although I am writing this blog post to note down my precise thoughts just for a handful of people, it might be useful for a whole lot of other people too. That is why I am making it public.
This post is written in response to a frequently asked question that I face – and having no FAQ section in our website, this will have to act as a substitute.
Somehow people have no qualms paying nearly double of my rate (including support staff) for a large branded consultancy service – but resent a much lower rate when it comes from a much more competent consultant without a famous multi-century brand.
However, the conversation always starts as a justification for the hourly rate without any comparison points.
I recall several l years ago a similar conversation where I was challenged to justify the rates by a highly (extremely) competent senior executive. He, rightly, pointed out that he could do almost everything that I could do, so why would he need me.
But then, I pointed out that today’s executives are working at a pace which is akin to driving at 150 km/h (90 mph) on an extremely busy and rowdy highway. There are vehicles large and small rushing at breakneck speed from all possible directions. people are barely keeping to their lanes and easily cutting each other off. Risks of accident are extremely high. Those who meet with an accident are left on wayside. Those who make it to the destination, barely have time to recuperate before they start on another project.
No one has time to look in the blind spots. If you slow down you are overtaken and left behind – never to catch up again. Others are ready to jump into your seat at a moment’s notice. And, if they are not as competent as you – it does not matter.
What you need is an early warning radar system that assists you to plot your way through the maze around you – taking all the relevant data points into consideration.
You pay the price for collision avoidance, for arriving safely at your destination with your sanity intact, and for enjoying the journey to a large extent.
After some thought, my friend on the other side added his keen wisdom to the conversation.
He said (and I paraphrase) “for a moment I was disturbed by the thought that if they are not as competent as me, it does not matter. But then I realised it is true, because branded mega-consultancies act a airbags, or other bags, of some sort. So my main decision now is whether I want preventive care, or palliative care!”
And, that size or brand image had only a small impact on the style of consulting practiced by a person.
In the end, it all came down to personal ethos. And, that should be the most important consideration when you hire a management consultant.
“What is success? How do you define it in your current role?”
It was a simple question.
I asked this question of the room in general. I expected multiple replies from the all the executives in the room.
Then, I realised that none would be forthcoming.
A number of cultural factors were at play. The boss was in the room. No one wanted to be seen to be on the wrong track.
I had only 45 minutes to deliver some breakthrough insights to the group. Many people had flown in for the one day conference from distant locations.
My help had been enlisted by the ‘boss’ to get his team to lift the game. I better deliver what I had signed up for.
I had prepared my keynote presentation. The facts, the figures, the frameworks all stacked up. It could all be neatly delivered – well enough to justify my fees for the speech.
But, the audience were simply too ‘disengaged’ due to presence of the ‘boss’. Obviously, I was not fully aware of this dynamic – or, I would have thought twice about the engagement. Life is too short to take assignments with no probability of success.
Yet, there is always a way to succeed in every situation. Especially, if we think broad and deep.
But, the time was running out. I had to think quick. I had to think on my feet. Was it possible to send the ‘boss’ out of the room?
Would it have been possible to negotiate that he stay out of the room in the first place? No.
Then, it would be impossible to send the ‘boss’ out of the room.
Then, what else could be done? What was the right way to proceed?
I decided to change tack on a short notice.
I asked the audience to divide themselves into groups of 8 individuals and introduced a simple supply chain game. I improvised some gaming aids.
The rules were very simple to understand the execute. Each group was to play the game three times, and note down the results.
I asked for volunteers to come up and share their experiences from the game. There were many enthusiastic volunteers. They even linked the learnings to their work. They saw things that no one else did. Their were ecstatic by the end of the gaming session – and not just from the games.
I asked three group leaders, with one key point each, to stay on the stage. They expanded on their key points. They talked about why these points were important to their business. They talked about what changes could be made to the business from next day itself. They were enthusiastic, knowledgeable and on the right track. They started making points that linked up with my presentation.
I flicked my presentation to the last slide – where these same three points summarised the entire presentation.
The group leaders had already delivered what I had signed up to do. There was a thundering applause from rest of the audience.
