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Step By Step By Step

By Art van Bodegraven | 06/16/2014 | 11:58 AM

It is that time of year again, now referred to at our house as The Season of Killing the Tomatoes.  We try something different each time out on the back 40 (that's inches, not acres), but manage to decimate the crop no matter what. 

For unfathomable reasons, I thought back to our time in Viet Nam.  The war was long ago, and our most dangerous weapon was a matched set of Mastercards.  Saigon (renamed Ho Chi Minh City by the revisionist victors of the conflict) was a bit overwhelming as we essayed navigation on foot through the heart of downtown.  On all sides, phalanxes of motorbikes, so many that they at first made us believe in the power of CGI.  But they were all real, and upon a signal came at the unwary pedestrians like so many oversized sci-fi hornets, buzzing and screaming, and careening at full tilt.  With little warning, they would all stop, and thousands would come at us from another direction, with the net effect of having us soil our small clothes yet again.

Our charming guide, Nguyen KIm Ha, explained that the process of crossing intersecting boulevards was actually quite simple: step off the kerb, and proceed apace, not too fast and never stopping, one foot in front of the other, "step by step by step".  It worked!  We've braved, either on purpose or accidentally, near-certain death by throwong ourselves into traffic melees in places such as Mexico City, Buenos Aires, and Roma, but never with this level of success.

Upon reflection, it dawned slowly that the estimable Ms. Nguyen had learnt to combat traffic with a process, a systematic approach that, applied consistently, led to a satisfactory outcome - survival.  Never mind that the principles of the process were not obvious by inspection, and no matter that Kim Ha's command of a second language did not permit a coherent explanation.  She had a way, repeatable and sustainable, to deal with the every-day massive challenge that the collision of foot and vehicular traffic presented.

In our workaday worlds, we need (and usually have) processes, too.  There is no way in the world that a high-volume fulfillment facility could ship half a million units every day, day after day, without solid processes.  And, there is every reason to expect failure if an organization attempts high-volume activity, and has to re-invent the wheel every time the demand arises.

We are far better off, and infinitely more successsful, if we invest in the processes needed for the norm, and some range around it, and use our creativity for one-off solutions in those (fewer) instances of activity outside the planned range.

Now, I've got to get back to the tomatoes, and get serious about the core process that we can use as a baseline every year to give us a fighting chance at getting a crop out with some annual regularity.  That is, if I can cure the family canine of a certain fondness for nearly-ripe heirloom varieties.

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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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