Let’s face it, supply chain is a fascinating and pressure-filled field. Supply chains exist to deliver goods and services to customers to allow their company to make money. Albeit, they are last on line, which means that all the fun begins and ends when supply enters the fray. It’s a great profession that spans myriad disciplines – procurement, manufacturing, supply/demand planning, logistics, and much more. There’s excitement in every corner waiting for you! Don’t you wonder sometimes how and why you got into this field?
Through a series of articles and musings, I will shed some thoughts through adages, quips, and comics that will look at supply chain with a tongue-in-cheek perspective. I look forward to comments and other perspectives.
This first article will look at supply chain itself. Future story lines will include supply and demand, supplier management, inventory, supply chain risk, logistics, and managing numbers
No matter how the problem starts, it always ends up as a supply issue.
Remember the game we used to play as kids where we’d all line up and the leader would tell the first person something who in turn would tell the next person in line until it reached you at the end? How many times did the message you heard ever survive that journey?
Managing the supply chain is quite similar. No matter how or why a problem starts off, a demand error, a design error, a change in customer’s mind, an unforeseen holiday, a weather event, or a quality issue, it always becomes the job of the supply chain to deal with. Immediately.
I’ve lived through this type of hell before during a launch of a brand new product in a brand new technology that was a disaster. The company and customers were clamoring to get this highly innovative, disruptive device. It turned into 17 weeks of stress and being under a very bright and hot spotlight trying to get enough supply to meet the demand.The demand seemed to grow every day we said the supply was still in trouble. I saw my CEO, CFO and CSO more times in 17 weeks than all of the previous years in my career. Ugh.
It takes some backbone and a lot of mental fortitude to resolve issues, especially those that affect multiple customers, which means YOUR bottom line. Owning the issue, maintaining accountability, but working with a sense of urgency across all the organizations needed to fix the issue is essential for success.
You never know when the opportunity (right!) will prevent itself to the supply chain to deal with. Hold on tightly or you’ll be taken for a ride instead of driving it yourself.
Supply Chain people are only popular during their highest state of unpopularity.
How many times have you gotten that blank stare when you tell an inquirer that you are in supply chain as a field? Huh? And then you try to explain it. Not worth it. They just won’t get it.
Most of the time, that’s how everyone in the business world feels and thinks about supply chain. Who? What? Oh, those guys.
Until it hits the fan. And, it always seems to hit the fan. Suddenly, without notice, you are amazingly popular. Instantaneous infamy. What a pleasure!
Then all the help starts to come. Everyone’s an expert. “That is an easy problem to solve, just tell the supplier to fix it.” “How come you didn’t anticipate that the typhoon would hit when the shipments were due?” “Just expedite the manufacturing.” When you try to explain the few laws of physics that come to mind, that “deer in the headlights” look resurfaces. “Tomorrow?” they ask. Back to work, time to move on.
The redeeming value is that we get to be heroes. Hopefully, we weren’t the arsonists. Putting out a blazing fire is exhilarating but not what we aim to do on a daily basis. That is way too exhausting.
Once the problem is cleared, normalcy returns to the supply chain folks. Who?
In “The Field of Dreams” Kevin Costner was told “build it and they will come.” In supply chain and manufacturing, if we build it they will order something different.
In the next article we’ll talk more about supply, demand, and the elusive balance of the two.
For now, we all know the supply chain financial drill. Drive to lower cost of manufacturing, increase asset utilization, improve cash flow, and the world will be great. Sufficient inventory to handle upside demand. The CFO will smile and the supply chain team can remain out of the limelight.
The build plan was vetted with marketing, with the business unit, with sales, with everyone during S&OP. Manufacturing is told to get the inventory in place – lead times are real, so you have to build in advance. Then the orders come in.
“I know we ordered that SKU but we need the other SKU now. How come you can’t give us the other SKU instead?” We hear it all the time. Other times you blow through all of the buffer inventory, expedite the new parts to replace the stock, and the order changes again.
Chasing demand is the never-ending story of supply chain. How much do you need? By when? OK, we’re on it.
Michael Massetti is a global high-tech supply chain executive who really does enjoy being a supply chain professional! Seriously.