Archives for June 2015

Ancient Secrets Of Productivity

By Art van Bodegraven | 06/27/2015 | 5:58 AM

You are seeing it here second. Forbes Daily actually carried a great feature of what super-productive people do that makes them different from those of us who are simply dog-paddling our way toward the side of the pool.

I was attracted to the subject because we, in the supply chain space, are under continuous pressure and constant scrutiny to be increasingly productive, do more with less, and handle everything both simultaneously and now.

You will not be surprised to learn that these "secrets" are not as arcane as those of the Rosicrucians. And, the Knights Templar are not lurking menacingly in the distant past of an elite anonymous power group.

The bits that got stuck in my mostly-addled mind were these. The uber-productive say "no". Gently, but firmly. Not meanly, but not all mealy-mouthed. They fight off the tyranny of the urgent. We used to rail about the urgent's power as an enemy of the important. Here is where saying "no" is both sanity-saving and job-saving.

And, the bomb-shell - the ultra productive do not multitask! It's all out in the open, now. The emperor has no clothes. Multitasking is less productive than doing one thing at a time, well. People bombarded with multiple information streams can't remember, pay attention, switch tasks, or execute as well as single-taskers. And, those who pride themselves on being gifted multitaskers turn out to be worse at multitasking than single-taskers forced to multi-task.

There's more, but start here. Break a few eggs, smash a few icons, upset Dogbert and Catbert, and get something done! Abandon the fast and furious of multitasking, which turns out to be only half-fast and do one thing at a time - quickly and well. You will reach Emerald City sooner and in better shape than someone who tries to fight off the wicked witch, flying monkeys, and anthrpomorphic apple trees, tending all the while to the needs of a motley assemblage of hangers-on.


By Art van Bodegraven | 06/24/2015 | 1:28 PM

There is only so much the ol' human brainpan can accomodate. Earlier this year, The Kid, a self-appointed mentor for his younger cousins, cautioned them, following a human health (i.e., sex ed) lesson, that details were too gory, but that they should be prepared to experience their brains exploding at some point in Grade Five.

As the school year wound down, Phase II was dropped like an anvil on Wiley Coyote. From the strained silence on the way home, the Mom knew that it had been a tough day. The dreaded girl parts were the topic at hand. How did it go? The Kid confessed, "I am broken - a broken man".

This tale of shock and dismay has parallels in many spheres, not least in our workaday world. And we need to be prepared.

Most of us go along, doing our jobs, following time-worn processes, and passing along the unofficial gospels to rookies as they arrive. But, that is an increasingly useless commitment in a universe of constant change.

We need to be the ones creating new processes, and we must stop taking the status quo as gospel. Those who break old rules, and create new ones are passing the others by.

Then, we face the jolts of disruptive change, and frightening new understandings. We can't afford to accept these blindly, but we have to stay alert and aware - and be ready to act decisively - in the cases of those that gain traction and legitimacy.

Even when girl parts and other impossibilities are part of the package.

Ships In The Night

By Art van Bodegraven | 06/20/2015 | 8:10 AM

Every time I turn around, someone is being heralded as the next big thing, the newest Grammy contender, the brave new voice of a generation - all sorts of pabulum of that nature.  So, I stayed glued to CBS a couple of weeks ago for the usually dynamite Saturday Session.

The featured performer was one Natalie Prass, a charming young woman from Richmond who previously sang backup for someone who pretty much no one had ever heard of.  Her eponymous debut album is receiving some positive critical attention, but the live performance was vocally weak at best and pretentious as time went on.  The poetry just wasn't there; perhaps the Muse was on vacation that week.

Later that day, I chanced upon Norah Jones, whose picture is next to Immense Talent in the Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia.  Go back to backup, Natalie; the bar is higher than you can reach.  That evening Florence and The Machine set us all on fire with a redefinition of power and purpose.  More evidence that backup is the place to be for many, many wannabes.

