Archives for January 2014

The 2-2-2 Syndrome

By Chris Jones | 01/20/2014 | 7:04 AM

Recently, I was talking with an associate at a supply chain technology company who had just returned from an unhappy customer. The customer was complaining about the performance of the technology company’s system. Routes were no longer efficient; carrier selection didn’t seem to make sense to the users, etc. During the review, it became apparent that since the original implementation 3+ years ago, no one at the customer was regularly updating carrier contracts or customer data or evaluating any of the configuration parameters to address changes in the company’s operations. The system was making poor decisions based upon stale and inaccurate data.

Worse, no one using the system at this point knew how it was really supposed to work. The team that implemented it originally had left the company and current users were just that, users. They had little training, no knowledge of the configuration or the strategy employed when it was implemented. Manual overrides were now common place and there was little trust in the system’s ability to produce good results. As far as they were concerned, the software was “bad”.

Was the software really bad? No. The customer – and it wasn’t a small company, had fallen victim to what I call the “2-2-2” syndrome. The first person gets 2 weeks of training, their replacement gets 2 hours of training and their replacements gets 2 screens of training. The life expectancy in any job is not more than a few years. So without some way to adequately train the users, the use of the system falls to the lowest common denominator – people pushing buttons, but not really understanding what is going on behind the scenes.

The same can be said for key data such as customer and product information, contracts and process configurations. All of this is constantly changing and SOMEONE needs to maintain it. Which gets me to point of this note – you need a competency team to maintain and improve the investments you make in technology. This is a supply chain operations issue, not an IT organization responsibility as we are talking about the potential to negatively impact supply chain performance.

For some of you, the terms competency team or competency organization is not new and there are lots of proven ways to create them. But it appears that cost cutting over the 5 years and the latest wave of technology hype has removed the concept from far too many organizations. Given that the reliance on supply chain technology is heavier than ever, the notion of a competency team needs to be built into the business plan for any major system you have or are contemplating.

There is upside to competency teams as they can help get more from the system than was originally anticipated. No organization ever fully utilizes the supply chain technology they deploy. All organizations go through a learning curve during the implementation and realize that they could do more than they originally envisioned. Any competent technology provider is constantly enhancing their solution’s capabilities. All of this adds up to an opportunity to improve the productivity and performance of the original investment for a fraction of the costs of the original implementation. Without a competency team, no one will know that these opportunities exist or how to execute them.

There are 3 factors that make competency teams a success.

  1. The need to be led by your “best and brightest”. The competency team should not be seen as the last stop in someone’s career. Instead, it should be positioned as a place for up- and-coming talent to show what they can do to advance your supply chain performance. Two years in the lead position is a great way for someone to demonstrate their competence and learn a lot about the business.
  2. There needs to be performance metrics. Using metrics to know the value that is being delivered every day will quickly tell if you are keeping your supply chain systems running their best. Setting yearly improvement targets will keep the focus on getting more from the investment you have made and the incremental business benefits typically outweigh the incremental costs.
  3. There need to be ongoing training programs. It’s one thing to have folks sit in a class room or go on-line for training. It’s another to aggressively test their knowledge and make them accountable for problem solving. Build training programs that make them show what they know or how to find out what they don’t. The most powerful way to make this stick is through the compensation process. Whether it takes money, time off or some other meaningful incentive, if you want to get the best from your people and technology investments, aligning compensation with knowledge and action is critical.

Supply chain systems are not a one-time investment. Instead, they should be viewed as a way to continually improve business performance and need to have a team of knowledgeable people assigned to them to maintain and enhance them. If you do make this continual investment, not only will your supply chain organization deliver results more reliably every day, but you will more easily find new ways to improve your performance. How has your company successfully (or not) implemented competency teams? Let me know

The opinions expressed herein are those solely of the participants, and do not necessarily represent the views of Agile Business Media, LLC., its properties or its employees.

About Chris Jones

Chris Jones

Chris Jones is Executive Vice President of Marketing and Services at Descartes Systems. Jones has spent more than 30 years working with manufacturers, retailers, distributors, and logistics providers to improve their supply chain operations. One of his primary missions is to identify and leverage new and counter intuitive activities that make a difference in the business. Jones has held senior positions at Kraft Foods, Descartes, and Gartner. He has a B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering from Lehigh University.

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