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Category Archives for "Supply Chain Strategy"

What is Chaining Today’s Corporations?

A divided organization cannot stand together for too long

Within the organization, division of labor was a fine concept when it came out. Obviously, if people focused on their individual area of expertise, in general they can be a lot more productive, if there is a robust mechanism to integrate the fruits of their labor. Unfortunately, the attempts to integrate conflict with the human nature driven by divide and rule from the top, and interdepartmental jealousies at the bottom. If someone gave me a penny for every time I have to listen to a mid-level manager tell me about how everybody else in other departments is under - performing, I would be a very rich man by now.

Most organizations became veritable bureaucracies as they grew bigger. Every person sat inside his/her own department, and was careful about making sure their department did not carry the blame if there was mix-up. Covering the tracks became the norm, and a rigid protocol was developed for interdepartmental co-operational. The resulting departmental silos create silted communication and a culture in which inter-departmental planning is simply not possible.

So what are the problems you might notice in such a divided organization?
We have worked so long on projects where we see these symptoms that it will probably take an entire chapter to explain each of these root causes. So, rather than dwelling too much on explaining each of them here, look out for the case examples embedded throughout this book and see if you can do a quick diagnostic based on these symptoms.

Too much rigidity in planning can lead to discord and disruption

A common tools deployed by most divided organizations to achieve integration was very rigid Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system to run their internal processes that co-ordinate inter-departmental communication. By their very nature such systems were very formulaic and prescriptive with a one size fit all approach to planning.

If you are familiar with internal operations of a large corporation, and wonder why you see so much chaos, anxiety, blamegame and other such dysfunctional behavior, this is the key reason. The systems are not setup for the type of operation. Again, I am sure you and I both could probably write a book full of case studies illustrating these types of problems. My purpose in this chapter is just to highlight what is chaining today's corporations and not to dwell too much on it. 

Of course, if you do think of an extremely poignant case study which stands far above those recounted in this book, do send them through to me for inclusion in a subsequent edition of this book.

Customers hate companies with too much internal focus

As organizations free up their inter-departmental planning from rigidities of prescriptive, monolithic systems the communications start to bloom, and planning becomes flexible, fluid and adaptive. Efficiency improves considerably and everybody is running together, faster.
However, a higher set of problems emerge due to lack of external focus - on suppliers, on customers and on end- consumers
. Many times everybody inside the company is running together, faster in the wrong direction. For a quick example take a look at Sony Corporation. Unhappy customers, slower product development, key new products missing the mark are symptoms of such problems as shown in figure 1.3:

Let us now move quickly to the macro-level picture

At a macro level, we will discuss only a few of the shackles that chain today's corporations and that too at a very high level. The aim of this discussion is to name a few hidden drags on corporate  and economic  performance, whose full impact may be difficult to recognize at a first glance. Rest of this book does NOT contain much discussion on these so it is important to put these on record here.
  Because like it or not, you will face this in your business. And, whether you can do something directly or not, you will somehow have to overcome these drags. So, when you are reading the rest of this material and working out how to use it in your business, keep in mind these chains as well.

Complacency is a slow poison

The sense of entitlement, complacency and the imperial privilege can be observed even today in almost all the nations that once had a great empire - Spain, Portugal, Britain and France. Unfortunately, now the same feeling can be quite frequently seen in the United States, Australia and even Canada.
         There seems to be a belief among a large number of people that the world (or nature, or universe or some such entity) owes them a comfortable living, whether they do anything to deserve it, or not!

In the former imperial nations, this could be understandable because generations grew up hearing legendary stories of fabulous riches, derived from the empire where just being part of the winning team ensured a comfortable lifestyle. For example, Cecil Rhodes famously said "Remember that you are an Englishman and have consequently won first prize in the lottery of life." Spain, Portugal and France show remnants of decaying aristocracy that suffers from this mindset.

As a result, companies suffer from missed opportunities. Slow reactions, incoherent strategies, half-hearted execution and failed transformation. Most of the business in comfort zone and they don't recognize the need to go beyond, to actual create viable 5-star business to business network. 

Supply Chain Is The New Electricity – You Cannot Run Business Without It

Recently I did a small but quite interesting thought experiment with one of my sons.

