Archives for December 2011

Speaking In Tongues

By Art van Bodegraven | 12/28/2011 | 6:55 AM

The precariously precocious 7-year-old second-grader visited last week and announced that he was learning, and could speak, a foreign language. We expected nothing less from his very fine school, and were prepared for a pithy phrase in Mandarin, perhaps French, or even German.

Not Spanish. He's from Miami, and all Anglos there pick up, in some osmotic process, a pidgin Spanglish, which is sufficient for most commercial and personal relationships (even intimate ones). This is a good opportunity for the curious and/or those who missed out on the prosecution of WW II in the South Pacific, to Google pidgin. The impact on local linguistics occasioned by global trade in the 18th and 19th centuries, and by war, had an impact that lasts to this day.

Any event, the proud lad disclosed that the exotic language in question is Australian. I remained, not speaking Strine myself, impressed. He taught us that their word for friend is mate. Hello is g'day, and goodbye is ta. He can scarcely wait for his next lesson.

Meanwhile, I began to contemplate his (possibly deliberate) greater meaning. It is easy to misinterpret, or read in unintended meaning, in our supply chain communications when we think we are speaking the same language, and don't understand subtle differences in usage, meaning, and values content.

And, we don't have to be dealing with partners across the oceans for these mishaps to occur.

The key, it seems to me, is - for those business relationships that are critical to mutual success - to invest in understanding the subtleties of others' communications, values, expectations, and social behaviors. A two-way investment would be even better. And, the understanding process should begin at, or prior to, the establishment of integrated operations, rather than after the fact of the first failure to communicate.

Now, where did I lay down me didgeridoo? I must have gone troppo . . .









Mythbusters Are Comin' To Town . . .

By Art van Bodegraven | 12/21/2011 | 7:03 AM

It's that time of year when we begin to hear the pitter-patter of little feet around the house. Mein vrouw insists they belong to mice; I am holding out for elves.

It's also the time when the bah-humbuggers emerge from their dank caves and claim, often with charts, graphs, and linear equations, the impossibility of the older gent we call Santa Claus getting around the planet and distributing presents over the course of one night.

Father Christmas, Pere Noel, Sinter Klaas (and Schwarze Piet), Babbo Natale, Ded Maroz, Shengdan Laoren, Saint Nicholas, Kriss Kringle, Sion Corn, Gwiazdor, and a veritable host of other counterparts are laughing up their sleeves at these sad non-elievers. One, because they just don't get it;, two, because they are wrong; and three, because they don't even put out stockings in which to put the traditional lump of coal.

For openers, the naysayers haven't studied enough to know that visitations occur on different dates in different lands. Secondly, they fail to recognize the traditions that assign distribution to a number of those who make the spirit of the season come alive - the Three Kings, a band of schwarze pieten for example - in addition to the many names and forms of Santa Claus.

Finally, as to the the physical possibility or impossibility of this massive distribution - a logistics operation that dwarfs the scale of even the largest military applications, they have been limited by their understanding of what is physically possible in the "normal" world. In the days when snail mail and parcel post ruled, it was, indeed, dificult to conceive of the reality of Santa Claus and his Herculean task.

But, today, FedEx, UPS, Amazon, and an army of b2b and b2c fulfillment players routinely perform the impossible in distribution volumes to discrete locations - day after day, night after night - and ramp up to 10x volumes in the holiday season. When one company can pick, pack, and ship half a million pieces of women's intimate apparel every single day without breaking a sweat (three-quarters of a million on a busy day), we are no longer surprised at what a global network of distribution specialists with centuries of experience can accomplish.

So, back to your caves, doubters. Your science is limited, misapplied - and wrong. And, that whooshing sound you hear late on 24 December is merely reindeer flying at the speed of the spirit of giving, so go back to bed.


When Relationships Go Sour

By Art van Bodegraven | 12/14/2011 | 9:44 AM

No, this isn't trespassing on Carolyn Hax' or Jeanne Phillips' territory. I often find myself in a low estate, but not that low.

But, I was struck this week by the news that a "supplier problem" was shutting down General Motors' Lordstown, Ohio plant. Not the first problem at Lordstown, for sure, but these days it produces the Chevrolet Cruze, GM's red-hot seller and a symbol of hoped-for trunaround. This is not what GM and Chevy needed, what with being busy buying back Volts (another hoped-for game-changer) that reportedly spontaneously combust.

The first thoughts centered on the kinds of business interruption that floods in Thailand have caused, but this was not a case of failing to plan for catastrophe. Turns out that the supplier is having "quality problems."

