Archives for December 2014

Sweep The Halls With Boughs Of Holly . . .

By Art van Bodegraven | 12/31/2014 | 10:59 AM

Oh, you thought it was "deck"? As we march hestitantly into 2015, we've already decked. Now it is time to sweep, to clean up, to cram the light strings into a tangled challenge, and to contemplate balls of wrapping paper and the secret hiding places of pine needles.  And, the remnants of now-stale cookies and dried fudge. 

The "deck" part is a party in progress; the "undeck" part takes longer, the festivities no longer fueled by eggnog. Consider for a moment the deck/undeck (or sweep, if you prefer) processes and their application to your professional life.

Is this the time to take stock of the little piles of yesterday's practices, concepts, and truths and prioritize what we might take out of the inventory of new thinking that could elevate our supply chain performance?

Possibly. Even probably. And, likely long-overdue.

Of course, if you are ready to take on new ways of doing business, for your own good and the good of your customers, you've got to get rid of the old ways. Sweep the halls, so to speak.

If you re-deck without un-decking, the outcome is beyond in doubt. Face it; you can't do the same thing in different ways simultaneously. The best outcome in that attempt is cognitive dissonance.

The worst is a blend of customer dis-satisfaction, management disappointment, and personal challenge in undertaking a career change at an awkward time. So, look for the corners that need to be swept out, and the opportunities to excel that can be exploited for win-win-win decking out.

Feliz Navidad en La Habana

By Art van Bodegraven | 12/20/2014 | 11:44 AM

The old men sat near an open window, open because it had defied efforts to close it for years, perhaps decades. Dingy shreds of lace waved gently, more in acknowledement than in greeting. Shouts from children, and the clamor of ancient autos, and equally ancient drivers, rose from a crowded street below, falling on ears that functioned only sporadically, and were no longer interested when they did recognize sounds and signs of life.

The octagenarian's sagging visage surrounded a half smile, and dimly flickering eyes, the look of a man who had little idea of where he was, but was happy to be there. He had fashioned a boat-shaped hat, jauntily pressed to the back of his head, from today's edition of Granma.  Happily the news he no longer read must have been sufficiently significant to warrant publishing, despite chronic shortages of newsprint.  He missed his cigars.

The Kid, five years the old man's junior and also in his 80s, turned away to shield against any chance observation as he pulled the wings off the flies that semed to be the only race that prospered in their cocoon of fearful impoverishment. They waited, in the nonce, for news of offenses delivered by abuelita, and with enduring patience, for the triumphal news that never came of their cause's ultimate victory.  It seemed, somehow, that then fervor that had once fueled the Committee for the Defence of Nothing Left To Live For had waned.

In this season, the tradition of Los Tres Reyes Magos had faded; they had been co-opted by the Santa Claus/Saint Nicholas focus promoted by benefactors going back even farther than los viejos. Not so very long ago, the Holy Days had been marked by the bear's gift of coal, a bad thing when sweets or treats were reserved for the favored, but a good thing if one neeed to cook, and had not seen fuel for some time. 

But, the bear had apparently run out of coal - and oil - and these days seemed to favor more attractive seductions, ones that might pay off rather than cost.  Alas, the road the bear had promised was not likely to appear.  No matter; no one was going anywhere anyway, except for the tour busses.  The odd treat from their not-much-better-off neighbors did not make up for the loss of the bear.

The Kid, resplendent in his faux general's uniform, wished for a moment that they had an infrastructure and talent base like North Korea's, so they could lay cyberwaste to the enemy's vast open-to-the-masses technology base.  But, he chased the wayward thought from his mind.  The North Koreans smelled odd, their liquor was rancid, they ate household pets, and had neither rum nor cigars as redeeming features.

Suddenly, a sharp knock at the door, then rapid-fire raps. What?!?! They were expecting no one. The younger one stopped sharpening an icepick, and shuffled to the warped and skewed door. His little rat face twitched in uncomprehending curiosity. Neither spoke, stunned by the gaily wrapped and completely unexpected present in the peeling hallway, although the elder's lips seemed be trying to form a word or two, "siempre, siempre . . ."

A Christmas present. What was it? What did it portend? What had they done to deserve it? Did they have to give anything in return? Just imagine! A free and unencumbered box of rapprochement.  What possibly could be the high-hatted one be up to?

