Archives for April 2017

Stay Calm And Mind The Gap

By Art van Bodegraven | 04/30/2017 | 8:18 AM

Quintessentially British, these are watchwords to live by.  "Mind the gap" is an admonition used when entering - or more likely, exiting - a subway (tube) car.  Despite that, people, especially Americans, show a propensity to getting a foot wedged in the opening between a car and a platform.

"Stay calm" is an all-purpose reminder that every and any situation is an opportunity to stay cool, to remain unfazed.  Spilling tea and milk onto one's lap, taking cover when V2s blanket London, preserving the integrity of a scone under grievous insult, whatever the assault on the status quo.

In recent days, the insult has been the UK's departure from the EU's trade arrangements, the notorious Brexit.  In this event, the cooler heads belonging to the Dutch, who are in a "wait and see" mode, standing by to facilitate British trade as opportunities present themselves.  The Germans are much less positive, expecting cuts in trade.

And, the Americans are in full panic over an unknown future.

So, the gap caused by Brexit is being minded in different ways.  And, not nearly everyone is staying calm.  The logistics sector is profoundly affected, featuring cost increases, delays, and uncertainties.

Sit yourself, dearie, and have a cuppa . . .

Don't be Dim About Dim Weight

By Art van Bodegraven | 04/28/2017 | 9:06 AM

The initial furor over dim weight implementation by the major parcel carriers has died down, and neither Armageddon nor The Black Death have followed in its wake. Despite the lamentations of an old school coterie that made Hoosier School-Master look avant-garde.

I confess, consumers have been paying through distended nostrils for parcel dimensions for a long time, so many of us were unruffled by the change. Cowboy up, compatriots. We/you are paying—and dearly—for space used on a hurly-burly of mixed LTL freight loads. In the main, weight is not the principal driver of costs and charges. And, the weight part of the dim weight equation protects the carriers against that occasional stray box of anvils.

But Mike Regan is taking up the challenge in Tranzact's Two-Minute Warning. His point? Carriers are tending to pile up additional charges, and shippers are somewhat unaware of their how and why. Shipper-provided weights are way off true, and result in carrier re-weighing.

And, shippers are at a disadvantage, in that the parcel carriers know a lot more about their shipments, data, and charges.

So, here's my question: If this is costing big money, why aren't shippers tracking and learning from their own data?  Why does a third party know more than the originator? And, if it's worthwhile for the carrier, whey isn't it worthwhile for the shipper?

Seems as if there's more opportunity than is being recognized, at least on the shipper side. It just might be time to re-evaluate the payback from an effort to control accuracy, and manage additional parcel charges.

But that's just me, and what I'd do if it were my own money at stake. Oh, it is  Every time I go to FedEx Office or The UPS store.

Soft Skills Get Harder . . .

By Art van Bodegraven | 04/26/2017 | 12:09 PM

A recent article in Material Handling & Logstics suggests, wrongly, I believe, that a job interview can be snagged thanks to supply chain experience, but that soft skills will actually get the job.

I'll posit, in the contrary, that soft skills are in such demand that hard experience won't even get your calls returned, let alone result in an interview.  Further, the so-called "soft" skills are simply manifestations of a current generation of job-seekers and the preferences of enlightened employers.

Two senior resources from the StratOps Group list several of these skills, perhaps not in the priority sequence I'd pick, but listed nonetheless.  They begin with strong communications skills, including empathy and tools that are useful in a wide range of applications.  Next, I'd pick the ability to think critically - and I'd augment this skill with a deep understanding of what defines, operationally, how enterprises perform.  To that, I'd add, as a must-have, sensitivity to and respect for a corporate vision and culture.

Then, there are the more or less obvious qualities: a knock-out punch work ethic; the ability to master time management;  a never-ending commitment to process improvement, whether kaizen or lean or Six Sigma, or whatever; and sensitivity for how forms of organization are appropriate for varying applications and missions.

Add to this leadership mulligatawny a dedication to team efforts in problem-solving and creative development; creating an environment that permits - or encourages - self-motivation; and familiarity with a variety of responsible social media outlets.

