2018 Impacts Gala

Plaster Group Supply Chain consultant Alyssa Palmer enjoyed an evening at the 1st Annual Impacts, Gala, hosted by The University of Washington’s student chapter of Engineers without Borders. This event showcased EWB’s international projects in Guatemala and Nicaragua. Auction items included beautiful artisan crafts both from Central America and local Seattle, reflecting their commitment to having a positive impact both locally and abroad. University of Washington students spoke about their international and local endeavors, including their current Sol Station  Project. Students committed to this  project are working on building seven solar-powered cellphone charging stations for high-traffic areas on UW’s campus.  This was an inspiring event with proceeds will help further EWB’s  international efforts.

Turning IT Project Failures Around

by Brandon Epperson

One advantage of being part of IT project implementation is being part of the postmortem process when they fail. This unique perspective offers an opportunity to assess the underlying causes of these failures and, more importantly, proactively recognize these causes to prevent them from happening again.

In fact, what I’ve seen over the years of post-mortems is that no matter the project size and scope, one central element clung to each of these failures: a lack of properly-captured user-driven business requirements. Yet, with the right user requirement framework in place, even the largest, most complex projects can be executed in a way that all stakeholders can be proud of.

Why User-Driven Business Requirements Are So Vital

Business requirements instruct the IT architecture and development teams on how to design and build a technical solution so that it grows the overall business and satisfies its customers. Without business requirements, you can find yourself in a common but unfortunate situation: your IT organization spending months in planning and development to create an end-product that is functional but that is disappointing to the end user. This is all because the user and their needs were not compiled during the planning and development phases.

When a business unit is ready to make technology changes, those changes must be properly described to the IT team in sufficient detail, making it apparent what the business unit wants and needs. For instance, consider telling Rosie, the 30th century AI robot on The Jetson’s, to clean your home. The concept of housecleaning sounds so simple. But to do the job properly Rosie will need to be programmed with every single element of what house cleaning means…and what it doesn’t mean. Even something as simple as, “Don’t vacuum over the cat.” will need to be turned into a well-thought-out set of instructions to ensure Rosie first identifies what a cat is, responds to the identification, and then establishes an alternate path.

No matter the project scope, developing business requirements must be a collaborative approach where business analysts are tasked with exploring, guiding, and capturing all relevant project needs. This extra effort on the front-end will ensure that months down the road, the completed project will enjoy a clear sign-off for meeting the user’s needs.

A Framework For Business Requirement Collection

The 4-step Elicit-Capture-Agree-Memorialize (ECAM) framework provides clear guidelines for how IT professionals can collect the information they need to gather useful user requirements.

1.  Elicit

During this stage, the business analyst is introduced to the project, the organization, and the challenges that stand between the business and a successful deployment. At this stage, the business analyst will reach out to users to learn about their needs. It is the analyst’s goal to move users away from speaking about changes they want to see within their current systems and orient them towards talking about the ideal they want to see.

There are several techniques business analysts can use to help business owners imagine this ideal:

  • Conduct a requirements meeting will all relevant users to create a storyboard/process follow model that encapsulates the full user experience.
  • Complete one-on-one user interviews.
  • Lead group brainstorming sessions.
  • Review existing standard operating procedures.

2. Capture

A good business analyst will ensure that requirements are documented in a way that makes development and testing as fluid and comprehensive as possible. How these requirements are captured can vary depending on the nature of the requirements (e.g. functional vs. non-functional) as well as the desired methodology of the enterprise.

Some organizations may develop their own templates and methodologies for capturing requirements to institutionalize the process. Regardless of which approach you follow, the end goal is the same: collect use requirements in a way that captures the end user’s needs as well as the nuances of their potential use cases.

3. Agree

At the agree stage, you are seeking your user’s approval to move to the next stage in the project or, if you’re at the very end, to move the project into Production. This stage can often be stressful. But it doesn’t have to be.