So much for a slice of life in a parallel universe just off our shores. We, too, might wonder what the present might mean. Will we get more from it than a bundle of cigars? Will the commercial opportunities for us materialize? Can the potentially dominant island nation develop quickly enough to become the critical supply chain hub within its geographic scope of reach?

The potential for the best is intriguing. Fears for the worst are rooted in the evidence of the past. Stay tuned to learn if our optimism has been grounded in delusional naivete - or if what might appear to be a sucker bet pays off.

To recap, trade would be good, and might be beneficial; supply chain execution and excellence might be the keys to unlocking potential we've not yet even dreamed of. Whatever, Cuba's gift from the US changes something.


Note: If you would like a copy of my report of our Logistics Delegation's Cuba visit, please let me know.  Little, until a day or so ago, had changed since we were there early in the new century.  And, not much is likely to change quickly in a new relationship.  But, for better or worse, I was part of a small group of supply chain professionals who had actually set foot in Cuba, had experienced the people as well as the party line, and had taken a hard look at logistics and supply chain possibiities. 

Innocence Lost: The Kid Returns

By Art van Bodegraven | 12/17/2014 | 11:15 AM

The Kid illuminates our thinking so deeply, with an advanced vocabulary, and uncommon sensitivites, that it is easy to forget that he is, well, just a kid. And a curiously unsophisticated one, at that.

After school a few days ago, he was obviously troubled. Confronting his mother, he demanded that she sit down and "tell it to me straight". "There's been a lot of talk at school," he said, without preamble, "about Santa Claus." "Is he really real?"

Uh-oh. Every parent's primal fear. The Talk. But, undaunted, our daughter launched into a touching, moving, explanation of how Santa Claus, once a real personage, had, over the ensuing centuries, become an idea. A concept kept alive, even enriched, by parents, groups, random strangers, all pitching to in to keep the spirit of giving and sharing alive, to preserve the goodness and reward of the special season for another generation.

"Can you see," he half shouted, half whispered, "the innocence leaving my body?" So, in short, innocence sacrificed in favor of deepened knowledge and greater commitment to others. It generally takes a while for the value of the trade to sink in.

Our supply chain world is full of opportunities to experience innocence lost.  The disappointment in discovering that what we learned in school may not quite true up with day-to-day reality.  The frightening realization that our leaders might have feet of clay, and a capacity for denial when things go all pear-shaped.  The humbling experience of applying the latest and greatest concepts in environments in which they are inappropriate - and fail.

But, we are beyond fortunate to be part of a global community that freely shares and gives of itself to others, that fails to see the lure of win-lose competition on a personal basis, and does not hesitate to foster win-wins among colleagues.

We, as a large group, are dedicated to advancing the entire profession. Here, too, it generally takes a while for this reality to sink in.

Meanwhile, we have reached that time of year when people around the globe observe the approaching winter solstice in a variety of ways. Some tie the season to deep religious events, others to tales of an epic history in times before recorded history. Whether your preference is prayer, reflection, celebration, reveling, worship, festivites, frolicking, or sacrifice, I wish for you peace, love, and blessings, health and good fortune.

I ask only that you remember one thing: this time is about all of us, not just one of us; it is about others, and not about self.

Lose your innocence; gain a new view of the world around you.


Your Two-Deep Isn't Deep Enough

By Art van Bodegraven | 12/11/2014 | 9:57 AM

Those of us who bleed Scarlet and Gray, and froth at the mouth at the mere mention of That Team Up North, learned a blockbuster supply chain truth a couple of weeks ago. Followers of college football pretty much all know that our Heisman-candidate quarterback was lost for the year to an injury a few days before our season opener. Our stout lads and their coaching mentors had to be revived quickly to prepare our back-up QB, a largely untested quantity, for the onrushing train wreck.

It took a couple of games, but the best and only Plan B we had found his sea legs, and, by the last game of the regular season, had put up numbers that put him in the thick of the Heisman conversation. So far, so good - that's why in football and in business the two-deep quality is arguably more important than the prowess of the starters alone.

But, the backup broke his ankle in the last quarter of that final game. Good-bye Heisman; hello B1G championship game. Plan B was no longer good for anything except starting a fire, and we were coming up against a cohort of beasts who eat fire for breakfast. Nevertheless, the game must go on, so we weakly called out the sacrificial lamb who was filling the third QB slot, a willing hand in mop-up games with all of 17 pass attempts to his name.