Boards always ask the hardest questions. That is why these gentlemen (and ladies) get to be on the boards. They know just the right questions to ask at the right moment. Towards the end of this blog I will relate my recent experience with one such question. They may not know the answer, but they know that they are facing fundamental disruption.
And, they take their roles very seriously. Sometimes, more so than the management.
On one hand, they can massage the quarterly (or monthly, or annual) numbers and pretend that the results are much better than the actual results. A temporary high can be achieved month after month, quarter after quarter, year after year till the fiction can be no longer upheld.
Then you end up losing a tremendous part of your market value in a short period of time. While this story is all too common, the most usual alternative is not pretty either – read the story I recount in this blog post.
So why do many companies resort to massaging numbers? Are they not aware of the consequences? Or, are they just hoping to kick the can down the road till the next market explosion?
One of the reasons is clearly hard nature of the other side of the road.
But clearly thinking is not enough. There are already enough strategists who have done nothing else but thinking (and writing what they think).
If you are wondering why so many of strategists’ reports just gather dust on office shelves – the real answer is simple. Lack of confidence.
Confidence in the findings, as well as, in the ability to implement the recommendations. After all, by now we have a generation of advisers who have made nothing but slides all their lives. Most practitioners have serious issues with that.
Most strategies fail to foster confidence because they are based on industrial age thinking. You cannot fault the managers. Even the best business schools continue to teach outdated industrial age thinking today. And, in the rough and tumble of the real world, very few managers have time to think and work out that they have been taught an outdated business thinking process.
I have written many blogs on the difference between the industrial age thinking and the information age thinking, so I will not repeat entire blog posts here. But I will put in one simple slide to highlight the difference:
So while leaders talk about disruption, there actions remain embedded in traditional thinking. Fresh thinking is even harder than traditional thinking.
Not just that, there is a new kind of leader that is required for disruption. For strategists data is everything – it allows them to focus on the select few things that matter.
Supply Chain CEOs think differently. They are able to focus on the entire B2B network simultaneously – both on the demand side, and the supply side. And they know which levers to pull when to make them match in real time. My book THE 5-STAR BUSINESS NETWORK covers the nitty gritty in a great deal of detail. But here are the five key levers in a nutshell.
My next book THE SUPPLY CHAIN CEO will cover scores of case studies and practical examples of the difference, and how you can apply these techniques in your company.
Before, I stop penning this blog, let me highlight the question that the board asked. The question was – Why can’t we do both the things together?
It is a great question, and I am still thinking of the answer.
If you are in Australia, it is more than likely that you already know this saga. If you are not in Australia, or do not follow the news cycle, take a look at the video below:
Several years ago it was this:
Some band-aid solutions are rolled out – mostly to restore public confidence and get the demand up again. However, a comprehensive supply chain security regime is never put in place.
Having done large scale supply chain transformation projects for companies as sensitive as explosives, chemicals, fertilizers, food stuff, soft commodities, bakeries, meat, dairy, livestocks, and many others, we have seen both – the vulnerabilities and some really cutting edge supply chain security in practice.
Unfortunately, supply chain security, in conceptualisation and training, has not kept paced. There is no university course that covers this topic sufficiently. Conferences skirt this topic. Books cover it sketchily. Regulatory framework is patchy and officious.
And after complying with the regulatory burden most people relax in the belief that they have done enough.
Yet, dozens of incidents have demonstrated that regulatory framework is never enough. Each company has to develop its own supply chain security framework, based on its own particular circumstances. Even compliance with insurance requirements is not enough. Reputation damage to your business is a non-insurable loss in most cases.
Complying with regulatory and insurance requirements is a good start. You also need a more robust, holistic and comprehensive supply chain security framework that provides the guidelines for your own company’s supply chain security model.
Our report titled SUPPLY CHAIN SECURITY – A COMPREHENSIVE, HOLISTIC FRAMEWORK provides the information to get you started.
Better still – run a one day workshop based on the content of the report. It will be the best 20K your company ever spent.
In his book The 5-STAR Business Network (http://bit.ly/5-STARBN), Vivek Sood mentions the concept of synchronicity, and focus on Carl Jung’s perception of it. The concept of synchronicity has a specific definition in Carl Jung’s mind.
For him, it is a causal connection of two or more psycho-physic phenomena. He started to use this word in the 1920s to describe two or more casually unrelated events happening together in a meaningful way. Although we could write pages on this concept, a short definition would be a coincidence that is not senseless. Carl Jung observed this phenomenon on a patient for the first time.
A patient dreamt about a golden scarab, and the next day, the same insect hit his cabinet’s window. The question that comes up with this kind of situation is: Was the relationship between the events random or was there some hidden force?
The concept of synchronicity has evolved through the 20th century and many studies exist about it, with many theories and explanations. However, this is Carl Jung’s thought in which we are interested. Indeed, his vision of meaningful coincidence is what I think happens with business relationships. Synchronicity is what enables our business networks to expand and to create more value.
To pursue his work, Jung started to collaborate with Wolfgang Pauli. This collaboration lasted for several decades, making conjectures about synchronicity. They conjectured that with a link between the apparently disparate realities of matter and mind were existing. Pauli called it a “missing link”.
While accretion and synergy are two other concepts that create value, synchronicity is the best. Indeed, synchronicity provides even more multiplied effects than synergy, whereas we usually think synergies are the best we can achieve.
Global business networks can become very valuable because of synchronicity power. While synergy provides a good value (2 + 2 = 5, whereas with accretion 2 + 2 = 4), synchronicity is the most valuable. Its mathematical principle is described as follows: 2 + 2 = 22. This is the power contained in this concept.
Therefore, you must focus on this concept to develop your business networks and make it more valuable than by using simple synergies or accretion. Visualization, if not faith, is compulsory to be able to understand this concept and make it work for you. Besides, the concept of synchronicity relies on key principles that may not be available for anyone. In fact, it is all about abundance of outcomes based on wisdom, creativity and cooperative effort. This is the cornerstone of the value of synchronicity.
Consequently, business networks are great and work successfully for your business when synchronicity is the main ingredient. This is the most powerful ingredient that can help you build a great business network. However, this is still a matter of coincidences, although they are meaningful. In fact, the economic metaphor that can be utilized for synchronicity strategy is the free networks.
Accretion relies on free markets. When your strategy evolves to improve the outcomes, through synergies, the appropriate term is “managed markets”. Then, the best strategy, which includes synchronicity, leads to free networks, which is much more significant and valuable than free markets or managed markets.
Thus, step-by-step, you can improve your business strategy, using your business network and gradually implementing strategies of synchronicity. Synchronicity will create the best value through a great business network.
by Anais Lelong
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.
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:
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.
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 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:
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/
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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/
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.
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
First let me start with a story. I have some personal experience in 1990 with this ancient mariners’ rhyme:
Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.
This was on a ship with a very intransigent bunch of crew from an aggressive Marxist union. What I did not know at this point was that all the crew ratings received a hardship allowance for every day they spent on the ship under water rationing conditions.
The ship embarked on a several weeks voyage across a vast ocean with sufficient stock of water, and then some surplus. This was one of my responsibilities.
I was also closely monitoring the daily usage. I had the cadet and chippy (carpenter) take sounding morning and evening – and write the daily water consumption on a blackboard in the crew mess, as well as the officers ward rooms.
I took daily rounds in the accommodation to monitor the dripping taps to stop wastage of water. Any jump in water consumption was promptly investigated – all for a good reason. I wanted the ships company to arrive with sufficient water stock.
Perhaps it was just an accident – but somehow sea water gained entry into every fresh water tank on the ship (but that is a long story about unions and compensations which is best told at some other time).
The captain (and I) was left with a dilemma, whether to rely on the fresh water generator on board for a long sea voyage, or not. There was no shortage of water – it just was too salty for most purposes.
I will tell you how this voyage panned out at the end of this blog post.
to the real purpose of the post – the over-abundance of un-usable data, and the opportunities that it presents for start-ups.
In my last blog post I recounted a real life story of a business transformation project where information technology fell woefully short. This is not the only such situation I encountered. In fact I recount more than 20 similar examples in my book ‘UNCHAIN YOUR CORPORATION’.