We were discussing the invention of electricity and he asked me: “Dad, what would happen if there was no electricity?”

Since I actually had such an experience, I recounted to him my life in a remote village in Himalayas when my mother had taken a one-year assignment to teach economics to children in a school nearby.

I told my son that there was no internet, no computers, no telephones, no television, no radio and no light bulbs. Even more so, there was no electricity in that village at all. As a result, the whole village would get up at sunrise, go through their daily routines and were go to bed just after the sunset. People used kerosene lamps to light up for an hour or so after dark and only in case of necessity.

My son is only 8 years old, and grew up in Australia. Hence, obviously enough he found this life almost completely incomprehensible.

On my part, this conversation inspired me to think about life without supply chain management.

I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity of working closely with Dr. Wolfgang Partsch –  who is one of the co-inventors of supply chain management (SCM) in the early 80s. I have had a number of discussions with him about how the business life has changed compared to the life before SCM was invented.

No doubt, the division of labour was one of the biggest and most popular concepts which came out of the industrial revolution. The principle is that every job is divided into its constituent parts to the lowest possible level, so that each person can specialise in what he does best, this would increase the productivity of the overall system immensely. By the late 70s, the division of labour had totally taken over the business as well as governmental work.

Unfortunately, bureaucratic complications combined with the division of labour had created a world in which every department within any company was running as a small fiefdom.

Imagine that a purchasing clerk would issue a purchase order. Then he would let his boss know that he has issued the purchase order as per the boss’s instruction. Then his boss will countersign the purchase order and would inform his boss that such and such item has been purchased, who would then inform his boss, who would most likely be the head of purchasing.

The department head of purchasing would inform the head of manufacturing, who would inform his subordinate, assistant head of manufacturing, who would inform his subordinate, the factory manager, who would inform the manufacturing planner that the purchasing order had been issued.

There were 6 to 8 different links in this communication chain running from the purchasing clerk to the manufacturing planner or production planner. Each message would go up the chain in a department, right up to the department head, and then across to another department head who would filter the message down all the way to a person who would act on it. In such a world with these eight or more different links in the chain, the time difference by itself was enough for the message to lose its effectiveness.

Combine that timing issue with the possibility of a message getting garbled in a long chain of communication, due to the differences of intentions and possibility of misinterpretations of messages, suddenly you realize what a nightmare it would cause.

Not only that, the departmental heads were almost always the biggest bottlenecks in such a communication scheme where nothing would go up, down or sideways without a departmental head’s approval. Obviously, their capacity to process information was only limited by how much time they had.

Problems of the organization without supply chain management

Now before you think of this as a ludicrous, and imaginary situation – let me add that I encountered exactly this situation in an Island airlines where I had the opportunity to participate in a business transformation exercise a few years ago.

Many other organisations I have had the opportunity to serve exhibit at least some symptoms of the same malaise.

So, what would be the typical complications you could encounter if there was no SCM?

You would notice that some easy five-minute jobs could quite possibly take days to accomplish, for a simple reason of the lengthy communication chain required to get the cooperation. You would also see a lot of confusion, because of the possibility of the message getting misrepresented. You would see some coordination, but not a lot of it because of the nature and length of the communication chain.

You would see a lot of bureaucratic nonsense with people hoarding information and only giving it to their bosses or their subordinates in a very selective manner. In many cases, this information hoarding would be pointless and even harmful. The rationale behind the behaviour might simply be a cultural norm or an expectation in such a hierarchical organization.

You would also see too much command and control in this type of organization, for the simple reason that when everything has to pass through a departmental head, he becomes an ultimate arbiter of what information filters through and what does not.

You would also see that the departmental head would have to make all the decisions. Even the smallest scheduling decisions, or planning decisions, or execution decisions, which could have easily be made by people several layers lower than him/her, would need to be made by the departmental heads themselves, again for the same reasons.

You would also see such systems as very rigid with no adaptive capabilities to changing needs of the market place. If you notice any of these symptoms within your company, then there is bound to be a problem with how the supply chain functions in your company.

No matter whether you have somebody with a title of supply chain director or vice-president, your company does not act as an organization with an effective supply chain which cuts across the departmental silos.

As this is a very important subject, in another article I will talk about how supply chain helps to alleviate the silos mentality and integrate departments to act as one company.

