Archives for December 2013

Slow Death In A Parallel Universe

By Art van Bodegraven | 12/30/2013 | 7:31 AM

OK, boys and girls, it's sci-fi time. With all manner of strange concepts in play on television, e.g., Grimm, Sleepy Hollow, Intelligence, Almost Human, we ought to devote a little thought to those who are apparently wired into a higher grid and/or are traveling in a different orbit, on a different plane, perhaps in a different time warp, from the rest of us reg'lar folk.

What has brought me to this discombobulated state of mind is the distinct differences among those entities plying the supply chain waters these days. Consultants and academics, not necessarily mutually exclusive categories, often illustrate differing performance levels by classifying enterprises as "leaders" or "laggards".

The implication is that these represents positions on a scale, a continuum, of excellence. What I'm wondering - and this is much more an open question for you all than one of my customary rants - is whether the continuum exists at all. That is, is our universe made up of those who get it - the leaders - and those who don't get it - the laggards?

Anecdotally, I am seeing clusters of performers, all on different tracks. Those who get it, and are really brilliant at the game; those who get it, and aren't yet as good as they'd like to be; those who don't get it, and are surviving - occasionally prospering - by brute force execution; and those who don't get it, and are really bad at everything they attempt.

There are - not naming names - companies that are very good at sub-optimized functional execution, but who will never, culturally or intellectually, grasp the notion of an integrated, aligned, optimized end-to-end supply chain. Ultimately - and it could take quite a while - they'll not be able to compete when a competitor adopts the more comprehensive view, and they'll never break out of the ranks of the laggards.

And, there are those who see the future and are working toward it - but are not there yet. Many of them will join the leaders eventually, but they are not laggards today.

In fairness, I should note that it is possible for a leader to make mistakes and get too far ahead of its market, or choose a strategy that doesn't pan out. But, in general, having the vision is not enough; talent is also required. Further, talent alone is not enough; it will flee if the vision is not there.

Finally, the organizational culture must support both. Companies with all three components in place are, and will remain, the leaders. Those missing any two, or all, of the three are, and will remain, laggards. Those who might be short one component have a chance, but it will be an uphill climb, and picking up the missing piece while on the ascent will be critical.

What's your take on this?

Who Speaks For The Uptrodden?

By Art van Bodegraven | 12/23/2013 | 7:49 AM

I'll admit that leaders in the profession, or those who someone imagines to be leaders, do get some ink. The focus, whether externally or internally generated tends to be on events and incidents. Then, there are, of course, the endless lists of "the best" and "the top" 25, 50, or 100 whatevers. The prose seems to get a little thin when discussing what constitutes the best, or the top - and thinner still when the real question ought be be one of sustainability and improvement over time.

Meanwhile, systemic approaches to risk assessment and mitigation are en vogue, as Fortuna's wheel turns and they rise in our collective consciousness. But, I fear that not enough attention get paid to the potential fatality of success.

The Kid, our nine-year old guide to life and supply chain management, last week turned his full brainpower to planning what to do when he won the Mega Millions jackpot. His go-forward initiatives were brilliant in their simplicity and subtlety: buy a circus; adopt one hundred shelter dogs; hire a butler, who could help with homework; redo his bedroom, and fill it with games; own a toy store, to get first crack at everything new; open a restaurant, serving only Allen Brothers' steaks, French fries, and bread; build a mansion, to house both a huge extended family and the acquired menagerie; and pay his sister small amounts to perform tasks and services, which would be a good life lesson for her.

The point for all of us is that planning for success can save us from being mortally wounded by it. Perhaps planning for how to handle what happens when things go right is easily as important as planning how to handle alternatives when things go wrong.

This is the time of year, curiously, when we seem to have the highest hopes for things going right, when we imagine that a new year will provide a solid shot at capturing previously elusive success. What better time to plan what to do when those dreams play out in reality?

Will The Circle Be Unbroken?

