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Why Probabilistic Planning Beats One-Number Plans in Supply Chain Management

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Table of Contents
The pitfalls of one-number planning
The power of probabilistic planning: an airport analogy
John Galt Solutions’ new probabilistic planning solution
The complexity of supply chain planning variables
Aligning plans with risk tolerance, goals, and strategies


In the intricate web of supply chain management, where the delicate balance of countless variables determines success or failure, planning takes on the role of a master conductor orchestrating seamless operations. However, traditional planning methods that rely on single-point forecasts, known as one-number plans, often fall short in accounting for the inherent uncertainty that plagues supply chain operations. This approach not only hampers decision-making but also leaves organizations ill-equipped to adapt swiftly to changing circumstances. On the other hand, probabilistic planning emerges as a powerful and agile approach to navigating uncertainty by embracing a spectrum of potential outcomes along with their associated probabilities. By embracing this mindset, supply chain professionals can craft realistic and effective plans that align with their organization’s risk tolerance, goals, and strategies.

The pitfalls of one-number planning

the miniature of the business and pitfalls

The limitations of single-point forecasts

One-number plans, often relied upon in traditional supply chain planning, are built upon the shaky foundation of single-point forecasts. These forecasts attempt to condense the vast range of potential demand into a single, seemingly precise figure. However, this approach fails to capture the inherent variability and uncertainty that characterize real-world demand patterns. By ignoring the spectrum of possibilities and focusing solely on a single point, one-number plans create a false sense of certainty and leave organizations vulnerable to the inevitable deviations from this arbitrary forecast.

The impact of uncertainty on supply chain outcomes

The reliance on one-number plans can have far-reaching consequences for supply chain outcomes. When actual demand diverges from the single-point forecast, organizations find themselves either overwhelmed by unexpected spikes or burdened with excess inventory and wasted resources. This lack of flexibility and responsiveness can lead to lost sales, customer dissatisfaction, and eroded profit margins. Moreover, the ripple effects of these missteps can propagate throughout the entire supply chain, causing disruptions and inefficiencies that hinder overall performance.

The power of probabilistic planning: an airport analogy

at the airport

Considering multiple factors and their probabilities

To illustrate the power of probabilistic planning, consider the analogy of planning a trip to the airport. When deciding what time to leave, a traveler must consider a multitude of factors, each with its own associated probabilities. Traffic conditions, weather patterns, the likelihood of accidents, and the reliability of transportation all come into play. By weighing these variables and their respective probabilities, the traveler can make an informed decision that maximizes the chances of arriving on time while minimizing the risk of unexpected delays. Similarly, in supply chain planning, probabilistic approaches allow decision-makers to consider a wide range of factors and their associated likelihoods, enabling them to develop robust and adaptable plans.

Adapting plans based on changing circumstances

One of the key advantages of probabilistic planning is its ability to adapt to changing circumstances. In the airport analogy, if a traveler receives real-time updates on traffic conditions or weather patterns, they can adjust their plans accordingly. They may choose to take an alternate route or leave earlier to account for potential delays. In the same way, probabilistic planning in supply chain management allows organizations to continuously update their plans based on new information and changing risks. By incorporating real-time data and re-evaluating probabilities, decision-makers can make proactive adjustments to mitigate potential disruptions and optimize supply chain performance.

John Galt Solutions’ new probabilistic planning solution

Leveraging the Markov Decision Process and Q-learning

John Galt Solutions, a leading provider of supply chain planning software, has developed a cutting-edge probabilistic planning solution that harnesses the power of advanced analytics and machine learning. At the core of this solution lies the Markov Decision Process (MDP), a mathematical framework that enables the modeling of complex, sequential decision-making under uncertainty. By leveraging MDP, John Galt’s solution can quantify the value of different supply chain processes and account for the intricate web of probabilities that govern real-world operations. Additionally, the solution employs Q-learning, a reinforcement learning technique that generates relevant simulations to help decision-makers explore and evaluate various scenarios.