Admittedly, music and musicians are matters of mood and taste, so just maybe Natalie will go on to uncountable riches and immeasurable rewards.  But, I'm sticking with what moves and grooves in my own demented universe.

In the 9-to-5 world, how many times have we been lured, even seduced, by the promise of the next whatever, only to stagger and reel from the vicissitudes of dealing with ultimate reality?  Too many, I'll submit.  We have learned painfully how nasty it is to fall off a bandwagon prematurely got onto.  The scars make us hesitate even when the evidence is clear. 

We have a continuing balancing act.  Recognizing those hot new prospects that do hold the promise of positive change, and testing thoroughly those superficially appealing developments that need to go back to singing backup - or contemplate a career in trust management.

Or, maybe the calling will become songwriting, if Calliope and Erato ever get back from their sojourn in the Greek Isles.

Is The Plague Over? Welcome To The Middle Ages!

By Art van Bodegraven | 06/17/2015 | 7:32 AM

Attending a recent graduation ceremony, a convocation actually, I was struck by the chords of a long bygone time that were struck.  It was a bit like recognizing some elements of a traditional temple observance in the structure and choreography of the old-style Roman Catholic Mass.  Time out of place, echoes of another age, and ties to the present day.

The pageantry, the costumes, the hierarchies, the roles - all spoke of the days of guilds, masters, secret societies, closed conclaves of cognoscenti, rituals, and separation from the hordes of Great Unwashed.

Caps, gowns, hoods.  A laying on of hands by the masters.  The seclusion, then admittance, of those who had reached the ultimate levels of special hidden knowledge.  The reverence for titles.  The significance of colors, stripes and regalia, apparent only to those to whom secrets had been revealed.

Frankly, I was conflicted.  There is some comfort in tradition and continuity, in maintaining and honoring linkage with our beginnings, whatever our profession.  There is enormous value in preserving more-or-less eternal truths, of holding tight to the touchstones of our practices.

But, when, as in most profession, change is the norm, the pace is picking up, and yesterday's truths have often turned into today's traps, there can be an off-putting aftertaste to the festivities.

Especially in supply chain management, pomp and circumstance (wordplay intended) are no substitute for curiosity, critical thinking, engagement, and working on matters of substance and significance beginning Day One.  So the artificiality of separation, of elevated personages, doctors and masters, can create a gulf between those who should be colleagues, hold back the contributions of the shiny-faced and eager new practitioners, and contribute to a sub-optimizing malaise, perhaps even encouraging runoff from the field in which the best and brightest are in desperately short supply.

One unfortunate outcome of the outmoded practices is the appearance of divorce from reality, living out lives in a parallel universe that does not intersect with the challenges of daily work life on our planet.  Perhaps that is unfair and/or untrue, but it is an appearance.  And, it can lead to a certain disdain among those in the trenches getting their hands dirty that marginalizes the value of academia.

Not that we want universities to become high-grade trade schools; we have trade schools aplenty. But relevance to enterprise and/or organizational interests ought to be a win-win position.  And, as every field continues to change, including education, we need to recognize that the traditional university model may not be sustainable as currently structured.  Doing more on-line is not the ultimate solution, but delivering value to customers, both individuals and organizations - giving the customers what they want (and need, and expect - is paramount in almost every other field.

'Scuse me for a moment; I've got to go photobomb the new PhD class picture.

National Geographic Exposed!

By Art van Bodegraven | 06/13/2015 | 7:09 AM

In the day, that very fine magazine was notorious for exposing the naughty bits of females from other, faraway, cultures, fueling adolescent fantasies under the guise of education.  Today, much attention is paid their print and electronic products (and on PBS, as well) to the up-to-now hidden intelligence of other members of the animal kingdom.

I'll freely concede that the human conceits regarding "unique" thinking capabilities and emotions has ben given the lie by any number of observations and research efforts, much to the chagrin of some religious traditionalists.  But, there are limits.