To make this a seamless stage, create objective guidelines upfront for what it will take for stakeholders to sign off on a particular project stage. By tying these guidelines to your initial business requirements document, you know your team is on the correct development path and your users will be able to see that their requirements have clearly been met.

By formalizing what it will take to get to “Agree,” you’ll be able to easily move onto the next stage of a project without the common hiccups that rise up when lacking clear approval structure.

4. Memorialize

How you collect meeting notes, summarize user sessions and compile sideline discussions will vary from organization. Regardless of your unique process, you’ll want to find a clear, easy-to-follow way that aggregates that information and memorializes the requirements. When the business analyst properly memorializes the requirements, their audience will be able to see that their business needs are fully captured and will have a clear roadmap for how the IT organization will address them.

A good memorialization also comes with one major upside: it helps clarify throughout the development cycle the project’s scope and trajectory, keeping the business unit and IT team fully aligned.

Final Thoughts

Leveraging the ECAM process is an ideal way to unite your business and IT teams so that everyone is rowing in the same direction. By creating a structure to your business requirements process, it takes what has traditionally been thoughts and ideas on the part of the business unit and transforms them into actionable steps the IT team can act on to improve the organization’s goals.

Keep in mind that it’s never too late to implement the ECAM process. Even if your project is in full swing and has fairly loose requirements, taking a step back and applying this framework can move you on the right path to satisfied sign-offs.

Maximizing Supply Chain Control Towers

by Nate Alley, Sr. Supply Chain Consultant

Are supply chain control towers worth it?


Some limit the scope of how they define control towers, seeing them as a, “central hub with the required technology, organization and processes to capture and use supply chain data.” At Plaster Group, we see them as so much more. Beyond just a connected platform, control towers are also the people and policies that enable the system to work effectively.

How do you maximize the value of control tower investment and turn your supply chain into a competitive advantage? Leapfrogging to the next level of maturity begins with breaking many of the old rules that traditionally governed IT systems and following four steps that are integral to success.

1. Share Data Between Partners

It may seem antithetical to some, but innovative control tower strategies recognize that data collaboration – even between competitors – leads to win-win scenarios.

For instance, right now our team is designing a global control tower managing the family-planning products supply chain across 50 countries for humanitarian agencies. By leveraging e2Open, a platform originally built to facilitate electronic data exchange between the world’s largest electronics manufacturers, we can help shave supply costs through better integration and sharing of data and insights. And yet…without data sharing across these agencies, these incredible efficiencies would not be possible.

Of course, bureaucratic and legal hurdles can stand in the way of data sharing. However, with strong leadership and clear communication of expected organizational benefits these hurdles can be overcome to commence data sharing and achieve significant supply chain improvements.

2. Foster Interoperability

Gone are the days of a single standard for integration or connectivity. After all, consider just how difficult HIBC and GS1 operating with their own barcodes in the healthcare space makes it for partners to talk with one another. Increasing partner landscape complexity has made interoperability across control tower system design and architecture that much more important.

Simple interoperability starts with a robust and flexible approach to master data management. Every partner wants to communicate in their native language, meaning data architects need to find simple ways to cross reference master data across a network to support users’ desires for complete supply chain visibility.

This is one reason control towers are marketing themselves as connected hubs. One Network boasts 60,000 businesses onboarded to its Real Time Value Network TM. Meanwhile, E2Open markets itself as, the one place in the cloud to run your supply chain” with 60,000 trading partners.

These 60,000 trading partners represent existing connectivity, making it possible to leverage that connectivity, and the data stored within it, to reduce onboarding costs and decrease the cycle time to begin realizing value. It also lets us bypass the initial awkward introductory and trust-building aspects of connectivity between partners.

3. Establish Supply Chain Partner Expectations

As new data sources and partners join your control tower, it is important to have a sustainable way to recognize change and respond to it. After all, failing to do so can make your control tower an ineffective and inefficient place to coordinate partners as complexity grows.