By Art van Bodegraven | 12/19/2013 | 10:49 AM

Run, do not walk, to iTunes, Amazon, or whatever source (and in whatever medium) you use to buy music and get the soundtrack for Inside Llewyn Davis - NOW! Failure to do so will provide irrefutable evidence that you have no heart, no soul, no ear, and no connection to roots. The music is a triumph of T-Bone Burnett's genius in using music to advance a film's story line, and testimony to the Coen Brothers' quirky creativity in amusing, informing, and entertaining a discerning segment of movie-goers. Those of us who watch The Big Lebowsky and Oh, Brother Where Art Thou over and over again are clearly not the target audience for Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, or Barbarella.

The predominant genre featured is folk. We've got neither space nor time to undertake a comprehensive history, but at core, folk is people's music. Closely related to roots music, it is nearly universal. We usually think of American folk music as that derived from Anglo sources, although Cajun also qualifies. The songs typically deal with major events (usually tragedies), prison, faith, lost loves, the sea, work, and the like. The pantheon of folk icons is made up of early voices, keepers of the flame, original voices, dealing with new topics, often social justice, and new voices, recent converts and revivers of tradition.

Pioneers include the legendary Carter family, for example. In the '30s, Pete Seeger, Burl Ives, and the Weavers led the leftward-leaning folk movement. And, a poet and performer of immense passion, intense vision, and infinite capacity, Woody Guthrie campaigned musically in the folk idiom for social causes. Townes Van Zant, Doc Watson, Jean Ritchie, and many others blossomed in this period.

The Great Folk Revival spanned the '50s and '60s, with old names enjoying new recognition, and new names joining the chorus. Dave Van Ronk, Steve Earle, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Joan Baez, and Joni Mitchell come to mind, and all this was before an unkempt Bobby Zimmerman made his way from Minnesota to New York to find his voice and make his fortune.

Sadly, the emergence of clean-cut, well-groomed, smooth performers such as The Kingston Trio, The Limelighters, Peter, Paul, and Mary heralded the end of authenticity in the movement, at least for the moment. But, there are new voices. Some are named Avett; others, Mumford. And, let's not forget the Milk Carton Kids.

The voices of supply chain management do not ebb and flow - and wait for revival - in the same way as in folk music traditions. But, we do have a history of early voices (who we are losing year by year) original voices (who aggravate us into contemplating events, possibilities, and forces of change), and new voices that rejuvenate our thinking, and our appreciation of both the past and the future of our magnificent profession.

So, let us treasure all of our voices and their contributions to what we can become, and recognize that they all are part of our unbroken circle.

Who Put the Lab In Collaborate?

By Art van Bodegraven | 12/17/2013 | 12:38 PM

Kate Vitasek, whom I admire beyond words, was recently reported to have suggested that an overdose of collaboration can limit outcomes and achievements. That is, too much focus on playing nicely with others can foster groupthink in the hope of avoiding conflict.

I do agree that timidity for fear of offending is not useful in a universe that depends on change and progress - and decisions for action. And, we cannot overstate the value of a healthy contention of ideas in a free exchange of honest and forthright perspectives. But, I know in my heart of hearts that collaboration is not the problem.

Our Achilles Heel in the collaboration process is an absence of leadership, not a surfeit of sharing and working together. Collaboration in the clutches of a gang of bean counters, administrators, and functionaries can, in fact, deliver less than is needed, is possible, or is practical. But, any one of these followers acting alone would also fail. The collective effort of a cohort of those who would avoid conflict of any sort at any cost is merely a more elegant failure to break through to new levels of accomplishment.

With honest-to-goodness leadership in place, collaboration can be a process of one contributor building on the foundation laid by others until the collective contribution of the group in total delivers something entirely new. In fact, building collaborative processes and assembling productive groups of collaborators might be a primary function of effective leadership. So, collaboration itself is not the problem; effective collaboration is the solution.

Group huggers need not apply; intellectual adversaries with common objectives are welcome to join the party and follow the leader.

Get Back Up, Brush Yourself Off, And Run That Play One More Time

By Art van Bodegraven | 12/08/2013 | 8:38 AM

Buckeye Nation is in deep mourning today, trimming the trees with crepe and descending into dark places of the soul. Hopes, dreams, and expectations for playing in Pasadena achieving bragging rights, dominance over the hated SEC, and comeuppance for ESPN's Mark May all come falling down, like pants around the ankles in compromising moments.