Real-time re-optimization based on new risk assessments

One of the standout features of John Galt’s probabilistic planning solution is its ability to re-optimize plans in real-time based on new risk assessments. As the likelihood of different factors changes, such as shifts in demand patterns or disruptions in the supply chain, the solution dynamically adjusts the plan to reflect the updated probabilities. This continuous re-optimization ensures that organizations can swiftly adapt to changing circumstances and make informed decisions that align with their current risk profile. By embracing this agile approach, supply chain professionals can navigate the complexities of uncertainty with greater confidence and resilience.

The complexity of supply chain planning variables

control variables while doing experiment

Lead times, demand variability, and throughput time

Supply chain planning is a multifaceted endeavor that involves a myriad of variables, each contributing to the overall complexity of the process. One critical factor is lead times, which represent the time between placing an order and receiving the goods. Probabilistic planning takes into account the variability in lead times for each raw material, providing a more accurate representation of the supply chain’s dynamics. Another key variable is demand variability, as different products exhibit unique patterns of fluctuations. By incorporating demand variability into the planning process, organizations can better anticipate and respond to shifts in customer preferences. Furthermore, throughput time, or the time required to produce a product, can vary based on factors such as equipment age, product mix, and production sequence. Probabilistic planning accounts for these intricacies, enabling more precise capacity planning and resource allocation.

Product yield and other essential factors

In addition to lead times, demand variability, and throughput time, probabilistic planning must also consider factors such as product yield. The yield of a production process can fluctuate due to various reasons, such as quality issues or machine performance. By incorporating probabilistic modeling of yield rates, organizations can better estimate the required raw materials and production capacity to meet customer demand. Other essential factors, such as inventory levels, transportation options, and supplier reliability, also play crucial roles in supply chain planning. Probabilistic approaches allow decision-makers to assess the impact of these factors and their associated uncertainties, leading to more comprehensive and resilient plans.

Aligning plans with risk tolerance, goals, and strategies


Understanding the impact of missing high or low

Probabilistic planning enables organizations to align their supply chain plans with their unique risk tolerance, goals, and strategies. By considering the full range of potential outcomes and their associated probabilities, decision-makers can assess the impact of missing high or low demand scenarios. Some organizations may prioritize service levels and customer satisfaction, willing to carry additional inventory to avoid stockouts. Others may focus on cost optimization and lean operations, accepting a higher risk of shortages to minimize inventory holding costs. Probabilistic planning provides the insights needed to make informed trade-offs based on an organization’s specific objectives and risk appetite. By understanding the consequences of different outcomes, supply chain professionals can develop plans that strike the right balance between risk and reward.

Pivoting faster with new information

Another significant advantage of probabilistic planning is its ability to enable faster pivoting when new information emerges. In a rapidly changing business environment, supply chain plans must be adaptable and responsive. Probabilistic approaches allow organizations to quickly incorporate new data, such as shifts in customer demand, supplier disruptions, or market trends. By updating probabilities and re-running simulations, decision-makers can swiftly adjust their plans to mitigate risks and seize opportunities. This agility is crucial in today’s competitive landscape, where the ability to pivot quickly can be the difference between success and failure. With probabilistic planning, organizations can navigate uncertainty with greater confidence, knowing that their plans are built on a foundation of data-driven insights and adaptable strategies.


Probabilistic planning represents a paradigm shift in supply chain management, offering a more sophisticated and resilient approach to navigating uncertainty. By embracing the complexity of supply chain variables and considering the full range of potential outcomes, organizations can develop plans that are more aligned with their risk tolerance, goals, and strategies.

The power of probabilistic planning lies in its ability to provide a comprehensive view of the supply chain, enabling decision-makers to make informed trade-offs and adapt quickly to changing circumstances. As the business landscape continues to evolve and uncertainty becomes the norm, probabilistic planning will be an essential tool for supply chain professionals seeking to optimize performance, mitigate risks, and drive long-term success.

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