As new partners join a network, it is important to set expectations on how they will operate. Instituting some form of engagement management can be a sufficient and ideal mechanism to identify and react to new introductions. For instance, this could be as straightforward as deploying a RACI model to clearly set the rules of the road. When a RACI model changes substantially from one partner to the next, it may be a signal that a shift has occurred, and processes and policies need to be reevaluated.

Keeping your eye on new partner developments, and being open to evolving expectations, will go a long way to maintaining your control tower’s value.

4. People Make Your Control Tower A Success

People still drive most decisions being made with control tower data. After all, it’s the people across your partners that connect and process data to drive insights on supply chain. This is why effective people management in your supply chain will increase the speed with which your control tower affect supply chain improvements.

Having established processes, roles, and change management plans are critical for aligning your people and optimizing your control tower. Consider these three key elements just within a change management plan alone that are critical for keeping your supply chain running smoothly:

  • Communication Plan: The combination of stakeholders, methods of communication, and communication messages compiled to target users with the information they need to be successful…in a way that is easy for them to consume.
  • Training Plan: The comprehensive training methods and dedicated resources to ensure users are not just trained for the first day in a control tower, but also ready for day 365 when expectations are greater.
  • Change Advocates: These are the individuals empowered to both promote change in a business and help protect staff from poor implementation by advocating for the business’ needs and acting as a channel between affected staff and senior managers.

While this structure may vary a bit across different organizations, having an established structure in place will mitigate the typical challenges that come with poor people planning and training.

Final Thoughts

Keeping these four pillars at the core of your control tower development will go a long way to building a hub that drives supply chain value. They are critical for allowing your team to streamline connectivity across partners and use data more effectively, helping you overcome the natural complexity that otherwise arises with so many “cooks in the kitchen.”

Getting More From Your Vendor Relationships

by Larry Comella, Sr. Business Consultant, Supply Chain

When it comes to tackling your programs and projects on time, on budget, while aligning them with business unit goals, bringing in external vendors is often key. These vendors help bridge internal gaps brought on by resource constraints or skill limitations, helping you achieve your larger organizational goals. But how do you make the most out of these vendor relationships?

By developing a process around vendor management, you can move from a price-centric vendor selection approach to a value-centric approach, creating long-lasting relationships that drive greater organizational benefits.

A comprehensive vendor management program provides oversight for contracts, performance, risk, relationship management, strategy, and value development, all centered on one goal: getting the most out of each and every vendor you work with.

Vendor Management Benefits

Creating vendor management teams and processes takes time and effort, but organizations that have them develop collaborative relationships with their vendors that improve the overall supply chain. As with all lean techniques, properly applying vendor management across the company reduces waste, eliminates redundant work, and improves efficiency. Benefits include:

  • Better service
  • Shorter lead times
  • More flexible order sizes
  • Faster, more reliable delivery
  • Better quality
  • Lower overhead
  • Improved cash cycles

All of this is driven by elevating relationships with vendors, making them strategic partners who can be brought in to support innovations, product developments, or operations updates so that your organization can offer differentiated products and services to keep a competitive edge.

Vendor Management Roles

Vendor management requires continuous attention and is best tackled by allocating staff to particular vendor management roles. When considering implementing a vendor management program, the standard roles include:

  • Vendor Management Owner: Owns the process; accountable for oversight of vendor management staff and the performance of the vendor management function.
  • Vendor Manager: Works closely with a select group of vendors and has day-to-day responsibility for delivering value from the vendor relationship in terms of quality, performance, service delivery and cost. In smaller organizations, this person may also be responsible for planning and buying from those same vendors.
  • Vendor Analyst: Supports vendor management and supply chain strategy with analysis and reporting on programmatic vendor risk, performance, and spend.
  • Contracts Coordinator: Maintains a central repository for contracts, licenses, and certifications. Manages the renewal calendar.
  • Contract Specialist: Manages negotiation of contract terms and conditions and typically resides in the Procurement organization.