There's more - more topics, and more detail.  But, these'll get you started, and keep you out of the traps of not quite getting what soft skills are really all about.

False Measures Of Supply Chain Success

By Art van Bodegraven | 04/23/2017 | 12:44 PM

We spend entirely too much time focused on the minutiae of supply chain performance, and most of the metrics involved are useless on a good day, and misleading when a lunatic OCD accountant is at the wheel of the bus.

So, we asiduously measure and report such trivia as transportation cost, inventory turns, headcount, supply chain cost as a per cent of revenue, and so on . . .

We have no clue as to the importance of supply chain investment and performance in such needle-moving outcomes as: customer retention, increnental sales, competitive position, profit margins, capital investment, return on assets (ROA), and return on equity (ROE).  Shame on us, operating in the murky dark of cost managment left iover from the last century, and blissfully unaware of that makes organizations succeed in an enlightened new century.

Always-astute Jeff Berman has seen through this twisted performance mis-fire; we need more like him to energize our collective understanding of failure, success, and watching the wring ball that characterizes too much of what we pay close attention to.

How To Sink A New DC

By Art van Bodegraven | 04/21/2017 | 1:05 PM

In distribution, particularly serving the omnichannel segment, there is an explosion of purpose-built distribution centers. In a timely confluence, Industry Week recently published a list of what not to do, what to avoid in siting a new manufacturing facility.

Truth is that almost any facility ought to follow the same guidance, whether a factory, a headquarters, a distribution center, or whatever. The key points are these, with my own takes on IW's input …

Confidentiality. Tell no one with a prospective stake as an outside provider of goods or services. You don't want to dilute, skew, or unduly influence a pristine process that should consider your organization first by a great margin.

Document any and all commitments. Those with an interest in attracting your building, or helping with the build-out and go-live, will say almost anything to snare a "yes" vote. They seem to take cues from pre-owned–vehicle sales people—whatever it takes to seal the deal, whether real or hoped for, can be preached as Gospel to the eager-to-be-pleased prospect. Get it—get it all—in writing. Judge Judy ain't going to be entertaining oral representations in making a down-the-road settlement decision.

Stay out, despite other factors, of high-cost areas. The people who work there need to be able to afford to live in the area. And, a big chunk of cost relates to infrastructure, the access and transit adequacy (and life span) that your goods and people will traverse every single day.

Don't forget, or skimp on, environmental due diligence. Once you've done the financial due diligence, it's time to look at factors such as groundwater, hazardous waste, cleanup, soil content, flood plains, water management, species protection, and the like. The phrase "Come hell or high water" takes on new meaning.

Do not settle on a single prospective site selection until final negotiations have been concluded. Even then, have a Plan "B" and an alternate selection in your back pocket. Locked in is locked in, and the partner in a shotgun marriage does not get prettier as time—and the possibility of escape—pass.

Go big or go home. Too small a facility is a potential crippler. You will grow, and you will find uses for "excess"space. Space is relatively cheap insurance for a fututre that welcomes growth and change with style and ease.

Understand the reality of cost incentives: the value, the potential to use them, conditions and limitations, and interdependencies that may or may not be either acceptable, or questionable, over the long term.

Never make a location decision based solely on perceived incentive value. The gravy train will show up empty some day, and the attractiveness of a location is incredibly complex—way beyond a cash incentive or tax break.

Make sure that the general area contains, or can quickly attract, the right number of skilled and talented executives and associates. And, decide how to manage building an engaged workforce in an area in which labor unions dominate groups of workers.

Spend whatever time it takes to build alignment among stakeholders on the parameters for a location search—must-haves, deal breakers, nice-to-gets, philosophies regarding size and incentives, etc. A failure to do so means doing it all over when you think you're finished, and can fray internal relationships—and permanently damage your credibility.

Happy hunting!


Workers Of The World, Unite!

By Art van Bodegraven | 04/19/2017 | 12:22 PM

As industry and its hysterical pundits proclaim, a revolution is camped on our doorstep.  It's, luckily, only the IoT, the latest incarnation of machine-to-machine communication, and the dawning of new ages in manufacturing, supply chain management, and man/machine interface(s).