Related articles

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!


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/

Retail Supply Chain, In Response To Online Onslaught, Brings More Power To Discount Stores

Retail Supply Chain is Going Through a Massive Shift

As the US economy staggers and consumers remain austerity-oriented, dollar stores or discount stores are presenting a more viable model in retail supply chain.

So much so that big names such as Walmart has decided to adopt the “bargain” strategy by opening smaller stores.

Shopping centres in North America are witnessing an influx of bargain store chains, prompting a fall in vacancy rates at these shopping complexes to 8.6% in 60 major US markets last year. The figures came from Cassidy Turley research, who also noted a “seismic shift in retail shopping centers.” Over the past three years, bargain retail brands such as Dollar General, Dollar Tree, and Family Dollar have opened an average 2,000 new stores each.

Meanwhile, big names in US retail such as J.C. Penney, Sears, Staples and RadioShack are in a precarious situation where they draw traffic to smaller stores nearby. The two latter companies even announced earlier in March their plans to close a combined 1,325 stores. “The challenges of the weak economy are being replaced by the challenges of e-commerce,” said Garrick Brown, director of research at real estate firm Cassidy Turley.

“Dollar stores have just had insane, insane levels of new growth.” “Online retail undoubtedly has snatched some sales away from brick-and-mortar stores but the heat seems to be at the discount store sector.

THE-5-STAR-BUSINESS-NETWORK-Book-Cover1“However, bargain stores have an opportunistic supply chain with an unstable stocking model. With little supply chain planning and low margins, can they sustain their growth over the giants once the latter figure out how to catch up, or expand?” said Vivek Sood – CEO of Global Supply Chain Group.

Already, Walmart has started to tackle small discount stores by planning to open 300 new Walmart Express and Walmart Neighborhood Market stores by the end of this year. This came after the US giant posted lacklustre results in the last fiscal year, with a 3% drop in consolidated operating income, a 0.4% drop in sales during holiday shopping months and a 1.7% fall in foot traffic during the period.

It is even more challenging for Walmart as the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) indicated the lowest score for the giant as both department and discount retailer in 2013. Meanwhile, dollar stores scored very high in the ACSI survey.

“There’s room for manoeuvre as Walmart can utilise its vast business network and supply chain power to further segment its customer base and cater to their needs more efficiently. With the recent opening of hybrid and smaller store format, Walmart may be able to win customers on their fill-in shopping trips,” said Sood, who also wrote the “5-Star Business Network” book.

The key thing to remember is that the three retail supply chains – for traditional box retail format, for online retail and for discount stores – are widely different.

Online retailers can operate like 5-STAR networks working to secure customer orders on one hand, and the cheapest source of supply on the other hand. Matching supply to demand in the most profitable manner can allow to optimise profitability on every transaction if they know how to handle big data.

Traditional box retailers have a very traditional planning and control based supply chain based on forecasting demand and trying to optimise fulfilment most cost effectively. With eroding pricing power, traditional supply chain model is under intense cost pressure leaving the door open for online retailers as well as the discount retailers.

Discount retailers have an interesting supply chain model. Opportunistic purchases, shifting product mixes, end-of-the-line clearances and one-offs dominate the supply chain model. Lower prices attract customers and impulse purchases enhance the margins. That is driving the growth of this sector. However, this supply chain model depends on the weaknesses of the traditional retailers and cannot replace them, and therein lies its biggest weakness.

So, what can we expect?

Expect the traditional big-box retail to survive – though in a pared down, more expensive version of the current format.

Discount retail will remain a high growth, yet shifting format.

And online should continue to grow briskly as per the trend. It will be interesting to see what actually happens. This is not a clash of businesses – it is a clash of business models.



High Demand for Real Supply Chain Experts

Good solid supply chain thinkers are in high demand and low supply.

I would know, I run this company called Global Supply Chain Group for the last 17 years.

It appears that it was not too long ago (when we formed this company) – most business people were struggling to understand what is supply chain and what does it do. We have come a long way since then.

Every politicians speech today is laced with references to global supply chains and business networks that run the commerce on earth today. Companies that are seen as supply chain trend setters are leaving everyone else (even in adjoining industries) biting the dust.

