Product launches are complex. They’re chaotic. They involve every part of your operation.

You know the flow: it starts with a new program from sales. Then engineering designs the initial drawings. Program Management creates scenario planning. Advanced Sourcing works on the initial cost estimate. Supplier Quality Developers review qualified suppliers and create the short list. Purchasing starts the RFQs. APQP and PPAPs are launched.

And then it happens. The customer requests a change to the part specification. Or an awarded supplier was just rejected by quality. Everything stops while you work these issues back through the process so you can start moving forward again. And this can go on for months — even a year or two — until you get to the start of production.

Even when things go smoothly, a product launch requires an incredible amount of coordination needed with your colleagues and suppliers. Add to this complex process the fact that your departments are most likely siloed on disconnected systems. You are forced to communicate critical information via emails and spreadsheets.

This leads to outdated, inaccurate, and non-standardized siloed data, making it impossible to get a proper understanding of what’s going on. Important supporting data may be left out of financial analyses and reports. Inconsistent data can lead to miscommunication, lost or inaccurate orders, or other errors. Your product launch team will miss out on opportunities to work together toward common goals.
It’s not just lost productivity, increased costs, and strained morale. Product launch delays can erode your organization’s value. Further, if your customer even perceives a problem, it could lead to decreased sales in the future — even when the actual delivery remains on schedule.

It’s the details — the unread email, the little white lie from your supplier, the out-of-date spreadsheet — that can take down an entire product launch. It all boils down to visibility.

So, how do you increase visibility during a product launch? You need a definitive supplier database, robust operational data, and an efficient method of supplier communication. The easiest way to access this is via a portal that aggregates the data from across your systems, so all stakeholders are working from a single source of truth.

  • Definitive Supplier Database: Many companies have grown through acquisition, or they have allowed business units to manage their own internal systems. As a result, the same supplier is associated with multiple vendor numbers throughout siloed systems across the organization. This creates confusion, redundancy, and risk. For example, while one business unit has identified a severe supplier issue, the rest of organization may not be aware of the potential risk. A product launch portal centralizes and streamlines supplier information.
  • Robust Operational Data: Most ERPs only track tactical supplier data such as name, address, terms, and payment method. While this information is required for processing payments, it provides no insight into a supplier’s ability to continue supporting the business. This key intelligence is derived instead from operational data such as supported manufacturing processes, certificates, capacity and liquidity. By scoring a supplier’s response to these questions, supplier quality engineers can assess it in relation to relevant categories and risks.
  • Efficient Communication Method: Traditionally, buyers own relationships and contact information for suppliers based on commodity, region, or other factors. During normal operations, this method – while inefficient – works. However, when a crisis occurs, a manufacturer needs the ability to reach out to groups of suppliers and request additional information. Hoping that suppliers are monitoring their emails is not a reliable strategy. Further, information submitted by the supplier in the body of the email or attached in a spreadsheet can be missed. Plus, it might be subject to version conflicts and it is unlikely to adhere to standard formats. However, when it’s collected via a portal, supplier information is instantly available to support the data analysis necessary to make critical decisions.

Now is the time to leverage a portal to provide stakeholders a single source of truth. The global crisis has exposed weaknesses in many organizations’ supply chains. Agility is a survival skill, and having accurate, up-to-date information is essential for making decisions to head off product launch disasters. A portal that connects your stakeholders – sales, engineering, program management, supplier quality development, purchasing, quality and logistics/MRP planning departments to your suppliers – brings together best practices for managing the continuous change during the launch process.

This article first appeared in LinkedIn.