COVID-19: Operations management and planning

Business planning during the COVID-19 pandemic should address critical elements of your business. The objective is to protect your cash flow and employees. But it’s also an opportunity to identify innovations and new ways of working that may not have existed before.

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” says the adage. As your business changes during this period of disruption, you may be surprised at the new opportunities that arise. These opportuities include experimentation and innovation as part of your operations planning, and they can now help you emerge from the crisis stronger than before.

Take a step-by-step approach to create a detailed action plan that addresses specific business and workforce activities.

This article includes:

Your operations management plan in five steps

The operations management tool offers a visual means to identify elements of your plan and put them into an appropriate sequence or order on a single page. There are five key areas:

1. Production decisions

  • Identify products and services you can deliver now. Consider demand for your current products or services, how they may be adapted, or how you can create new revenue streams.
  • Define measurement criteria. Start with your labour availability, including who’s available and how their skills can be best used. Examine cash flow and variable margins and prioritize products or services that contribute to a positive gross margin. Look for new revenue sources or ways you can serve new markets. Include costs associated with health and safety if you are modifying work activities.

Create measurement tools. Identify quantifiable measures to stay on track, such as units produced, amount shipped, clients retained or impact on cash flow.

2. Risk Assessment and mitigation

  • Identify critical resources. This includes key input materials, critical employees and skills, and essential equipment.
  • Define how to measure and mitigate risk. Assess suppliers and look for alternatives. Consider employee cross-training to hone essential skills and contingency plans if employees get sick. Have a plan and contingency in place for essential equipment and technology, (particularly if you are dealing with remote employees or e-commerce). Prioritize any health and safety policies, procedures and equipment required for employees to do their jobs safely.

3. Prioritize and create your plan

Include several areas and functions in your plan.

  • Forecast demand and identify resources for the short term and the recovery period. Include materials and labour required (including changes to shifts and working hours), cash flow and burn rate, accounts receivable and accounts payable.
  • Identify required actions. This may include employee training/hiring, ordering materials or technology, or creating flexible labour schedules.

Action Planning Tool

This Excel-friendlytool helps you build a detailed plan.

4. Execute and monitor

As you implement your plan, prioritize human and material resources. Safety and product/service quality should be top-of-mind. Have a clear understanding of how you will handle problems and the key people responsible.

Monitoring, using the metrics defined, is an important way to know if you’re on track or if your plan needs to be adapted.

5. Repeat and refine

Once you have your plan in place, you’ll want to revisit it at regular intervals to make sure you’re staying on track. As the external business environment changes, you may have to consider adapting your plan to respond to new or evolving risks and opportunities.

You may need to reforecast demand for products or services, make adjustments to your labour and supply plan, or adapt resources (people and supplies) for the following period.

The operations management plan offers a way to visually organize and refine your next steps and actions in an easy-to-read sequence.

Operations management plan

A five-step action plan on one page.

Workforce planning essentials

Business disruptions will affect employees and require special action planning. Although the current environment is uncertain and some companies are reducing staff, keep your eyes open for growth opportunities as well.

To start your workforce plan, consider the following:

  • Which employees are critical to business priorities?
  • Who is directly linked to mission-critical products and services?
  • Are there employees who have developed key relationships with suppliers or customers?
  • Where might there be a surge in business activity that will demand more employee attention?

Think about how employees work currently and how that may change. Look for opportunities to create a more robust workforce:

  • Opportunities for people to work remotely or on rotations that allow for physical distancing.
  • Job-share possibilities or varying shifts to accommodate employees who have family responsibilities.
  • Cross-training as an important labour risk mitigation strategy. Can you pair up employees to help them take on tasks and responsibilities outside of their normal scope?

Retaining staff and their skills will allow your business to recover more quickly once the economic environment returns to normal.

The workforce planning chart can help you quickly record employees, what they do, their link to core business activities and any changes you might have to make to staff or their work environment.

Workforce planning chart

Chart employees, functions, and changes to work or staff.

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