of the month, you either had a weak forecast or most likely you are overloading the market.

Overloading has two principle problems. The first one is that since the channel can only absorb so much product, if you push too much of it you are only choking the channel and promoting a bottleneck. I know brands can gain market share thus expanding sales, but market share gains come a point at the time, sometimes even slower, thus the overload effect is usually not concomitant of market share gains. In simple words, what you sold extra this month is what your customer won’t sell this month, so he or she won’t buy next month.

The second negative effect is when overload hits retail. Too much product at the same time and sales will not grow proportionally. All of the sudden your customer will detect they have too much of your product on hand, but since sell-through will be pretty much the same, turnover of goods on hand will drop. When product moves slowly from the warehouse to the shelves retailers have to start discounting or promoting it in some way, both measures that consume resources, thus reducing their profits on your products. Retailers will not think about the overload effect (they know it, they just won’t think about that.) Retailers will think your product is moving slow and its profits are reducing, and adjust their buy long-term. This is hurtful, since your forecast will now be negatively affected.

Some will say that once the normal flow of product, or even reduced flow, starts to hit the market, retailers will have to refresh their inventories more often and will start buying more. This is truth, but it’s also truth that consumers will buy from your competitor if they cannot find your product more often than not. Lost sales to inventory adjustments from overloading usually don’t come back, again, negating any effects from the initial rush of sales abundance.

So next time your sales team is about to throw a party for that 74% above budget sales result, think twice. Companies do get lucky from time to time, but history tends to repeat itself, and most likely you are the next victim of the overload effect, something that will come back to haunt you soon.


Sway: Book Review

SWAY The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behaviour

SWAY The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behaviour

Why do we take awful decisions that we later regret? Worst yet, why do we take awful decisions that seem so illogical when we pretty much think of ourselves of logical human beings capable of reasoning any important choice we make daily? These are the kind of questions that the book SWAY tries to answer. Written by Ori and Ron Brafman, two brothers, the book is full of examples of why things go awry and theories to go along explaining what happened in the way of logical decision making.

For example, the famous plain accident in Tenerife was the fault of poor decision making         by one of KLM top pilots and an expert in flight security. What made such a professional, an expert in his field, who should have known better, make the erroneous and costly decision to take off without proper authorization? The writers go through a series of theories relating to the fields of social sciences, psychology, economy and neural sciences, to explain the effect of sway, that moment when the brain decides to deviate from the logical path and take an unexpected and usually fatal turn.

The sway effect is not something that happens in a micro-second. Investors will hold on to a bad investment and watch their profit and capitals disappear for months. Many will prefer to stick to a bad investment in hopes of a miracle turnaround instead of just jumping ship and cutting their losses. The authors take meticulous notes of all the different variables that can affect our perception of things and give us some pointers on how to better prepare for more logical, less prone to sway decision making.

The book is light in content in the sense that I feel a lot of theories are explained in resumed form, when more thorough explanations would have been desirable. Some of these explanations require complicated mathematical models or medical knowledge, so I guess the authors wanted to maintain the subject readable by a broad majority.

Sway is a fun and interesting book not only worth reading, but worth keeping close in your bookshelves in case you need to make the right decision and would like to hedge your chances of swaying towards the illogical disaster.