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Archives for May 2014

Sondheim In The Supply Chain

By Art van Bodegraven | 05/28/2014 | 9:03 AM

There are days when we want to beg Stephen to not send in any more clowns.  We seem to have plenty of them to go 'round.  Some want to go back to the good ol' days of functional definition (and limitation) before the gol-durn academics decided to rename  what we did day-to-day the brand new hoity-toity field of Logistics. 

Of course, that put us on the slippery slope to the artsy atmosphere of Supply Chain Management.  To some Ringling Brothers rejects, that has become the ultimate in a semantic exercise to call the honest work we have always done, such as traffic management, purchasing, and warehousing, by a fancy euphemism, much like calling janitors sanitary engineers.

Compounding the challenge, many organizations have become infested with people who are not doing the job, whatever the title, in favor of cutting corners, ignoring process disciplines, fudging the numbers, nodding off during training, rejecting continuing education and skills upgrades, and goofing off in general.

What to do if you find yourself in an environment of red rubber noses, oversize shoes, and outageous makeup?  The good news is that, even if you are surrounded by clowns, you are not required to join the circus.  Unless, of course, your career aspirations are limited to slapstick.

Any culture that tolerates slackers, pretenders, under-acheivers, or other non-combatants is toxic by definition.  Your best course is to run like the wind to a place that values itself and its people more.   Today's paycheck simply isn't worth tomorrow's realization that life is short and you have nowhere to go but downhill.  Of course, do be sure to have the landing spot prepared for when you jump.

For those places operating as if the last century was the last word in business advancement, you have a couple of choices, depending on the prevailing culture and your relationships with senior management.  One is to take on assignments and special projects in which you: 1) have control, and 2) can demonstrate the power and efficacy of contemporary concepts and practices.  A couple of wins could put you on a fast track.  You may lose the friendship of adamant old-school adherents, but you might also gain followers who see the light.

But, if corporate leadership is not ready to turn you loose for the greater good, the entire enterprise is in jeopardy, and your obligation (to yourself and to your family) is to turn yourself loose, and find more fertile ground in which to grow.

Whatever your options turn out to be, do not succumb and commence squirting seltzer at your compatriots.  

The Wearin' O' The Green

By Art van Bodegraven | 05/24/2014 | 9:24 AM

Yes, St. Patrick's Day was more than two months ago, but . . .

No worries, I am not going to invoke Riverdance or Celtic Woman.  Nor even dredge up some insignificant factoid about the ould sod's patron saint.

This past Monday I had the rare opportunity to talk with The Kid's 4th grade class on the school's Career Day.  The topic?  Supply Chain Management, natch.  It is never too early to start recruiting into the talent pipeline.

Using technology products as general examples (they all have iPhones, iPads, Samsung Galaxies, PS4s, or  xboxs (Wii is SO last century), I went through the planning and operational challenges of global supply chains and local markets, ending with the (made-up) discovery that nearly a million pale green smart phones were in inventory and not selling.  What to do, I asked.

It was a retorical question, but one brave lad raised his hand and blurted out, "I know!  Send them to Ireland!"  Honest, you can't make this stuff up.  And, it is bad form to laugh aloud.

Amusing as the scenario might appear on the surface, it illustrates a dynamite quality that every supply chain manager ought to think about.

Faced with an immediate problem (not a challenge and opportunity, but a problem), little Ethan analysed the situation, and with the knowledge and experience at hand, made a decision for action.

We might snicker, or with the advantage of age and experience suggest other options.  But, be honest, how good are we, in general, at analyzing and dithering, and finger-pointing before approaching and implementing solutions?  How often are our well-considered alternatives too little and too late?

Think about Ethan.  Git 'er done, and move on to the really important business imperatives.

Take Me To The River

By Art van Bodegraven | 05/20/2014 | 8:11 AM

OK, I know that the Al Green song is not gospel, but there is something that resonates in the chorus, which calls out to "take me to the river and wash me down".  And, I am mesmerized by the cover in the frighteningly moving film, The Commitments.

I thought on this after listening to the reigning queen of honest gospel music, Mavis Staples, this past Sunday, singing about her eternal truths of Canaan and Galilee.  My earliest memory of Mavis is a vision of a mere slip of a young lady, one of the legendary Staple Singers led by patriarch Roebuck (Pops) Staples.  The family were arguably the brightest stars in the firmament of Chicago's gospel scene.

That vibrant setting gave proof that there was life after Mahalia Jackson (think Albertina Walker, for example).  A highlight in those benighted days was Sid Ordower hosting Jubilee Showcase on local televison, wirh a stable of supremely talented regulars, including the mighty Norfleet brothers.  On those rare occasions when the Staples were appearing we made sure to watch.  Sid dealt with eternal truths of his own, shooting Nazis in WW II, and coming home to fight dark forces as he fought for civil rights (long before that struggle became fashionable) and did battler on behalf of labor unions.  An unabashed Progressive, he was an ally of Henry A. Wallace (no relation to George) in his presidential bid.

Of course, not everyone shares a universal definition of eternal truths.  And, honestly, there are several kinds of truth.  There are the immutable and unchanging.  There are the ephemeral, that disappear in the night.   There are those that evolve, as we learn more and as context and environment change.  And, there are those that are promoted as turths that turn out to be merely wishes, hopes, dreams, or worst of all, fabrications.