The gnat in our minestrone seems to be a shortage of people who understand the connectivity of machines with sensors and the humans who need to figure out what the data they generate means..

Good priorities, so far, but a mere ripple from a stone skipped over the surface of a lake.  We don't have enough contemporary talent for a new century, period.  McKinsey tell us so, corporate behavior validates the reality promised by consultants, and our anecdotal experience provides small mountains of corroborating evidence.

We simply don't have the coders, analysts, technicians, repair persons, "fixers", skilled tradespeople,  critical thinkers, and new century perspectives to compete on a global basis. 

And, we've got to get that act together, on a more substantial foundation than IoT.

A New Chapter In An Endless Book

By Art van Bodegraven | 04/16/2017 | 9:33 AM

I've ranted and carried on in these pages frequently to comment on the seasonal attempts to recover from the depths of winter's deepest, darkest, days - those from which there seems to no escape.

We burn Yule logs, partake of wassail, banish Haman, celebrate a new holy year - whatever.  And remain secure in the knowledge, rooted in both hopes and experience, that sun and Spring will bring new crops, fresh floral blooms, and a rekindling of growth and prosperity.

Once again, evidence springing eternal, the earth becomes fertile and we grow enough or both replanting seed and consuming for sustenance.

Whether writ large or writ small, a new chapter will be written - again, in work as it presents itself to us, and in life, as opportunities to affect others pop up like mall kiosks.  When we look back, let us consider that we did, or did not, take advantage of the opportunities for optimal impact.  

The seasons repeat, and we will see Spring again.  But, there aren't enough Springs to guarantee that we've done as much as we could, or should, have.  Whether Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Jedi, or other, we have a continuing obligation to do our best, and be our best, on behalf of the generations yet to come.

Go thou, and transform the lives of those around you . . .

The Revenge Of The Robots

By Art van Bodegraven | 04/14/2017 | 1:03 PM

They're on the march, and we can't stop them. Whatever they are. I confess to terminal ignorance regarding what constitutes automotion and what qualifies as robotics. Somehow, AS/RS, sortation stations, and infinite varieties of conveyor seem to be (mere) automation.

But, what are robots? Sometimes remotely anthromorphic devices that perform essentially human tasks, only with deadly accuracy and a high degreee of reliable repeatability, e.g., spot welders. I'm not equipped to project the deeper meaning behind AI-powered humanoids, capable of learning, communicating, and providing comfort to human colleagues and companions. (By comfort, I do not mean the services provided for Japanese soldiers in the 1940s.)

So, in my skewed worldview, little Kiva-like transporters might be robots, and cable-gripping trolley cars might be automation.

What I am confident about is that the proliferation of both automation and robotics will not make life richer, and economic status advanced for ordinary workers. The related Utopian hopes often expressed are so much hype and wishful thinking. But, the future, unless one is a gifted programmer or craftsperson, is bleak.  Fewer good jobs, more unemployment, thundering underemployment, and low wage menial employment where automated kiosks and robotic processors have not passed the ROI test.

While all of society is likely to undergo wrenching changes and rotting deterioration, what are the near-term candidates for early economic genocide?  Opinions vary, and can border on the somewhat demented end of the scale.

One observer lists these as imminent casualties:

  • Compliance—any function designed to ensure that rules are being followee and that all coloring take place betrween the lines.  Lawyers, acountants, and, if we are to have one little ray of sunshine, maybe IRS agents.
  • Cashiers—else why mess around with semi-intelligent kiosks.
  • Supply chain functions, including portions of procurement and replenishment, inventory management, forecasting, planning, packing and labeling, order selection, replenishment. All that said, I don't see the SCM teams disappearing into the morning mists—ever.
  • Scheduling and travel management.
  • Taxi service and ride-sharing—actually any function that can be Uber-ized.
  • Software testing.

Another goes after many of the same targets, but with specifics, including analysis, intelligence extraction from Big Data, testing interpretation—and wraps up with doctors. I'll reserve judgment on the medical side; my confidence will always have a bias for humans in all aspects, and I am not ready to risk all on a program malfunction, faulty logic, or cyber-mischief.

Good news?  Palmer cites the jobs to be taken over by robots last, including: mental health professionals, politicians, professional athletes, judges, and pre-K/elementary teachers. Not that these jobs won't eventually be lost; they'll just take longer got the robots to figure out. Not an encouraging sign for the future; not a pretty picture.

Whatever the precise future holds, the changes the planet must learn to live with, and leverage, will be cosmic, and feed into a brave new world of constant change—and uncertainty.

Meanwhile, the robots will sleep well at night.


The Mantras That Lead To The End Of The Rainbow

By Art van Bodegraven | 04/12/2017 | 10:03 AM

To read the endless flow of "leadership" blogs and articles, one would think that repeating the same tired truisms over and over (no matter how lame and self-evident) must surely must surely mark the path to a pot of gold, jealously guarded by ill-tempered leprechauns.  

Not so fast, 12 karat-breath.  Amex's small business Open Forum demonstrated the limited appeal of stale bread in 2016 with a feature on how to improve one's leadership IQ, a pathetic nod to EQ among the platitudes.  It opens with the admirable conclusion that no one is born a perfect leader.

Reality check.  No one is born a leader, anymore than one is born a master engraver.  Becoming an authentic leader is a process that, like getting to Carnegie Hall, takes practice, practice, practice.

Next hot tip: Hire team members you trust.  Well, duh!  Would you, untutored, hire people you couldn't trust?  Then: Have an eye for strengths and weaknesses.  Real tip - you'd better have more than an eye going for you, such as understanding brain wiring, what pushes people's buttons, and what styles and working preferences lead to observable behaviors and interactions.

Next big reveal: Delegate fairly.  What the heck does "fairly" mean?  It sounds nice, but how does the concept translate in day-to-day work?  The admonition that follows, provide improvement opportunities is quickly tagged as a recommendation to "push" the team and criticise its work.

Everyone knows the next one: Admit your mistakes.  What else would leaders do?  Paper over their failures and misjudgment, and jeopardize all hope of followers materializing?  The point of suggesting rewards for good work is murky on a good day.  What?  How?  When? Where?  Why?  Easy to say; tough to execute.

Finally: Be transparent.  OK, Mr. Cellophane, how would you define transparency and the circumstances of its emergence as a leadership attribute?  It's a little like "lead by example", lacking  the details that make sense of pablum.

A prayer for today: Please, Lord, spare us from the babbling of self-nominated experts.  We are overcome with mysteries and sleep-inducing rambling as it is.

Ted Mack, Major Bowes, Arthur Godfrey, Simon Cowell, And Ken Tyrrell

By Art van Bodegraven | 04/09/2017 | 7:55 AM

Before Simon Cowell discovered a kid band and built a platform to identify new talent, Arthur Godfrey (on radio and TV) provided a venue to showcase new talent.  Ted Mack and his Original Amateur Hour preceded Arthur, and was strong on accordions playing Lady Of Spain.  The grand-daddy of 'em all was Major Bowes, a radio staple no longer remembered by even the oldest of our Greatest Generation.

'Who, you might ask, is or was Uncle Ken Tyrrell?  It's complicated.  He began as a minor-league race driver.  He started with nothing, and died with not much more.  In between, he discovered, coached, and managed some of the greatest drivers of all time.  Jackie Stewart stands out.  In '98, Ken's racing team was bought out and became British American Racing (BAR Honda)

Tyrrell's secret lay in the self-discovery that he wasn't all that good a driver; that his real skill was in identifying and developing Formula 1 stars.  He and his stable won all the major races, with Ken's rare loss coming in a fatal encounter with cancer in '01.

So, is this the secret of supply chain success, the ability to abandon the role of charismatic leader on a white horse, and concentrate on finding the best soldiers around whom to build a winning army?

Maybe it's not the only secret, but it couldn't hurt to take stock of how much any one individual can contribute to winning supply chain performance versus how well a collection of talent can cover all the bases in building and maintaining customer delight in supply chain performance.

Laboring in obscurity can be rewarding, if the real work of spotting and integrating genuine talent gets done on the front end.

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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