Take a look at the chart below:

But Amazon.com is not the only one.

Current trend is becoming clear- companies such as Apple, Zara, Uber, AirBNB have one thing in common – Supply Chain Leaders as CEOs. Integrators are in high demand. Optimisers rule the roost.

Every era has its own heralds and the mantle changes every few decades.

Every politicians speech today is laced with references to global supply chains and business networks that run the commerce on earth today. Companies that are seen as supply chain trend setters are leaving everyone else (even in adjoining industries) biting the dust.

As as example, it only one or two decades ago that strategists coming from McKinsey or 3Bs (BCG, Bain, Booz) were the prime candidates for the role of the CEOs. What made this necessary was the need for strategic thinking that was missing at the highest level before that. But clearly the mantle has passed on the the integrators / real supply chain leaders now. Here are the previous trends:

  • 1900 – 1925: Inventors, Creators
  • 1925 – 1955: Makers, Builders
  • 1955 – 1970: Promoters, Marketers
  • 1970 – 1980: Accountants, Finance
  • 1980 – 1990: Human Resources
  • 1990 – 2000: Strategists
  • 2000 – Current: Integrators, SCM Leaders

I know, you are asking where is the proof. Take a look at the picture below:

It will take a long time to explain the picture above, if you don’t get it by seeing it. It is also perhaps unnecessary in that case. Suffice it to say that two skills are becoming critical for business leadership:

Integration – of various parts of the 5-STAR Business network, internal and external resources, into a complete unit that delivers the customer experience

Optimisation – that enables sound profitability while delivering the customer experience

I have many other pretty pictures to expound these points, but I would rather focus on the outcomes.

So, what would you expect if above two skills were available in abundance? For sure, you would expect good business outcomes. These could take the form of any of the 5 possible themes:

This is the topic I cover in great deal of detail in my book THE 5-STAR BUSINESS NETWORK – so I will not talk about it in this post. Rather I want to focus on the reason I wrote this blog:

Now, if you have read it this far, there is a good chance that you know someone who will benefit from this information. Earn yourself some brownie points by letting them know – by sharing directly, or via groups. It only take 15 seconds.

Point to Remember - Two Keys to Success:

Integration – of various parts of the 5-STAR Business network, internal and external resources, into a complete unit that delivers the customer experience.

Optimisation – that enables sound profitability while delivering the customer experience


The Mysteries of Supply Chains

I have been asked this question a lot on Quora, as well in my board and other speeches. A lot of supply chain commentary is becoming too technical and mysterious. Supply Chain Software sellers have a vested interest in creating the mystique – similar to what McKinsey used to do about 20 years ago. But Supply Chain Management (SCM) need not be mysterious. Remember, if someone cannot explain it easily enough – they do not understand it well enough.

The purpose of one of my books – Unchain Your Corporation – was precisely this – to demystify the supply chains. This books is written for layperson, can be read in 2–3 hours, and had more than 200 stories and anecdotes to help the readers use complex concepts.


Supply Chain Software sellers have a vested interest in creating the mystique – similar to what McKinsey used to do about 20 years ago. But Supply Chain Management (SCM) need not be mysterious. Remember, if someone cannot explain it easily enough – they do not understand it well enough.


At its core, SCM is just about two things – integration, and optimisation.

Integration of various functions (purchasing, production, logistics, inventory management, finance, sales) within a company. And, Integration of of various companies that form a supply chain together to serve an end consumer.

Optimisation – is the art of getting the best results from the same inputs. You will be surprised to know that most GPS software do not even give you the optimum route even if they have real-time traffic information. The key to testing optimisation is by doing the same exercise manually and comparing against the results of the software. There are clearly degrees of Integration and Optimisation. Higher levels of Integration and/or Optimisation will lead to higher level of efficacy in supply chains.

See the figure below – that comes from one of my board speeches:

supply chain managment

If you supply chain consultants are not telling you these two simple truths, then all the talk of automation, big data software and driverless vehicles is a pipedream without a purpose.

And, if your Supply Chain MBA is not teaching you these two basics then you might have wasted 2 years and thousands of dollars.

Here is why… …Everything else in supply chain stands on those two foundations. Your supply chain relationships are part of integration effort, and automation is part of optimisation effort.