Supply Chain Management

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How Optimizing Your Supply Chain May Be Harder Than Climbing Everest

By Steven Crooke July 5, 2016 by Kelly Kuhlman

by Steven Crooke

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Why I believe optimizing your supply chain may be harder than climbing Mount Everest: Firstly, a disclaimer: I have not climbed Mount Everest myself; I have only read many accounts of people who have successfully achieved this incredible challenge. Their accounts are awe-inspiring. I am a supply chain guy and an SAP guy – I’ve made supply chains that run SAP better, and I know first-hand a lot of the challenges involved in doing so. I am also surrounded by super-talented people who do the same thing. Together, we help companies achieve the at times seemingly insurmountable task of getting their unwieldy supply chains functioning optimally – saving money, optimizing inventory, improving service levels and all of the good things that go with that.

But here’s the thing about performing this kind of service: Almost without fail, our clients bring us in, expecting that we will make a few SAP changes and tweak a few processes, and then things will be great – supply chain optimization complete! But, as with preparing for and succeeding at mounting Everest, no supply chain optimization effort is ever easy. No climber will walk into an REI, grab some equipment and climb Mount Everest the next day. They prepare for years and work on every aspect that will make climbing Everest a success: physical conditioning, the right equipment, timing the weather, altitude practice and conditioning, nutrition and a good Sherpa. A supply chain optimization effort is the same – it has many requirements that all should be met before success is achieved. Supply chain optimization is not a gentle stroll up a small hill; it is a serious ascent up some of the toughest terrain you will ever experience where you always are at risk of failing.

How to Prepare for Your Supply Chain “Climb”

  • Companies should be made aware of and accept the commitment that a supply chain optimization effort will involve. Prepare for the investment, and accept that it not only will consume your resources, it will require absolute executive commitment to the effort.
  • If you are running SAP, then you already have the technology for success. Sure, you might need to brush off the cobwebs a little (clean up some functionality), but your next focus should be to get your people ready for what is to come. People will sink your effort or pull it to success; preparation cannot start early enough.
  • Timing is very important to achieve success. You can wait for the conditions to be good enough or you can actively drive the right conditions. Do not get locked into waiting for the perfect conditions – they don’t exist. Remember that if you keep doing to the same things, you will experience the same results. People experience comfort in doing the same things, but investors get restless.
  • Lastly, a good Sherpa will, among many other things, time the effort, guide the climbers and choose the right path, based on the knowledge of having done it before.

In both worlds, whether climbing Everest or scaling your supply chain, it is crucial to choose the right Sherpa to guide the effort. Optimizing your supply chain will not be your garden-variety, quick config. change to get everything working; it will consume your organization and take everyone along on an exciting journey that leads to the summit. Make sure you pick the right company to get you there safely.

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