Archives for July 2014

A Putinesque Power Play?

By Art van Bodegraven | 07/28/2014 | 11:44 AM

Power politics of the geo type are center stage in the news, and Vlad The Impaler, oops, 'scuse my slip of the lip, is hogging the spotlight and thinking tenderly of Lubyanka nights.

The paranoid who inhabits my soul on the dark days wonders about other power moves.  We have a long tradition of those who specialize in sourcing and procurement aggressively believing that supply management is the real driver of supply chain management.  In our early history as doing something more than toting barges and lifting bales, the Purchasing Manager often inherited logistics and supply chain responsibilities, possibly because no one really knew what SCM was, and what kind of leadership and vision might be involved.

Today, we are seeing calls for more and better communication between Procurement and SCM, implying a continuing separation which is neither healthy or effective.  And, just last week, a repected trade publication made a case for a "new" role for the CPO as the head of SCM.  Will the circle truly be unbroken?

Look, we can't afford for this to be about who's going to drive the bus, and who is in favor with the Top Dogs - who's going to win and who's going to lose.  We are not only in this SCM thing together, we are all integral parts of the functional (and conceptual) whole of supply chain management.

Who the boss is should not be about a position on the organization chart, or about personal relationships among senior executives, or about appointments made without regard to relevant experience.  Who leads SCM needs to be a function of vision, mission alignment, big picture understanding, and leadership.  Whoever has those is the logical candidate to call the shots; whoever doesn't, isn't.  And, current job title or functional purview don't matter. 


A Pyrrhic Victory?

By Art van Bodegraven | 07/21/2014 | 7:32 AM

For those who may have been napping, or were hungover, at a critical moment in school, the term comes from the Pyrrhic War.  King Pyrrhus soundly beat up on the Roman army in 280, and again in 279, before the Common Era (BCE).  Receiving congratulations, the King responded, " One more such victory would utterly undo me!"  His forces had been decimated, his confidants and commanders slain, and his support evaporated.  Meanwhile, fresh Roman troops kept on coming, in unstoppable waves.  Today, history has completely forgotten all but the memorable vision of victories that guarantee future devastation.

I though about this upon hearing that Staples and the USPS were ending their grand collaboration, in which people already there on other business could drop off mail, purchase stamps, and execute a few simple transactions.  The postal workers' union fought the arrangement tooth and nail, and teachers' unions fought the move, as well, in a show of solidarity - and organized a Staples boycott movement.

The village snark might observe that, having done such a fine job of educating our young, it was appropriate that the teachers could put their spare time to good use in a social cause.

What is disheartening, actually, is that the beleagered USPS had a chance, using available Staples resources, to extend its footprint and consumer share of mind.  At this stage of the game, the service has become a fiscal sinkhole, and is struggling to regain some modicum of relevance.  (The last mile parcel thing is definitely a mixed blessing, as embittered postmen (and women) struggle with things that don't fit in mail boxes, no matter how hard they stomp on them.  They also suffer attitude degradation when they are required to leave the friendly confines of their little trucks to bring things to the doorstep.

So, like King Pyrrhus, victory may be claimed for the moment, but the long downhill slide may well continue, if not accelerate.  And, the once-proud letter carriers will bemoan the forces of evil that took away their jobs and fabulous benefits packages, blaming a political force that has not been in office for a couple of terms, now.

(Note: This is not an anti-union position.  I have been a member of two labor unions, a close observer of a third for two genertions, and a student of the movement's history in the US - and I fully realize and respect the necessity to protect workers from the potential for abuses by those employers who may have lost their souls.)




The Pushmi-pullu Comes To The Supply Chain

By Art van Bodegraven | 07/14/2014 | 9:26 AM

Dr. John Doolittle's fabulous creature illustrates a long-standing dichotomy within supply chain management.  The two-headed beast could: eat and talk at the same time, talk out of both mouths, or attempt, without much success, to go in two directions at once.

For the longest time, our world was dominated  by push models, in which manufacturing or conversion facilities would pump out as much product as raw material supplies would support, while sales and marketing forces dreamed up schemes to skew demand and convince credulous customers that buying  than they needed was a sound business decision.

But, even thirty-five years ago, when robust time-based manufacturing programs were bundling rational manufacturing, procurement, and sales processes to respond to, or anticipate, the pull of genuine demand from end users and customers.  Today, of course, it is taken as a sign of wisdom that practitioners can speak coherently about pull models in supply chain execution.  (Although some persist, based on outdated textbooks or last-century learnings, to sneak in a few push moves for the sake of transient gains that prove costly, over time.)