Our supply chains are full of examples of each type.  One of our most important tasks is figuring out which truths are of which type. There are some core concepts and values that, having withstood chaos for generations, are likely to be here to stay.  There are those that were true in the last century, but must be adapted to be useful in the face of new realities.  There are those that emerge from misty swamps of deep thought, accompanied by swarms of publicity and promotion, that quietly disappear as the day's sun burns off the fog.  And there are those that only later we see as solutions in search of problems, or self-serving attempts to create artificial (often superficial) differentiations that might encourage a buyer to buy what the seller is sweating to sell.

So, it's probably not useful to apply the learnings from automotive service parts inventories to high-tech product stocks.  The imperatives of a high-service customer-centric supply chain may wreak havoc with the pratical limitations of  low-cost set of policies and processes for a close-out retailer.  Voice recognition could slow down order picking in certain environments.  Enterprise systems might or might not cure the Data-Rich, Information-Poor disease.  An automated solution that is 120% better than the baseline, but only 5% better than the next best solution while costing 30% more, could be a foolish investment.  Superb information put into the hands of people who don't understand it could lead to bet-the-business wrong decisions, and get the horse in front of the cart. 

Are high-rise facilities making a comeback?  Can AS/RS applications really payoff without tax breaks (except in isolated special circumstances)?  Did anyone think about an exit strategy for getting tow lines removed at the end of their useful lives?  When was it too early to be a pioneer in RFID application?  When was it too late?  Did you reconfigure your distribution network when production moved off-shore?  Was your solution too expensive to re-do when near-shoring/in-shoring/right-shoring looked like the next big thing?

And so on.  It feels like there are eternal truths to be obseved, modified, or discarded sprinkled thoughout this short list of examples and questions.  Meanwhile, take a few minutes an listen to Mavis.  You might not agree with all of her eernal truths, but you will feel better for having spent a little time with her.

Keep Digging, There's A Pony In Here Somewhere

By Art van Bodegraven | 05/13/2014 | 7:57 AM

The hot button du jour seems to be so-called Big Data.  I am ambivalent - and you are not surprised.

On one hand, it is beyond exciting to think that we have (relatively) easy access to data that we either could not get, could not extract timely, or could not manhandle and manipulate with any ease to make the decsions that needed making about distribution networks, slotting, inventory deployment, manufacturing integration, demand analysis and response, and so on, in the not-so-long-ago.

On another, we are now challenged on a couple of fronts.  One is the reality that the profession cannot find nearly enough bright analysts to ferret through the morass of numbers to isolate the significant from the trivial.  Another is the continuing frustration of not having analysts who can put trends and anomalies in meaningful context, with very brief experience bases.

A third might be the number of more senior practitioners who are not yet comfortable with data-driven decisions, especially when esoteric fragments are involved, preferring to repeat their intuitive plans and actions.  Of course,  it does not take much of that to drive away what analytic capability resides within the supply chain organization - and warn off any aspirants.

So, we face yet another need to persuade well-meaning industry veterans that the 21st century is not only here, it is not going away.  Even more frightening is the reality that  the not-quite-retired remnants of the Baby Boomer generation are going to be working with more Millennials, not fewer.  And, the attitudinal disconnects involved have got to be resolved so that we can get the best out of both worlds.

The answer cannot be that we must wait for each generation do metaphorically die off in order to do, and do better, what must be done in the supply chain world.  So, keep digging and keep educating.  The future might be a little bleak but it is not necessarily the black hole that some fear.

Q: Waiter, What Is This Fly Doing In My Soup?

By Art van Bodegraven | 05/02/2014 | 2:02 PM

A: It appears to be the backstroke, sir.  That's about all it takes to bring out the inner fierceness in me.  But, I had a few thoughts that follow up on last week's blog.  Of course, anything, including ferocity, can be taken to unhealthy extremes.  That does not give us license to condemn all fierceness becaue it might make some of us uncomfortable to be sitting too close to the flame.

I've been surrounded by fierceness for most of my life, beginning with a widowed mother who managed to send all of her children to university, and teach them that life's journey, even in early years, is not a free ride.  Later, mijn vrouw dicovered one day that she was caring for four children age five and younger.  In such cases, fierceness is a core survival skill.  Of course, I occasonally mention The Kid's older sister who sings, dances, writes, paints, boxes, and has time to simultaneously be an annoying teenager.  Her mother has been fierce in her own right, super-capable, super-organized, and super-demanding in the accountability of others.

But, fierceness is not limited to personal lives.  Our younger daughter found herself unable to obtain a teaching position in which a carry-concealed permit would  have been only a partial equalizer.  She turned to waiting tables, and (with zero experience) vowed to become the best waitress in the joint.  If one measures by tip income, she succeeded.  Later, she taught herself production planning and scheduling and went from the leading commercial and residential coverings maker to running a 21-plant network.  Bored, she taught herself sourcing and procurement and became the single greatest volume buyer of virgin resins in the US.  From there, she went to running a North American  supply chain network; her super-secret objective has not yet been met, but is on the radar screen.  Along the way, she does mini-marathons and triathlons - and has taught herself to be an amazing gourmet cook. 

Other examples in the supply chain world abound.  Ann Drake at DSC comes to mind, and may define fierceness.  And, ferocity is not gender-limited.  The legendary Joe Andraski is not only fierce on a 24/7 basis, he has created a small army of fierce practitioners who permeate our leading supply chain organizations.

I'm thinking we need a new slogan to energize the next generaton of leaders.  Maybe something like "Give fierce a chance!"

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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