Archives for December 2012

Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot . . .

By Art van Bodegraven | 12/30/2012 | 10:02 AM

Well, we won't have 2012 to kick around for much longer.  What will 2013 bring?

Perhaps we stand on the brink of the precipice.  Or, maybe we are ready to launch into a bright tomorrow. Not only is it hard to tell, it is hard to tell the difference - until we are either plummeting downward or gloriously orbiting.

Whatever emerges, we can pretty much count on supply chain management being in the thick of things.  Brought low by catastrophe, elevated as a key enabler in continuing economic recovery, reconstructed in light of continuous global change, impacted by, and impacting in turn, change and the velocity of business evolution.

I can hardly wait to see what happens next  - and to find ways to leverage both the positive and the negative for the greater long-term good.  How about you?

What's Old Is Old Again

By Art van Bodegraven | 12/23/2012 | 12:28 PM

This time of year is occasionally a time of reflection and renewal of hopes and objectives in many religious and cultural traditions.  Particularly in the US, once the obligation to bulwark the sputtering economy has been met.

I began to ponder, for whatever reason, the surprising-to-some news that - even as we acknowledge the relative newness of Supply Chain Management (first coined in 1982) - its elements have been around as important components of human endeavor since at least as far back as the Iron Age.  The, e.g., Plan-Source-Make-Deliver application to Stonehenge, an Egyptian Pharoah's venture into commercial warehousing, Roman road networks all serve as examples.

In the holiday universe, we tend to focus on Christmas and Chanukkah, but peoples around the globe observe - and have since well before the advent of the Common Era - a variety of (approximately) winter solstice feasts and events.  In the temperate climates of Europe, having survived the year was worth remarking on, and imploring blessings that would allow getting through oncoming winter was a prudent move.

But, there are festivals throughout Asia, Africa, and the (warmer) Mediterranean countries.  In Scandinavia, the Germanic lands, and the British Isles, the practices date back to what we sometimes call the pagan era.

So, over the past couple of millennia, established Western religious practices have been linked up with the earlier observances, even to the extent of borrowing the birth date of Rome's Sol Invictus.

Whatever your spiritual persuasion in this time of year, I do wish you all the best for the Season, and health, happiness, and prosperity for 2013.


Five Pounds of Magic Looking For A Two-Pound Bag Of Tricks

By Art van Bodegraven | 12/17/2012 | 6:24 AM

Oh, boy!  Mijn vrouw and I were recently tasked (and still are) with 24/7 care of three grandsons (ages 15, 5, and 3) whilst Mama and Papa scout greater Amsterdam for reasonably-priced housing.  The 15-year old is easy, with much the same schedule as our little dog - copious feeding and sixteen hours of sleep daily.  The younger two redefine "high motor" and operate at a constant 140 decibels.

While self-medicating at the close of another seemingly endless day, we concluded that the 65-70 year age difference constitutes more than a generation gap.  We have one more day left in us, but two days, barring flight delays, to get to the finish line.

Where we went wrong was in over-estimating our combined capacity for punishment.  We just did not know our limitations.  The same thing happens entirely too often in the supply chain world. 

We believe that we can, with enough bodies to throw at the challenge, do anything.  We imagine that no project is beyond what we can logic our way through.  The truth is that every adventure in supply chain systems, technology, transformation, relationships, off-shoring/outsourcing - whatever - deserves, even demands, a clear-eyed assessment of internal capabilities and capacities.

There are pitfalls and needless fabulous expense involved in knee-jerk hand-offs and hand-overs to armies of consultants for every project that comes down the pike.  But, there is nothing wrong, and a lot right, with knowing when to enlist expertise, talent, and/or resources from outside to elevate prospects for success.

The key is to do the analysis and make the decision, one way or another, before your confidence writes a check that your intrinsic talents cannot cash.

There is, btw, no affordable housing in Amsterdam,  but duty and a new job call.

The Princess Who Would Be King

By Art van Bodegraven | 12/11/2012 | 12:11 PM

Nope, it's not a fairy tale; it's reality.  We were acquired by a young female of the canine persuasion a few months ago.  She seems to like her new loyal subjects, for they are generally obedient and never chew their slippers.  A Cardigan Corgi mix (the mix being equally short-legged), she rules with personality rather than with intimidation.

