Twelve Qualities of a Successful Inventory Planner
What Makes a Great Inventory Planner?
Twelve Qualities of a Successful Inventory Planner
Inventory planning sometimes seems like a no-win proposition. Too much or not
enough, each scenario has a serious impact on a businesses’ reputation, efficiency and
profitability. Physicist Niels Bohr put it best, “Prediction is very difficult, especially about
Fortunately, optimal fulfillment, forecast and inventory turn results can be consistently
achieved through the alignment of the appropriate processes, systems and most
importantly, people. Through my experience in hiring and developing inventory teams, I
have identified the key professional qualities inherent to the most successful inventory
With inventory dollars accounting for one of the largest assets on a retailer’s balance
sheet, it is important that the properly qualified personnel oversee the management of
the inventory. It is ironic that in some organizations, this important financial
responsibility is assigned to lower paid, entry level or under-qualified people. Planners
can be responsible for millions of dollars of purchasing, while also directly affecting
customer satisfaction through adequate instock. These are critical responsibilities with
an impact on the success of the business that few others in the organization hold. The
most successful retailers elevate the planning position and function, fully integrating it
within all aspects of the organization. Positive business results come from the
communication and collaboration between the inventory, product/merchandising,
creative, financial and supply chain teams. The key aspect to the successful
implementation of the role of inventory management within the overall business process
is the hiring and developing of the “right” people for the inventory planner position. You
can have the best inventory processes and systems in the world, but an unqualified
planner will lead to subpar results, missed opportunities and unnecessary expense.
So what qualities really define a great inventory planner?
It is not simply a matter of hiring “analytical personalities” or statistical experts and
expecting them to be successful planners. Great inventory planners can be developed
from a wide variety of disciplines and backgrounds, as long as they possess the
foundational characteristics outlined here. The key is to identify and hire candidates
with a good balance of quantitative skills and qualitative thinking. A common
assumption is to stereotype a planner as a purely “numbers person”, when in fact, the
best planners possess both strong analytical and resourceful creative skills. They
should be able to think objectively while interpreting meaningful insight from both
quantitative data and qualitative factors.
I have found the following attributes to be most indicative of the best inventory
1. Q u a n t i t a t i v e An a l y t i c a l S kill s : There is no substitute for strong
analytical and logical thought process as a key component of a planner’s
mindset. They need to have a proclivity for working with numbers, reports and
data analysis. This does not mean they have to be statistical experts; however,
they must have an understanding of business math and the ability to relate to
and form conclusions using numerical data.
2. S y s t e m s Aptit u d e : It is also imperative to possess the interest and
aptitude to understand and utilize the systems and programs that support the
planning and decision making process. A successful planner is proficient with
planning systems, but also knows that systems have limitations and do not
always account for unanticipated variables and evolving trends. This is where
good judgment and experience become critical to a successful process.
3. T e c h n i c a l Kn o w l e d g e : An astute planner has an understanding of
the definitions and formulas of the key inventory metrics. They should know what
it means to “turn” the inventory, how weeks of supply and safety stock are
determined, why it is crucial to judiciously utilize open to buy dollars. They should
understand the statistical factors and variables producing the forecast, while
aware of variances, risks and accuracy levels. An understanding of the
meanings behind the metrics helps them to value the implications of their actions
on the bigger operational and financial picture.
4. P e r s p e c t i v e : Successful planners have the ability to think globally and
strategically, with a perspective of the business beyond the SKU level. They
understand the aggregate inventory positioning as it relates to the instock, open
to buy and turn objectives. They are aware of the organizations’ business
strategy and how their decisions can impact the overall success and profitability
of the organization.
5. C l e a r Com m u ni c a t i o n . It is essential to ensure direct and timely
communication of relevant issues to all appropriate stakeholders. This includes
knowing when to use a phone call or personal contact, rather then solely relying
on email. It is a small, connected world today, and there should be no reason
for uncertainty or surprises along the supply chain highway. Great planners also
have the ability to extrapolate meaningful insight from large volumes of data,
summarize it and communicate findings in a concise way. It is an art to be able
to translate data into actionable information and drive positive results.