Combined, these roles not only manage the day-to-day relationships shared with each vendor but also oversee the best way to leverage these relationships to achieve larger organizational goals.

Vendor Segmentation

With the correct roles in place within your organization, your vendor management team can segment vendors to prioritize efforts and identify the right vendors for the job. While some projects are tactical in nature and should be driven by cost-oriented vendors, others are highly strategic and should only be given to vendors with particular expertise.

Segmentation allows your team to identify which vendor falls where so you optimize each relationship to its fullest. By comparing vendors based on the complexity and value they represent, vendor management teams can easily identify a vendor as one of four categories:

Strategic: High-value, high-complexity vendors provide products and services, are highly integrated within an organization, and are extremely difficult to replace.

Emerging & Niche: Low-value, high-complexity vendors provide new products or services to a smaller portion of the business and may fulfill a specialty requirement.

Preferred: High-value, low-complexity vendors provide core products and services but are easier to replace because of little integration and many marketplace alternatives.

Tactical: Low-value, low-complexity vendors provide basic commodities which are non-essential to the company’s core business.

Segmentation allows vendor management teams to treat vendors differently. Some must have access to product roadmaps and five-year strategic plans. Others should have minimal interaction with the organization as a whole. It helps define vendor expectations and sets the stage for relationship success.

Additionally, keep in mind that these segments are dynamic. Vendors can move through the quadrants as your organization’s needs change, or as the vendor’s organization changes. As the value and complexity a vendor offers adjusts, your vendor management team can adjust their segment and ensure they are being managed correctly.

Vendor Management Policies and Processes

Once your vendor segments are identified, vendor management teams can develop policies to ensure vendors are focused on efforts based on their importance to the firm. In essence, vendor policies define key activities and how often they should occur for each vendor group.

For instance, depending on the vendor’s complexity and value, you may want a policy to include them or exclude them from:

  • Strategy Meetings: These provide an opportunity for senior management from the vendor and firm to share updates on business outlook, forecasts and strategy. Discussions include opportunities to partner in design and development, share development roadmaps, and adopt new solutions.
  • Business Reviews: These meetings are operational in focus and review the state of the relationship, market trends, technology developments, performance scorecards, new opportunities, updates on shared developments, and continuous improvement initiatives.

In the meantime, your vendor management team is managing key supporting processes like:

  • Contract Management: Maintaining a contract repository, handling contract expirations and renewals, and authoring and negotiating contracts.
  • Performance Management: Monitoring and proactively managing vendor performance to ensure performance standards are met or exceeded.
  • Risk Monitoring: Overseeing different types of risk dependent on company needs, which may include financial viability, reputational risk, regulatory compliance, safety, contractual risk, insurance, and accreditations.

When done in concert, these policies and procedures ensure a smooth relationship with vendors on the backend so that business unit leaders can get what they need from vendors on the front end.

Vendor Management Tools

A major investment in systems and tools is not required for proper vendor management. However, bringing a few tools in-house can optimize vendor management and make it a more efficient process. Consider three core types of vendor management tools:

  • Contract Management: Provide a central repository for contracts with controlled user access, searchable database of key contract terms, linking of contract documents, full-text contract searches, contract authoring, and workflow tools.
  • Performance Management: Automate the capture of performance metrics, allow for vendor self-service data entry and streamline vendor management with exception-based reporting. Business Intelligence tools can enhance management information by consolidating data from multiple sources, providing real-time monitoring and interactive performance dashboards.
  • Risk Management: Streamline processes through vendor self-service support for certification management and link to third-party information and risk monitoring services.

Depending on the size and scope of your vendor relationships, having one, two, or three of these types of tools can be the difference between smooth or chaotic operations.

Final Thoughts On Vendor Management

Arriving at a well-oiled vendor management team, segmentation approach, and overall process is hard work. It requires detailed analysis of an organization’s or business unit’s needs and objectives, and assigning the right roles, resources, and tools to address them. But it’s worth it. Vendor management not only improves long-term cost efficiencies but it also makes the day-to-day process of working with vendors more productive.

If you find your organization juggling multiple vendors yet are unsure that you’re getting the most out of each and every relationship, contact Plaster Group. Our team’s background in lean processes and vendor management implementation in Fortune 500 companies has yielded efficient teams driven to optimize vendor partnerships.


Agile Myths vs Reality

by Aki Namioka, Sr. Agile Consultant

Watch this video to see how some common beliefs about Agile development stack up against its realities.

Plaster Group Attends PMI SeminarsWorld®

Plaster Group’s Alyssa Palmer attended PMI SeminarsWorld® April 9th and 10th in Seattle, WA. SeminarsWorld is “a collection of small group, in-person training courses held in cities across the United States and immediately following PMI® EMEA Congress. The workshops are designed to meet individual and organizational needs.” Alyssa participated in the Advanced Project Quality and Lean Six Sigma two day training given by Drexel University’s Frank Anbari, PhD. Through this training Alyssa is now Yellow Belt Certified.

The training focused on:

• Six Sigma Method
• The Kaizen Cycle and Gemba Kaizen
• Statistical Control Charts
• Organizing for effective implementation of Six Sigma


March 2018 Supply Chain Social

Plaster Group’s Supply Chain Social hosted its monthly meetup at Two Beers Brewing Co. in Seattle’s SODO neighborhood. The group had great conversations about continuing education in supply chain, ERP implementations, purchasing best practices, and favorite places to travel. We look forward to seeing many more supply chain professionals at the next event on Tuesday, April 10th in Kirkland location TBD. Join our LinkedIn group here for updates.

Treehouse Luncheon for Foster Youth

Plaster Group was honored to sponsor and attend Treehouse‘s Champions for Foster Kids Luncheon. The personal stories shared by the courageous young adults truly highlighted the impact that Treehouse has on those within Washington’s foster care system. Treehouse strives to create a world where every child who has experienced foster care has the support they need to pursue their dreams and become productive members of our community. They are working hard towards their goal of enabling youth in foster care across Washington to graduate high school at the same rate as their peers, with support and a plan to launch successfully into adulthood, by 2022. This luncheon raised more than $1 million dollars for Treehouse.


Check out this awesome behind-the-scenes video of Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready joining with five Treehouse youth to record their song “Try So Hard:”

Cryogenic and Regenerative Medicine Commercialization

by Alyssa Palmer, Sr. Supply Chain Consultant

Last week Cryoport, alongside McKesson, Fisher BioServices, and GE Healthcare, hosted the first annual two-day workshop Process Considerations for Cryogenic and Regenerative Medicine Commercialization. Cryoport is a provider of cold chain logistics solutions for bio-pharmaceutical, IVF, and animal health organizations around the world. This workshop provided a forum for industry experts to present and discuss current technology advancements in cryogenic management, regulatory requirements, and best practice processes in the support of regenerative medicine commercialization.  Alyssa Palmer, Sr. Supply Chain Consultant, represented Plaster Group at the workshop, and moderated a panel on regulatory guidelines.

Plaster Group is well-versed in the impact that efficient supply chains have on the healthcare sector and more importantly, the patient. Through partnerships with Seattle-based health focused organizations, Plaster Group has focused on implementing control towers across 16 countries to ensure better visibility throughout the health supply chain, better ensuring supply chain reliability and hopefully ensure that the medicines needed most arrive where they should. Our attendance at this workshop builds upon our foundation and goal to be a part of the future and availability of advancements in the new era of medicines: gene and cell-based products. As we continue to grow, and as the research and development for these new advancements move through the pipeline to commercialization, we anticipate a future of complex supply chain pathways; Plaster Group is there to help navigate them.

Plaster Group is Seattle based consulting firm built on the principle of local talent for local businesses. If you’re a local business looking to discuss further the challenges you are facing in an ever-changing Seattle we would love to hear from you!