Sometimes we all need to take a break, look ourselves in the mirror and ask the difficult questions. Questions such as: “What can I change about myself today?” or “How can I be a better parent, mentor, friend, or colleague?”. Sometimes we know exactly what we are doing wrong but are afraid of change. It’s so much easier to keep walking past that mirror than to stop and really look deep into ourselves and want to change for the better.
A supply chain is no different when it comes to change. Those same difficult questions can be asked, but most organizations choose to walk past the mirror. As in life, the constant need for change is there. Your supply chain can always improve for the better. We have all been there, knowing that a process is broken but are too afraid of what may happen if we start to change it. We realize that with one change we’re not only changing the way we’ll interact with materials at a micro level–but that you’re about to change, or disrupt, an entire network of people that are intimately involved with those same materials. Make a change in the material master, and it will have effects on procurement, the warehouse, shipping, finance and your customer. Are you ready to do that…? Great! Can you do that alone in a silo sitting in an office or cubical…? No, you can’t.
So, how does one deal with these needs for change? In today’s world of swiping left, instant gratification with likes, and hashtags that go viral in minutes; we need to go back to the core principles. These principles are not new, they have been around since man could walk on two feet. We’ve just gotten extremely far away from them to even remember what they are.
The three core principles are: People, Processes and Technology
Yes, people – the person that sits on the 2nd floor in procurement, the people that work in the warehouse at 90+ degrees in the burning summer heat, the management that fight fires daily. These are the individuals that need to come back to using conversations and not emails for communication. Imagine if you shared your thoughts around a business process; let’s take the warehouse for example. Every day you get a pick list, one delivery may take your team hours to complete. You know exactly what needs to be done on the material master to take control and fix it. But every time you bring up the topic, IT says, “No, you don’t need to own/change the material master settings at this time. Put in a ticket and we’ll do it for you.” Nine times out of ten this conversation ends on both sides walking away without accomplishing anything. What if we turned that upside down? What if we had IT management onsite in the warehouse at 90+ degrees seeing the process that’s broken? Seeing the problem first hand through someone else’s eyes, understanding why they are asking for ownership could create a catalyst for change. They would realize immediately that having access to master data would allow them to self-help their picking strategies on the fly as material consumption starts to change. “Bill”, driving the forklift, would be 20%-30% more efficient at work and may actually go home on time to his family. All this is achievable with open communication between people. We are not all email addresses and inboxes within the same organization.
We all adhere to some formal process or another. These are what the great minds of every organization have put forth and set in stone. I’d bet a steak dinner that you’ve heard this one plenty of times – “It’s been that way since the beginning, can’t change that now or ever, just work around it somehow”. I often ask clients, “Why not?”. Why can’t you challenge what you’ve done for years? If it’s wrong, it’s wrong. We have to get away from trying to blame people in every attempt to justify a change. A process is just that, a way of doing something in its current environment. Just as seasons change, so does a supply chain. Products that you sold three years ago are very different from the ones that you sell today, even if they have the same SKU numbers. Think about that for a min – how many processes have you changed just in your day to day life in three years… started running, got a dog (or cat), kids in college or got married… We see processes around us evolving every day, but yet somehow we think that just because we’re not the ones that put the process in place we don’t have a voice. Wrong again, you certainly do – take time to research, put in the extra effort to show examples of the breakdown and the improvements that could be made with a new process in place. Show real benefits not only for you but your counterparts upstream and downstream; a marriage that lasts for 40+ years after the honeymoon phase is because of process changes.
When we hear the word technology we often get too tied up in the latest buzzword… S/4 comes to mind. But it really isn’t the latest and greatest that will get us to a perfect order, is it? You can’t automate chaos, that was true 50 years ago and still true today. We all use technology, sure, it’s a part of us – no different than when the first Trans-Atlantic phone call was made. But how much different would that accomplishment have been if no one picked up the phone on the other end? Great technology advances take time. The same rules apply to your organization’s technology: they are simply tools to accomplish a task. If you’re not taking the correct approach, no technology can fix that for you. Changing the technology to fit with a broken process is something that I see all the time. It’s what happens when we’ve now created the ultimate problem: we’ve set all three core principles – people, process, and technology out of balance. Now nothing seems to make sense and we’re back to the top of this article reading it again to see where we’ve gone wrong to fix the process that is broken.
As you finish reading (or re-reading this), take a moment to think about what process you could improve in your organization. Talk with people outside of your area, get their feedback and try to see the supply chain through their eyes. Ask questions about technology, and get into the mindset of ‘Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.’ If a process works, it works. Re-inventing the wheel isn’t necessary for every turn of events. We all have complexities in our organizations, and the ones that do the best and succeed are the ones that focus on people, process, and technology at the same level together. It’s not rocket science–think of it more as scientists working together to solve complex problems. The more complex problems you solve together the easier the journey into the future gets not only for you but for the people around you.Tags: Standard SAP, Supply chain