Oops! What kind of supply chain partner is that? How could GM get hooked up with someone who might be vulnerable, by process or by materials, to quality issues severe enough and deep enough to take the operaton off Cruze control?

Were they not thoroughly vetted? Did a small problem grow larger because of inattention? Had the supplier no back-up or contingency plans in case of problems? Did GM exert sufficient pricing pressure to force quality risk-taking?

Who knows? But a flawed relationship is having a profound effect on performance, which could engender further fall-out in diminished consumer confidence, reduced sales, stalled momentum in the marketplace, and eroded profits.

it gets worse. Talk is that another three plants could be temporarily shuttered because of the "supplier problem." I can't think of a stronger argument for investing whatever it takes to build the right kinds of relationships with the right partners - in all aspects of life, personal and business.

Bras Half Off

By Art van Bodegraven | 12/07/2011 | 6:06 AM

There's an old joke about a department store drawing a crowd with the above ad headline. The correspondence and communications component of the supply chain received a bit of a jolt this past week with the USPS' announcement of cutbacks that would virtually eliminate next day service to adjacent locales, cut out hundreds of sortation centers, and furlough tens of thousands of workers.

Businesses have largely gone electronic for invoicing and payments, for instance, but many smaller companies still rely on hard copy and so-called snail mail. There are generational shifts in personal communications, but a lot of folks who have continued to write checks to pay their bills are going to be rethinking electronic alternatives.

Where this short-sighted last-century approach to cutting costs (rather than inventing new processes) could lead is diminished performance in small parcel handling, which has been an occasionally useful product for businesses looking for FedEx/UPS altwernatives. It's as if Victoria's Secret decided to stop making bras because they are more complicated than tee shirts.

Meanwhile, the layoffs would seem to tip the unbalanced scales even further, with an even smaller USPS workforce supporting a proportionately greater number of retirees, which has been a major component of the cost crunch. So, let's summarize: cutbacks damaging or risking the signature product lines of First Class mail and small parcel handling; negative impacts on small business and personal communications, including the financial flow that completes supply chain transactions; and failure to repair the arguably most broken factor in the USPS business model, retirement benefits. Hmmm . . .

Tip to Victoria's Secret - don't stop making bras.


War And Peace

By Art van Bodegraven | 12/01/2011 | 8:48 AM

Not to continue a militaristic theme, and not to suggest that this will be a lengthy blog. I do hope that, unlike with Tolstoy's gigantic work, readers will actually finish reading this.

Recent developments have shown how some of the things we usually talk about easily and in the abstract can take on life and death import in specific applications. Take, for example, the consequences of restricting or shutting down border crossings into Afghanistan by Pakistan.

These actions underscore the importance of a robust infrastructure in effective supply chain operation; a fragile or limited infrastructure limits what can be accomplished with movement through supply chains. In Afghanistan, it sems to be all we can do to build and rebuild an extremely restricted highway infrastructure.

Of course, given infrastructure restrictions and pinch-points, the value of having readily at-hand alternatives for the delivery of materiel, supplies, and personnel exponentially increases. And, such alternatives were clearly not at hand at the nmoment of need.

Critically, the working relationships among supply chain partners needs to be positive and reliable for success in execution. When one partner, say Pakistan for instance, decides to punish another partner for perceived misbehavior, both partners suffer, and the supply chain destination point loses out, as well.

Developments and outcomes such as these are bad enough in commercial supply chain operations. They can have deadly consequences - and long-lasting impacts - when armed conflict and geopolitical issues are in the mix.

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 Art van Bodegraven

Art van Bodegraven

Art van Bodegraven (1939 - 2017) was Managing Principal of the van Bodegraven Associates consultancy and Founding Principal of Discovery Executive Services, which develops and delivers supply chain educational programs. He was formerly Chair of the Supply Chain Group AG, Partner at The Progress Group LLC, Development Executive at CSCMP, Practice Leader with S4 Consulting, and a Managing Director in Coopers & Lybrand's consulting practice. Concentrating in supply chain management and logistics for over 20 years in his 50+ year business career, he has led ground-breaking strategic, operational, and educational projects for leading US and global clients. Art was principal co-author of DC Velocity's Basic Training monthly column for a decade, and was the principal co-author, with Ken Ackerman, of Fundamentals of Supply Chain Management, the definitive primer in the field. His popular blog, The Art of Art, has been a staple of DC Velocity's web site since its inception.


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