I have noticed that when she takes us on walks at our nearby MetroPark, which features a people-walking trail for pets, she is a prolific marker.  Most of her statements to the rest of her kind are delivered in the customary female way.  But, there are a few major territorial boundaries that seem to demand special attention and a clear statement of ownership.

Herein, the challenge.  The larger males are marking in their traditional way, and fairly high up on the posts.  Our little princess knows what she needs to do to stand up to the big guys, so she manfully (so to speak) lifts one leg and aims as high as she can.  But, with her little legs, and the upward stretch, the position is shaky, and not to be essayed on a windy day.  Nevertheless, she gives it a go (pun intended), but the female apparatus is simply not designed to operate at those heights and angles, nor with the precision required.

Undeterred, she tries it on every notable fence post or sapling trunk on the trail, and on every visit to the park.  Apparently, she doesn't know her efforts have been in vain.  But, she is not obscuring the Great Dane's claim to his territory, for sure.

The message?  She has a firm grasp of the concept involved.  But, she'll never to be able to successfully execute, no matter how many posts, on how many walks, in hiow many years she attempts to secure the throne.

It happens in our world, too.  All kinds of practitioners, academics, and consultants have really neat concepts - and little of what it takes to execute them.  At which point, the concept begins to lose credibility, and/or gets adopted by someone who does have the time, money, skills, resources, and environment needed to support execution.

This cautionary tale is meant to instruct - or remind - all of us who are intrigued by exciting ideas, that it takes a lot of work to go from idea to reality, that we need to be honest with ourselves about whether or not we have (or can get) what it takes to bring a new approach to life, and whether the notion on the table is truly appropriate for our situation.

So, ask yourself if you can actually position yourself to make the new thing happen, and if your apparatus is sufficiently equipped, directed, and capable of hitting the mark.  In the end, execution is everything; concept alone is, on a good day, merely interesting.

And, don't think that doing the same thing over and over, with no expectation of changed capability, is likely to alter the ineffective outcomes of the past.

Ben Franklin Takes A Turn For The Worse

By Art van Bodegraven | 12/05/2012 | 8:00 AM

I've been taking a little flak for some disparaging commentary about the USPS last week, much in the way that Allied bombers took a little flak on night runs over Germany in WW II.  The gist of disagreement is that I clearly don't understand that enabling legislation requires certain services and limits other possibilities.  Trust me, I get that the government is incapable of creating a mechanism that can't change with the times.

I have little doubt that we have watchers posted on the West Coast in case the Japanese approach, with others in the South and East keeping a sharp eye out for U-boats.  We won't get into lighthouse keepers for now.

It does appear that the USPS, whatever their mandate, lost track of the core notion that it is in the communications business, not the Post Office business.  A leader would have seen this early, and fought for changes and flexibility in the original legislation "privatizing" the organization.  (Note: The parcel component of the business is a separate matter, but has similarly suffered.)

It's a lot like passenger rail decades ago, thinking it was in the railroad business, when it should have been in the people movement business.  Or the buggy whip makers who did not know that their real mission was motion management.  The blind manufacturers stand in contrast, and have adapted their products to accomodate elements of home decor, personal privacy, and light control.

All this brings to mind the real question of the day: What business are you in?  There's a follow-up: What are you doing about that?

We now have plenty of examplars.  Southwest knows that it is in the customer service business; tactically, they are competing with passsenger auto travel.  It looks like an airline, but it is adamantly not in the airline business as a sole raison d'etre.  Similarly, Zappos merely used shoes and accessories as media with which to be in the customer service business.

So, are you in the consulting business or in the solving problems business?  Are you in the 3PL business or in the supply chain optimization business?  Are you making and selling products  or designing and customizing solutions?  Is your over-riding mission to move goods, or to position your customers to succeed?  Is your life governed by efficiencies in pick/pack/ship processes, or by creating insanely loyal customers for life?

Meanwhile, the father of the postal service, be-spectacled Ben Franklin, is spinning like a dervish on his catafalque as his brain-child wastes away for failure to consider the essential questions of what business it was, is, and should be in.

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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