The push-pull tension extends into how supply chains, and the people who plan and execute within them, are aligned and motivated.  We know, for the most part, that old school command and control "push" management is not a sustainable answer.  And, while the idea of collaborating in an inclusive "pull" management style is attractive, it will not always get the results that enterprises need.  We do still have bottom lines (in both public and private sectors) to tend to.

Adding to managment and leadership challenges in SCM, the ultimate positioning needs to be a mix of push and pull, recognizing the styles, preferences, and motivations of workforces that are de facto diverse.  Once again, we learn that it is about the people, knowing them, and knowing when and how employ a full tool kit in communication, motivating, managing, and leading.  Not everyone gets the picture on this push-pull application.  They tend to build dysfunctional workforces, and tend to, in the long run, lag the performance of new-century practitioners.

One size, and one style, will for sure not fit all, as anyone knows who has closely examined Depend products for different genders, sizes, and capacities.


One Toke Over The Line?

By Art van Bodegraven | 07/09/2014 | 8:10 AM

The 1971 Brewer and Shipley hit did not anticipate the emergence of weed as a mainstream mood-altering choice.  But, with medical applications of marijuana abounding, legalization of recreational pot was sure to follow.

Colorado made a big splash a few months ago, and those at CSCMP's AGC were keenly aware of how ready folk on the street in Denver were.  Comes now, in a somewhat downsized version, the Great State of Washington, to the apparent joy of masses on the port side.

I am not one for a return to Prohibition; humankind has turned to brain-warping antidotes to the stress of daily life since the day an unknown islander left a coconut out in the sun for far too long.  And, there is something illogical about permitting some forms of intoxicants and incarcerating people for using other forms.

But, what, I wonder, will the effects be on the capability and availability of an appropriate workforce, especially in supply chain management?  We struggle today to weed out (pun intended) applicants with scientifically identified drug usage, including ganja.  Will today's drinkers become tomorrow's users?  Will a flood of users come into a market seeking both recreation and employment?  Will we be forced to relax or abandon today's screening practices?

I honestly do not know.  Some people think I have occasionally useful insights, but, hey, I am no fortune teller.  I do know this.  Willie Nelson's wonderful music may be enhanced by his long history of use.  But, Willie is not driving the bus; he is only riding on it.

In our world, much depends on who drives the bus, and how well and reliably.



Cash Explosion!

By Art van Bodegraven | 07/01/2014 | 8:07 AM

Most every state lottery features a television show with a similar name, in which winning numbers are picked and announced (state  games only, not Powerball or Mega Millions), and selected audience members vie for sundry smaller cash awards.  The miracle ius that anyone actually watches these room-temperature IQ gamefests.

We may be facing a less harmless cash eplosion in the supply chain world  some day soon.  I've been wondering, in a general sense, when we will begin to pay a price for the minimal (not quite minimum) wages we shower upon the execution workforce.  Many supply chain and logistics positions a bit higher, in someone's eyes, on the food chain make decent money.

But, the people picking and packing orders and or piloting forklifts through rabbit warrens masquerading as aisles, are making embarrassing wages, even as we bemoan the people shortages that adversely affect our ability to deliver the goods to customers.

I get that we are accustomed, and have trained our customers all too well, to low margin, lowest cost services.  But, that positioning cannot stand when we are presenting value propositions and strategic advantage rather than indentured servitude labor.  The disconnect becomes more painful when we consider the ever-growing skills requirements for the functionaries actuslly doing the execution.  We expect them to have both language and numeric literacy, technology skills, relationship capabilities, general business sense, and high levels of motivation.  All this for $8 to $11 an hour?

Meanwhile, minimum wages are rising across the country.  Enlightened employers, despite challenges in health care coverage, are escalating employee perks, such as Starbucks' commitment to funding education.  Some companies are paying double the minimum wage for operating-level positions because "it's the right thing to do."  Fast food workers are beginning to demand a $15 per hour wage.

C'mon, contrast the value of a supply chain person with that of someone who can't remember to ask, "Do you want fries with that?"  We are going to, sooner or later, have to pay our people commensurate with their value.  That will erode the competitiveness of those selling commodity services on price alone. It will also increase costs for everyone and everything.

By the way, we also may face another squeeze when we recognize that our world often pays less than other sectors for comparable skills in technical activities. 

Painful?  Yes.  Any more painful than $5 a pound for hamburger? Absolutely not!  Hold on tight.  Our bumpy ride, it seems, never ends.

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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