But, we have opportunities for redemption. A bowl game in Miami might show what our stout lads are really made of. And, there is always next year, when a new winning streak can begin, and an unknown future is full of promise. OK, reality has revealed a compelling truth; we were and are not quite perfect. But, we can overcome the setback by performing to our potential next time out.

So it is, also, in the supply chain world. Our customers, our bosses, and our colleagues all expect us to perform perfectly. All perfect orders, all the time. We sometimes fall short, for a variety of reasons. One disappointment is seldom enough to get us fired, either as employees, or as service providers. ten or twelve might be a different story, though.

We are actually judged by how we overcome, and rebound from, shortfalls. Performing superbly in the wake of a failure can generate more loyalty and appreciation than an unblemished record. Research bears this out. Execution resilience is more impressive than never having to overcome challenges. Maybe it's because customers and executives don't appreciate how tough the job is when there is never a problem.

Whatever, there is more than hope when things go all pear-shaped in our professional world. And, there is more than hope that the Buckeyes will take the field again - and prevail - once in three weeks, and again in nine months.

Droning On And On . . .

By Art van Bodegraven | 12/02/2013 | 8:26 AM

No, this is not about my usual presentation style in front of large audiences.  But, my brain exploded yesterday evening, and not from the usual outcome of drinking Laphroaig direct from the bottle with a straw.

Jeff Bezos is at it again, and he took advantage of a 60 Minutes feature to unveil Amazon's octocopter local delivery solution, probably 5 or 6 years in advance of its application in practice.  In summary, these small flying drones, to use Bezos' term, are anticipated to be able to grasp packages of certain maximum dimensions and weighing 5 pounds or less, and zoom through the air to predetermined geographic coordinates to place a parcel on the ground, release it, and fly away, fly away home.  Home would be one of Amazon's mega-distribution centers in a densely populated urban setting.  A distance range of some 10 miles is currently planned.

This is not a game changer, it is a game-redefiner.  It should strike either fear or fierce determination in the hearts of competitors (or anyone) who needs to meet or beat escalating customer expectations for speed of fulfillment.

The ripple effects are huge.  What happens to the parcel revenue now enjoyed by FedEx, UPS, and the USPS?  Are their business models sustainable without that revnue?  How will direct competitors respond, and can they muster the investment required?  Will speed capabilities in the B2C segment stimulate more speed demands by customers in the B2B universe?

Maybe others with a need for speed will develop their own technology solutions.  Perhaps they will collaborate in such development.  Maybe B2B distributors will join the party if they can muster critical mass in package and product attributes.

Be prepared, though.  Today's capabilities are very likely to be eclipsed by the actual solution placed in service in a few years.  And, even if Gen1 drones meet today's promises, you can bet that a Gen2 version that will knock your socks off is not far behind.  So, if you plan to compete, you'll need to be working on what Gen2 might do, not what Gen1 delivers.

Curiously, while all this goes on, with an emphasis on speed in some sectors, other players in the supply chain world are fighting back by slowing down, consolidating shipments, going to second day delivery rather than next day, shifting modes, even at the risk of creating performance variability in addition to slower speeds, in order keep costs down.  If lower cost is what delights a customer, this may be the right track.  But if reliable same-day/next-day delivery is the hot button that helps the customer be more competitive in its market, lower cost is not a ticket to ride on the Love Boat.  And, if your customer base includes some of each, either approach as a one-size-fits-all panacea is doomed to failure. 

I've seldom seen such a dramatic illustration of the chasm between supply chain followers and leaders.  As we often write, the followers spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to cope with change, how to deal with paradigm shifts, and how to approach improvements that are hoped to keep the gap from becoming too much to hurdle.

Leaders are oblivious to these issues.  They are creating change; they are implementing change, and they are working on how to escalate change.

Life is going to get very interesting for the industry, and the moment of truth is closer than it might appear to be.  Is your strategy going to be coping?  Or will it be creating? 

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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