We are at present entertained, amused, and aggravated by the futile efforts of a nesting robin pair that is attempting to build an abode on a  roof-high cable line.  Perhaps this is an attempt to displace Nik Wallenda from the Guinness Book of Records, but it is failing spectacularly.  The detritus of their work, straws, bits of plastic bag, and copious quantities of earthworm castings all fall to the entry door from our deck into the house.  The straw is a mess.  So is/are the cast-off castings, both dirty and organic - and with  tendency to adhere to the family pooch.  (For those new to the game, "castings" is the polite term for excrement, in this case a pungent varietal.)

What's wrong?  Is this a young and inexperienced pair, with all the good sense and reasoning capacity of eloping 17-year olds?  Have their brains been addled by collisions with their reflected images in large windows?  Have merry pranksters laced the birdbath water with lysergic acid?  Who knows.  What we do know is that the cliché identifies doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result is a definition of insanity.  There may be good reasons that the term "birdbrain" remains in our collective vocabulary.

So, how's it going at work?  Are you doing the same thing over and over, hoping to meet changing demands?  Are you doing the same things, only with more intensity, to reach changed objectives?  Are you doing the same thing, only harder and for more hours, in order to meet the new boss's expectations?

Think about the robins.  They've got choices: find a better location, invent a breakthrough in nest engineering, or insanity.  What are your choices?

Beware Of Savants Bearing Miracle Cures

By Art van Bodegraven | 06/10/2015 | 7:02 AM

Or, TV pitchmen. Or the legendary inventor, Ron Popeil. Or supply chain gurus.

I've (too) often confessed to errors of anticipation in passing enthusiasms for the latest and greatest - and failures to foresee unlikely successes. The world of music has been particularly difficult to prognosticate. The vagaries that influence early promise or sustained prominence have parallels in supply chain management, and help us to understand how many geniuses can possibly get it wrong time after time.

In illustration, I'll offer up Death Cab for Cutie, for whom I foretold a certain future of "whatever happened to". Seventeen years and eight albums later, their latest work is haunting, and darkly poetic.  Then, the Rolling Stones.  Not convinced of their long-term appeal, not persuaded that music was changing forever, and doubting that they'd outlive drug-fueled hard living, I wisely saw a bleak, perhaps nonexistent, future.  Shortly, the Stones will play to a sold-out Ohio Stadium and its 108,000 seats.

On the other hand, I essayed the opinion that the vacuous Carly Rae Jepson was half a trick shy of being a one-trick pony, and she has since risen no further than a mercy appearance on SNL.  I can't yet hazard even a wild guess for Maddie and Tae, who do have a full one-trick but may be, like salmon going home to die, swimming upstream in the piranha-filled waters of the Nashville scene.  In a rare moment of triumph, I basked in the reflected glory of much-maligned Lady Gaga, as she channeled Julie Andrews in a stunning Sound of Music reprise on Oscar night.

In sometimes unsettling parallels, we encounter new, revolutionary, game-changing processes, practices, tools, and technologies in supply chain management.  Time overcomes some, new breakthroughs eclipse others, and some are merely solutions in search of problems.  But, we have to make snap judgments, quickly, and get on with getting better.

So, when and how much can we invest in AS/RS, or Kiva-type robotics, or visibility software, or ERP, or RFID?  And, when we decide to make a move, what happens to the processes involving, and the investment in, voice-directed activity, laser-guided vehicles, best-of-breed functional software, RF guns, four-wall GPS.  How about LMS; will the momentum fizzle, like the discredited stop-watch mavens of a generation ago?  Will upward pressures on minimum wages, and escalating burger-flipper compensation drive the adoption of previously too-costly automated solutions or technology enablers?