The rest is history. Ohio State administered a textbook beat-down in all phases of the game and the #3 QB was voted the game's MVP. What will happen in the college football playoff games is tough to predict, but the core message of the importance of depth is clear.

To be fair, and more complete, it should be noted that our team has had to, this year, face losses on the D-line, an injury to the H-back, and the need to pretty much replace its O-line, in addition to the dramatic losses at QB.

As much as I rail about talent shortfalls and needs, what we really need to pay attention to is the reality that having an "A Team" is not nearly good enough. Leaders among supply chain organizations must have depth, at least two "A Teams".

In fact, having only a comparable backup is, we now know, insufficient; our functional succession plans have to go several levels. The business risk of failing to do so is no longer acceptable, and the need to call up the reserves is only one distracted driver or wayward bus - or trip to Sierra Leone - away.

Along the way, note that our back-ups and successors will mot be just like us, little clones. Their strengths will be different, their gaps will be in diffrent areas, and in different degrees. So, we can not stop with simply naming the next one up. We need to actively work at a game plan that leverages their strengths, covers their shortfalls, and develops their skills to lead functions and units when the needs inevitably arise.

Roll Out The Red Carpet For Problems

By Art van Bodegraven | 12/05/2014 | 11:42 AM

We more and more strive for perfection.  It takes us nearer to hitting KPI objectives; it seems to be what customers expect; and it makes the CEO and the shareholders happy.  But, as it turns out, while customers really like perfection, they absolutely treasure how we handle problems, overcome obstacles, and make things gone wrong right again.  A case in in point visited our house recently.

At the end of June, we purchased a set of very fine cookware, perhaps not the best on the planet, but excellent and priced accordingly.  I won't say its name, but it approximately rhymes with "gonfalon", which ironically, is typically a ceremonial flag of some beauty and lesser substance.  In a matter of a couple of months, a very handy stock pot developed acne of the non-stick finish, and presented a scabrous surface not fit for food preparation.  Of course, I went to our account on the company's web site and completed the warranty claim information, with all pertinent details and an offer to forward a picture of the afflicted pot.

Weeks passed, and a letter that began with an apology for late response arrived with an instruction to send the pot to the company.  Let's get this straight - a picture is not acceptable, and I have to box up and send a defective product myself to the manufacturer, via a parcel carrier.  Disappointment is starting to turn to dis-satisfaction.  Weeks later, an email announced that the pot had been received, after opening with a famiiar phrase of apology for uncharacteristic lateness, and promising a resolution in two to thee weeks.  Ain't the electronic age a grand thing?

Six weeks later, having heard nothing, I inquired regarding status.  After more than two weeks, there has been no response to the inquiry.  At the same time, I inquired regarding the status of an open order which was to have shipped six weeks ago, after an initial delay of a month.  No response there, either.  Dis-satisfaction is plummeting southward at an alarming rate at this point.

Who knows where the underlying cause lay?  Bad material from the supplier's supplier?  A failure in the manufacturing process?  Whatever, the customer service part of the equation was clearly broken.

A little desperate, and frothing slightly at the mouth, we sought advice from the store at which we had made the ill-fated purchase.  I was not optimistic, having trashed Macy's in the past, but was stunned at the swift and sure resolution of the problem.  In essence, and skipping the details, Macy's stepped to the plate to get done what its supplier couldn't - or wouldn't - do for a customer.  (Thank you, Joyce!)

We should not, perhaps, have been surprised.  It was the long-departed seaman (who made a mid-life career change), Richard Macy, who famously said, "The customer is always right!"

What was the real outcome?  I'm not buying anything again from the un-named pots'n'pans factory (and have cancelled the open order).  And, I'll think twice - or three times - before buying anything from the conglomerate that owns the cookware brand.  It is beyond sad that all correspondence begins with an apology for untimeliness that "is not what you can and/or should expect from . . ."   Beyond that, we are now inclined to look first at Macy's when specific needs arise.  They always do, and we already have.

And, the real message?  For one company, the loser, a problem became a bigger problem by the way it wasn't handled.  For another company, a problem became an opportunity - to create a solution, to do the right thing, to encourage more business, and to create future business possibilities.  Maybe the loser's CFO is happy.  Whether or not, I'll bet the winner's CEO is happier. 

So, be thankful for the problems that used to agitate you.  They are opportunities, but are just not dressed for the occasion.

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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