6. O w n e r s h i p : Planners should treat their area of responsibility as if it were
their own business or store. This level of focus requires the diligence and pride
to do what is necessary to effectively manage the “shop”. The reality is that
there are real people (customers) and physical product behind each number on a
spreadsheet. Satisfying those customers will ultimately determine the planner’s
success and contribute to the profitability of the business. Planners should be
engaged and accountable for achievement of their assigned strategic goals and
7. F o c u s : Not everyone can sit in front of a computer for eight hours a day,
concentrating on numbers and spreadsheets. Planners must have the discipline
and the ability to focus on a range of various SKU level details. The most
important aspect of being in or out of stock is the accuracy of the individual SKU
level plan/forecast. The top-level plans/forecasts are important, but the SKU
level inventory position ultimately determines the customer fulfillment and
inventory related expenses.
8. P r i o r i t i z a t i o n : In addition to being able to focus on the important details,
the planner must also maintain a practical perspective and not get buried in the
minutia of voluminous data. There is almost no limit to the amount of data
available so it is important that priorities be set and a method of identifying
outliers/exceptions be identified. The 80/20 rule applies fittingly to SKU
management as generally 80% of the sales volume is generated by 20% of the
SKUs. The planner must prioritize their workload to first address the critical 20%
of the SKUs that have the greatest impact on the business. Since planners are
responsible for numerous SKUs, prioritization skills and the use of exception
reporting is critical.
9. S o u n d Ju d g m e n t : A planner should have a pragmatic approach to
decision making, using system recommendations and qualitative analysis to
evaluate risk/reward scenarios and make the appropriate decisions that are
aligned with the strategic goals. It is important that system generated
recommendations be evaluated for reasonableness to avoid unintended output.
The planner should have the ability to approach problems and data objectively
and form conclusions despite ambiguous information.
10. F o l l o w T h r o u g h : Challenges and roadblocks are part of any job, so the
planner must have the initiative and diligence to persistently manage through
issues to resolution. It is important that the planner build collaborative
relationships with business partners to coordinate operational process and to
help resolve issues. The best planners are really facilitators of the supply chain,
taking on the responsibility of seeing that every step of the supply chain is
executed efficiently to ensure timely instock. They have the persistence to follow
through and not accept “no” for an answer when hitting roadblocks within the
11. P r o a c t i v e / S e n s e of Ur g e n c y : A strong planner is proactive in
identifying opportunities and risks to the business, utilizing the appropriate level
of urgency to address critical issues. Being proactive to developing business
trends and urgently resolving problems can make the difference between positive
results or mediocrity. The planner’s early identification of fast or slow sellers,
allows for actions to maximize revenue opportunities or mitigate expenses.
Addressing opportunities and issues with a sense of urgency can generate
revenue and control expenses across the organization.
12. P o s i t i v e At t i t u d e : The most successful people in any job have a
positive attitude and a desire to continually learn and contribute excellence in the
job’s execution. They have an enthusiasm for the challenges and they work
passionately to meet or exceed their assigned goals. They do not accept the
status quo, always looking for innovative ways to enhance processes and
improve results. Without a positive attitude, all of the prior skills will not be fully
maximized and the investment of time and training will be underutilized.
So how do you identify and hire the people with the best potential to be successful
In the interview process, first review their analytical skills and systems knowledge. Ask
for examples of how they have completed projects or resolved issues using data
analysis. Ascertain their experience and comfort level when working with unfiltered
data. Get a good sense of the thought process they apply when resolving issues. Then
move on to ask questions that go beyond analytical evaluation to gain an understanding
of their of their qualitative reasoning process. What type of relevant factors would they
review in addition to numerical facts? What internal and external rationale would they
base their decisions on? How do they weigh the risk/reward trade-off of a decision?
Are they capable of independent thought, considering all pertinent variables or do they
rely solely on system recommendations? Do they have the desire to take ownership of
their business and proactively take the necessary actions to ensure positive results?
Have they demonstrated persistent follow through on challenges and are they adept at
problem solving? If the situation allows, it can be advantageous to hire candidates
identified with potential planning skills as temporary employees. An evaluation period is
established for training and exposure to the process, helping to determine if they have a
strong aptitude to become a competent planner.
Hiring and developing planners with comprehensive quantitative and qualitative skill
sets, based on the attributes shown above, will go a long way in creating a robust,
responsive and respected inventory control organization.
Paul Angelos has twenty-five years of inventory control and supply chain experience, working
with start-up organizations and the largest branded retailers, developing planning processes,
systems and people. He can be contacted though LinkedIn or email at: