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Category Archives for "Logistics & Freight Management"

What Causes Supply Chain Confusion

My last post Supply Chain Confusion could kill your business generated several great comments from highly qualified professionals around the world, and in this post I want to explore the reasons for the confusion. Obviously, the confusion is debilitating, and unprofitable. I am sure readers will have their own experiences with the confusion in supply chain world, and can add to the discussion by commenting below.

1. Supply Chain Confusion created by service providers:

In my previous article I mentioned the examples of trucking companies (or warehousing companies) who have painted over their old trucks from XYZ Trucking/Transport to XYZ Logistics to XYZ Supply Chain Solutions without any material change in their capabilities or service offerings. While this kind of ‘branding’ exercise seems harmless enough, and most customers are not ‘fooled’ by such over-representation of the capabilities – it does have several deleterious effects. To give you an example – I was recently asked to answer a question on quora.com by a recent entrant into one of these companies who had entered the ‘field of supply chain’ to make a glamorous career. S/he was disappointed when s/he found that most of the work was rather mundane execution level work in transportation and warehousing. To exacerbate the situation they did not see any prospects of getting even remotely involved in the ‘sexier stuff’ such as supply chain modelling or business transformation. Evidently, then, this type is hurting careers, reputations and perhaps even the entire industry when these companies represent that what they do is all there is to SCM!

2. Supply Chain Confusion created by those who mistake the a small part for the whole (of supply chain)

No doubt strategic sourcing, logistics, warehousing, production planning, inventory management, demand forecasting all are parts of good supply chain management. Yet almost all of them are quite capable of representing that they constitute the entirety of supply chain management. Look at the way that a number of professional bodies have renamed themselves and pretend to represent the entirety of ‘supply chain’ professionals. Their antics remind of the ancient Hindu tale of 6 blind men which was so well captured by the American John Godfrey Saxe in the The Blind Men and the Elephant (Source: Wikipedia):

i. It was six men of Indostan To learning much inclined, Who went to see the Elephant (Though all of them were blind), That each by observation Might satisfy his mind.

ii. The First approached the Elephant, And happening to fall Against his broad and sturdy side, At once began to bawl: “God bless me!—but the Elephant Is very like a wall!”

iii. The Second, feeling of the tusk, Cried:”Ho!—what have we here So very round and smooth and sharp? To me ‘t is mighty clear This wonder of an Elephant Is very like a spear!”

iv. The Third approached the animal, And happening to take The squirming trunk within his hands, Thus boldly up and spake: “I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant Is very like a snake!”

v. The Fourth reached out his eager hand, And felt about the knee. “What most this wondrous beast is like Is mighty plain,” quoth he; “‘T is clear enough the Elephant Is very like a tree!”

vi. The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear, Said: “E’en the blindest man Can tell what this resembles most; Deny the fact who can, This marvel of an Elephant Is very like a fan!”

vii. The Sixth no sooner had begun About the beast to grope, Than, seizing on the swinging tail That fell within his scope, “I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant Is very like a rope!”

viii. And so these men of Indostan Disputed loud and long, Each in his own opinion Exceeding stiff and strong, Though each was partly in the right, And all were in the wrong!

moral

So, oft in theological wars The disputants, I ween, Rail on in utter ignorance Of what each other mean, And prate about an Elephant Not one of them has seen!

Amusingly, the confusion in supply chain management also involves 6 different streams of thoughts.

There Are No Natives in This Land

Supply chain is a relatively new field. Especially at a higher level, there are no people who ‘grew up in supply chain management’.

Traditionally, supply chain professionals have come from one of the three or four streams in businesses.

  1. Logistics – 3PL service providers,warehouse staff, or internal logistics staff – also include people who confuse ‘logistics’ with supply chain’
  2. Procurement – or Sourcing, or strategic sourcing – also includes people who easily confuse ‘supply’ with ‘supply chain’3
  3. Production Planning – or Scheduling – also includes people who easily confuse ‘production planning’ or ‘sales and operations planning’ with ‘supply chain planning’
  4. Inventory Management – also includes people who confuse ‘inventory planning’ or ‘sales and operations planning’ with ‘supply chain planning’
  5. Materials Management or Materials Handling – also includes people who confuse ‘materials management’ with supply chain management
  6. Demand Forecasting – also includes people who confuse demand forecasting with demand management with supply chain management

I have worked closely with all 6 type of pedigree – and each of them have distinct foibles, strengths, weaknesses and biases.

One bias they all have in common is that they tend to have a soft corner for their own pedigree. For example, I spent my own formative years in shipping, logistics and transportation, and for some reason I am still a shipping person at heart. As they say once you spend time at sea – the salt water starts running through your veins.

However, all 6 type of pedigrees also have a great majority of people who are happy to represent their own specialisation as the entirety of supply chain management. That is what causes the confusion.

I could probably write an entire chapter of each of these 6 type of people, and their biases – including the impact of the confusion they cause to damage the profitability and ‘brand supply chain management’. But if you are from within the folds of supply chain management – you will easily recognise most of what I have to say here.

And, if you are not from with the folds of supply chain management then more explaination is no use to you – because you are better off reading my other articles on use of supply chain management for business transformation –  just search for those keywords in the search bar next to the tool bar on top.

I will cover the rest of the cause of confusions in my next post. These are rather esoteric models and we will raise the level of conceptual thinking a few notches in that article.

Related Reading:

  1. https://globalscgroup.com/supply-chain-confusion/
  2. https://globalscgroup.com/how/
  3. https://globalscgroup.com/the-single-biggest-mistake-in-business-transformations/
  4. https://globalscgroup.com/the-second-biggest-mistake-in-business-transformations/

What I Learnt About Business Transformations Fighting Pirates (Not in the Caribbean)! – Part 1

I was reminded of this story because I was talking about it in a workshop on business transformation last week.

I repeat it here because it will be relevant to many people fighting the hard corporate battle, many times without adequate backup.

Here is the true incident without any build-up or embellishment. You have to allow for the fact that this incident is nearly 25 years old, and memory does fade after many years and varied experiences.

Today, this incident almost seems like from a totally another life and place. I was sleeping in my cabin (about the same size as a studio apartment) when I heard shouts from the deck. On this particular ship, the chief mate’s cabin was not too far above the deck, and since the ship was at anchor in a tropical paradise condition, I had left the portholes of my cabin open to allow fresh sea breeze in. In fact, the air conditioner was defective, and I had to keep the portholes open.

I expected a peaceful night at anchor, but alas it was not to be. The sounds of other boats’ or ships’ engines never disturbed me. The shouts from deck did. Quartermaster (QM) on duty on the deck, and the Officer of the Watch (OOW) were both trying to wake up me, the Bosun, and other crew at the loudest of their voices.

I hurriedly put on a T-shirt and rushed outside to the boat deck to get a picture of the situation. I immediately saw the Quartermaster (QM) and OOW standing on the deck holding a couple of large crow bars or similar implements trying to simultaneously repel boarders and wake up the crew.

Two boats had come alongside. It is difficult to identify the intentions of the boats at sea, especially at night. Most are merely fishermen, petty traders, or offering goods or services to the crew. In high piracy prone areas the standing instructions at anchor are to never let a boat come alongside without challenge and permission. However, this was not a piracy prone area (I will not name the location because I have many good friends from this region and they are sensitive to any perceived criticism of this nature).

QM and OOW were relaxed till they noticed one of the boats throwing a grappling hook over a gunwale (sort of deck railing). That was a clear sign of intransigence, and got QM worked up very quickly, who was shouting at top of his lungs from the deck. Seeing this, I rushed back into the accommodation, and grabbed the first useful looking implement, a fire axe.

Meanwhile, the Bosun had also come on the boat deck with another bunch of crew – each with a useful implement that could be potentially used to defend the ship. Alarm was raised on ships horn, waking everyone up. A crew member was sent to lock all the accommodation doors from inside – barring one, which we were using. Almost the entire ships crew except for a few engineers and the Captain assembled on the port boat deck to defend the ship.

One of the pirates’ nimble ‘associates’ had scrambled over the taut rope – a steep vertical climb of about 20 feet – to the ships deck. He was in the act of pulling up a small rope ladder so that the rest of the lot could scramble up. We still had the advantage, this was the second best time to repel the boarders. The best time would have been to cut the rope from the grappling hook before the first person had boarded.

Because this blog is getting too long – I have broken the story into two posts. The remainder of the incident is recounted in the blog titled Industrial Age Tools vs Information Age Weapons, which can be accessed by clicking on the link.

That title does give away the key learning which is as follows: In another set of situations, I see people grappling with impossible odds with inadequate weapons all the time. I am talking about business  transformations that I help companies with for the last 19 years since becoming a management consultant after my MBA. Traditional tools of industrial age – methodologies, knowledge, practices and power structures are regularly deployed to fight superior forces of information age. Most people do not know the difference between the information age weapons and the industrial age tools, till it is too late.

Take a look at the graphic at the end of the blog. And, if you are still convinced that you have everything for the fight ahead – head out to Surveys Questions to confirm your opinion. On the other hand, if you are still taking stock of the situation, like I was doing from the boat deck before sending the repelling party out, These Surveys Questions will immediately give you the necessary information to formulate your game plan.

Changing Role of Supply Chain Management in Digital Economy

Dropping an Anchor – Strategic Thinking on Centralisation vs Decentralisation

The chief mate was on the forecastle with the bosun and 3 sailors preparing to anchor the ship. Master was on the bridge of the ship with the second mate, a helmsman and a lookout.

The ship had just arrived in the pearl river delta after a long sea voyage, and this being the middle of the night there was no means of communication between the bridge and the forecastle except for flashing lights, a loud ships horn,  or a loud voice though a megaphone.

We are talking about 100 years ago, the ship was relatively small and still ran on coal fired boilers. The communication between the ships bridge and the engine room was even more difficult. Coal fired steam boilers were very messy, and the steam engines were extremely noisy. Engine telegraph transmitted the bridge commands from the bridge to the engine – such as full steam ahead, or half ahead, or stop, or half astern. There being no brakes on the ship, the master was extremely good at anticipating the next movement necessary and transmit the command to the chief engineer in the engine room, as well as to the chief mate on the forecastle.

These two men had to be also extremely adept at not only understanding and following the orders from the ships bridge, but also as understanding the entire complexity of the situation in their respective stations and taking actions that would facilitate the final outcome – safely anchored ship without any damage to the ship, anchor, chain, propeller or any other ship.

For example, if the chain was running out too fast, the bosun, or chief mate would have no way to ask the master what was the depth of the water on the chart map or how high the tide was expected to be. They would have to use their own judgment to let go the anchor with sufficient force for it to hold the weight of the entire ship for several days, yet not too much force for it to take out the entire windlass with it. They were aware of other ships which accidentally let go anchor in far more depth than anticipated, and did not control the force in time so that the anchor chain just ran out and broke the windlass.

The chief engineer’s job was even more complex. He had no visibility of what was happening on the bridge, or the forecastle. Yet, he was somehow expected to anticipate the engine movement and respond in time for it to stop the ship so that the anchor can take hold and ship can swing into the tide.

The master relied on these two highly skilled operators who each has their own teams of skilled operators to help them.

And, then, the walkie-talkies were invented.

The master and chief mate are constantly talking to each other about the situation. The engine room can be reliably controlled from the navigation bridge so engineers in the engine control room stay there only for emergency coverage. Chief mate can now provide accurate information from the forecastle station, and master can issue precise instructions of what to do, and when. Chief mates, chief engineers and even masters do not need to be so highly skilled in the ‘art of anchoring’.

Reliable and constant flow of communication has made it unnecessary to anticipate and act. Co-ordination is a lot easier. Less need for contingency planning at each station.

Dropping an anchor, even in the middle of the night and/or in a busy channel with high current, wind or tide, has become a relatively far simpler exercise.

Communication technology always leads to possibilities of centralisation.

How much to centralise, and how to create a new operating system is an art.

The debate continues in every company.

How much to centralise? How to centralise? Why to centralise?

Strategic thinking is a must. No school can teach this – not even with the best case studies. Experience is the best teacher.

Ten Reasons Why Your Business Network is Your Business’ Net Worth, and, How To Make the Most of it?

The simplest definition of business is to sell or buy the goods or services. Though, It may define the trading style of the past centuries but now business is not that much simple. One need to compete strongly to stay in the market, to be the best in every sense and above all being a part of business network is almost inevitable. Joining a network is not at all about catching the bandwagon instead it’s a shield which saves you in more than a dozen ways. In other words you can say that your business network is your business’ net worth. Hows and whys are discussed here:

1. Like Nokia like Network… connecting people

Business network works almost in similar way to the Nokia slogan “ connecting people”. People live in society to avoid isolation and same thing a businessman do by joining an already existing network or creating his/her own network. It serves as a platform to share the ideas and knowledge, to meet new ones, to guide them and get the guidance from the experienced ones. Find out more about how a business network enables connection among the business men here: http://www.forbes.com/sites/geristengel/2013/04/24/6-ways-women-can-power-up-their-businesses-with-networking/

2. Source of practical information

You can learn 100s of the tricks from a book to sell your service or product but only the information which you gained through market research can reveal that what actually the customers want. Loyal and trustworthy friends in a network offer this unique and 100% relevant information. Its better to find few trust worthy people instead of expanding the network to the endless limits.

3. A realm of similar people with similar interests.

In “5-Star Business Networks” Vivek Sood, famous business writer, recalls that how he found a group of trustworthy and loyal people ready to share their ideas at Linkedin.com. You may find it interesting to read the whole story and his view point about how joining networks positively effects the business here. http://www.amazon.com/The-5-STAR-Business-Network-Corporations/dp/061579419X Same thing happens when you become part of a network. Joining a business network enables you to find people with common interests and goals similar to yours. Their knowledge and first hand information improves your understanding towards the business.

4. Makes yourself more visible

You may find it difficult to meet new people but in order to expand your business or to brighten your career it is highly recommended to make yourself as much visible as possible. The easiest way to do so is to join a network where simply interacting with others can do wonders for you and your business as well. Wisely chosen or created business network offers you the right place with the right people, to do the business.

5. Recruiting Platform:

No matter whether you need to recruit or to be recruited, in either sense business network can be helpful. By making yourself visible in your network, you can easily be remained in the mind of those who are the part of this network. Business network works like referral programme where the most visible ones are highly refered as well. Once you get referred or having a referral, respond positively. It will create more chances for you in future.

6. Refines communication skills.

When we discuss business networking, it also means communication between the two individuals. This interaction helps in learning that how a team leader deals with the staff or how a businessman responds in a crucial matters and takes decision. Business networks enable to learn the suitable human behaviour in various situations. Keep interacting with others because only the practice will bring perfection to your communication skills.

7. Refines Target market

Every businessman goes for some market research to find its target market where the offered service or product is highly needed. The loyal and trustworthy members of the business networks help in cutting down the research expenditures and directly targeting the refined market. You may also share your knowledge to strengthen this bond because business network is all about mutual interests.

8. Your network is your personal asset too!

Remember that you are social being at first and to keep socializing is the basic need of any human being. Business network built on pure relationship is one of the most precious assets you have. So don’t hesitate in making strong relationships much more worthy than your business. For more information on the topic , please follow the link: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505125_162-28245723/10-reasons-why-your-network-is-your-biggest-asset/

9. Networking ,the top CBM for today’s business

The concept of business rivalry is fading because the concept of business network has made it possible for the key rivals to sit on a same table or to connect via internet and discuss the common interest of each other and threats being faced .Thus, business networking is working like confidence building measure for the two rivals. Not only the rivals, the two strangers connected through a network also start believing in each other because of the connection built through this network.

10. Business Network-a multiplying factor

Business network is all about mutual trust, which leads to cooperation and finally makes it possible to have a multiplying factor in each sense. This mutual cooperation can lead to the joint ventures or increase in investments and much more. You only need to focus on strengthening your relationships with other members of the network. Be loyal and trust them to get the same in return. For more tips you may follow the link: http://business.financialpost.com/2013/05/27/6-tips-on-how-to-get-the-most-out-of-business-networking/ Using the web for your business is an art and those those who are running their business from home, surely needs mastery because here the situation is quite different from the ordinary business. The guardian pays more light on the issue in the following link: http://www.theguardian.com/small-business-network/2013/feb/25/niche-business-networking-groups

The Single Biggest Mistake in Business Transformations

If I have seen it once, I have seen it a hundred times.  A new person is brought in with a clear mandate. The things are meant to change. Out with the old, and in with the new. The new person comes in with a great fanfare, and takes over. Then he/she starts taking stock of the situation. And takes more stock of the situation. Gets the consultants. Does a study. And, more studies. And more stock of the situation.

Meanwhile, the chairman is stewing in his chair. The board is exasperated. They see a lot fancy reports from the consultants. But they are waiting for action. Which comes in small dribs and drabs. Seems like one step forward and three steps backward. They start saying things like – ‘even the wrong action is better than no action.’

And, that is when you know that the single biggest mistake in business transformation is being repeated again.

Here is a typical scenario:

It had been two months after the internal announcement about achieving a milestone, and no one had seen the spark of business transformation yet. The momentum has been lost. When employees clapped their hands a couple of months ago on hearing the speech about successfully increasing efficiency by 10%, an impressive quick win, management should have taken the opportunity to introduce the next initiative.

Unfortunately, cases like this are not rare. Driven at the wrong speed without an appropriate line-up of actions will extinguish the initial enthusiasm, causing boredom and even withdrawal. As we have seen in my book UNCHAIN YOUR CORPORATION, the journey from supply chain 0.0 to 1.0, to 2.0, to 3.0 is very interesting, and challenging. Here is the relevant framework from the book:

supply chain management

Obviously, if your company enjoys healthy margins and is in relaxed circumstances, you can move just one step at a time – from SCM 0.0 to 1.0 or from SCM 1.0 to 2.0 or from SCM 2.0 to 3.0. All you might need is a slow evolution over number of years, where your company comes to the realize the need to change over 2-3 years, and then gradually carries out that change over another 2-3 years.

During this process, if the market conditions change and, margins experience a squeeze, your company can always hasten the cycle by deploying professional change managers, where a six-year planning and execution cycle can be easily halved to 2-3 years.

However, companies can also jump one step in the process, from SCM 0.0 to 2.0, or from SCM 1.0 to 3.0 by deliberate supply chain transformation, which helps them achieve faster results, with less risk of always chasing the trend. In this particular case, the danger is real that the process can be carried out too slow or too fast, depending on how the transformation is created.

To give you an example of a transformation which was carried out too fast, let’s consider the case of British Petroleum and its oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. The full case study is our book Outsourcing 3.0 but here we will repeat just the most pertinent facts. Obviously, their supply chain 3.0 was configured with a number of suppliers of BP, including the owner of the rig, the operator of the rig, the supplier of the underwater equipment used on the rig, which failed, and the user of that underwater equipment. Unfortunately, the transformation had been carried out so rapidly that the risks were not being managed prudently enough. As a result, a small failure in the supply chain resulted in massive losses, amounting to tens of billions of dollars and a blame-game at the end of it all.

On the other hand, examples also abound where companies drag out the transformation too long, at the pace of slow evolution or change management. We have seen numerous companies go bankrupt, rather than hasten the transformation process.

supply chain management

In fact, take a look at any company declaring bankruptcy, whether in automotive, aviation or any other sector, and you will see apparent signs of failed transformations due to a slow pace, or a lack of understanding of the various stages along the way.

On the other hand, if you want to see examples of companies that have carried out the transformation just right, try and examine those whose share prices have gone up significantly in comparison to the market benchmarks, and then discern whether this result is due to a stroke of luck – for example, a fertilizer company getting lucky thanks to the right amount of rain 3 years in a row – or whether it is the result of a professional business transformation, carried out from one stage to next in a systematic manner.

supply chain management

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