There's a lot at stake, and not a lot of room for error.  Can a sub-optimal choice work well enough to save our bacon?  Can an optimal choice that runs into snags destroy an enterprise?  Is someone else's definition of success enough to warrant our adoption of the latest market entry?  What are the chances for a longevity that would optimize performance and payback?  What are the threats coming to market that would make waiting for a next generation worth the risk of inaction?  What are the success and longevity factors anyway?

No wonder we have trouble sleeping at night . . .

Buy A Shredder; Destroy The Evidence!

By Art van Bodegraven | 06/06/2015 | 1:56 PM
A recent university graduation featured the doctoral research of several candidates. Many of the topics were of the Really?!?! variety. Basically foating in a limbo somewhere between So what? and Who cares? By far, the theme mas popular was ". . . evidence-based . . ." I was a bit startled. Is "evidence-based" the new politically correct term for "data-driven"? Or, is it possible that all the other studies were not based on evidence? Nothing would surprise me. The rapidity with which one medical study contradicts the last one, which had discredited the one preceding might just indicate that none of the research is based on a reliable and comprehensive body of evidence. Putting aside whether or not to eat eggs, or butter. Forgetting that caffeine is either lethal or beneficial. Not caring that red wine is a health boon or a gateway drug. I am not sure that evidence-based is in any way distinguishable from non-evidence-based conclusion sets. Ask yourself this. Are we getting the straight dope from supply chain research and related opinion pieces in the academic and trade press? How much is "evidence-based"? And, how much is based on no credible evidence whatsoever? Here's a tip. One anecdotal example does not constitute evidence. Multiple anecdotes do not necessarily herald a lasting trend. And, knee-jerk response to any of these might not be the best bet on the future.

A Not-So-Hidden Agenda?

By Art van Bodegraven | 06/03/2015 | 12:15 PM

CFO Magazine has, perhaps inadvertantly, divulged something we've suspected for some time, and risked a "paranoid" label in the process. The March issue features survey results from a sample of 160 "senior finance executives" to share advice and lessons learned from ERP implementations.

The "eager" panel ranked its Number One priority attribute as scalability and adaptability to changing buisness profiles, which the magazine also identified as the single greatest obstacle to realizing value from an ERP investment.

The appetite for full commitment of staggering resource requirements to implement an ERP has troubled some of us for years, shutting down the priorities of other operational needs for the duration. Curiously, ease of implemetation was ranked next to last among important ERP attributes.

The cynic among us might suggest that the ranking translates as CFOs simply not caring about what it would take to operate the business, as the elusive scalability was reported to be over ten times as important as ease of implementation.

Scalability was also ranked as four times as important as ease of customization, the tweaking absolutely imperative to meet the unique needs of a specific business model. Translation? The CFO really doesn't care how you achieve the impossible, just so long as the miracles keep on coming.

Nowhere in the survey was support for operational functionality so much as mentioned. The phrase "business processes" appeared, but without context, and with no linkage to the nuts and bolts of acquiring, making, and distribution that actually define what the business is. The appearance is that the CFO (and his or her minions) is happy if the accounting module gets in, and a General Ledger can be maintained.

Of course, ERP justifications are suspect, partly because CFOs want them, and partly because vendor salespeople are extraordinarily creative. One responsondent uses a rule of thumb that triples the vendor-provided cost of ownership. Other executives recommend tripling the time and cost to implement an ERP.

Value was stressed by respondents, with a vague bias for supporting cost reductions, and a hope for improved analysis. Anecdotally, other references point to the Data Rich, Information Poor (DRIP) syndrome resulting from ERP implementation.

Some advice was right on, and would, paraphrased, apply to any IT implementation: have a strong evaluation team, train and train again, check the bad references along with the good, swallow hard and push to the wall for realistic cost and benefit comparisons, test until only waterboarding remains as an option, and invest in authentic hands-on consultants.

Is it any wonder that we shrink back a bit when the CFO comes knocking with the latest magical solution, armored with a breastplate of "corporate has decided"?

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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