Look at the growth in global data storage capacity below:
Obviously it is not just the capacity – but also the data that is growing. There are many graphics showing growth of data – a few of them are Every Day Big Data Statistics, Data Generated On Social Media Every Minute and 4 V’s of Big Data and all over the cyberspace. The key story they all are telling is just one –
Just like the ancient mariner had no dearth of water, we have no dearth of data. And, just as minute quantities of salt (3.5%) that is present in all that seawater, is enough to make raw seawater unusable for most practical purposes, minute quantities of data error is enough to make most of the raw data unusable for practical purposes.
On the ships (and in many locations on land) we deploy fresh water desalination plants such as Sydney Desalination Plant. The sole purpose of these massive plants is to parse seawater, take it into a pressure chamber, evaporate it at high temperature (because that requires less energy) and then condensate it into distilled water. Further processing is required to remove other contaminants such as bio-hazards. Check here for infrastructure of the full process in some more detail.
In information technology the most bang for the buck is not in generating or collecting more data, but in making the data more usable.
I was asked a question at a recent speech why I was not as bullish as everyone else on big data. I likened the current big data set-ups to an ocean full of seawater. It still takes a huge expense to desalinate the seawater, and to make the data usable.
Any start-ups that figure out a better way to collate, parse, access, and make usable the data to create insights would be a tremendous success. If you know of any, please let me know in the comments below.
In the voyage above, we had to put into an emergency port to get fresh water rations. Without doing this none of our sailors would have survived.
In the emergency port, we had to fight with a bunch of sea pirates, which is a whole new story .
There is no doubt that confusion results in loss of action. Because clarity is the basis of all actions. Clarity gives you confidence and confidence results in action. Imagine a scenario where you need to make a decision and, in order to make a decision you need information, some of which is missing. Generally speaking, you will wait till you have enough information to have clarity and make a decision.
I was recently talking to a CEO whose business suffered from plummeting profits in the last few years. To some extent, the general economic climate had a lot to contribute to this fall of profit. However, as I began analysing the business by interviewing people and then looking at the data that they had produced, I reckoned that there was something much more serious than the business climate which had resulted in shrinking profits.
I saw confusions everywhere in their operations. In my mind, there were at least 5, maybe more, points of confusion which impacted directly on their profit. In other words if these 5 confusions were removed, the company could restore a significant part of its profitability loss, despite the economic downturn. Without revealing the type of the business or even any the specific details of industry it is operating in, here are the 5 things that really mattered. You may be able to use similar thinking in your business.
One of the first things I noticed was that the business had too many products. Product proliferation had festered to an extent where the customer was confused when at the point of consideration. Which one to purchase among the sea of products which looked and worked in a very similar manner?
A typical customer did not have time to discern the subtle differences between product A and product B. In my view, if product portfolio was simplified, back to perhaps 3 ranges of premier, mid-level and budget level, the company would be in much better position to actually educate the customers of the differences between these products and then help them pick whichever product suited their needs best.
No doubt that every niche wants a totally customised product and no doubt that market segmentation dictates more and more customised products to every customer need. However, this can go too far, and lead to too much complexity not only in the customer decision making process, but also in the entire supply chain – from purchasing to manufacturing those products, and then selling, transporting and storing them down the supply chain in the channels.
In short, product proliferation led not only to complexities which added a massive cost to the business, but also to confusion in customer’s mind at the time of purchase. It would have been far simpler to just create 3 ranges for the majority of customers, and then maybe 2 or 3 niche products which could then be quite easily communicated.
The second confusion, which is related to the first one also resides in a customer’s mind. Companies may not make it easy for the customer to buy, because he doesn’t know which button to press on the Internet or where to call to make an order and what information is needed to make an order. Subtle changes, subtle differences in this buying process can actually increase the customer’s order rate significantly not just on the B2C market but even in B2B because in the end, it is people who buy things, not computers.
I can give you hundreds of examples of web pages that I have seen, where companies spend a lot of time and resources trying to explain to their potential buyers all the benefits and features of their products with no call to action, with no hint on how to actually buy their product. Sometimes customers really have to hunt around a company’s website to actually be able to buy what they want.
Now it is ironic, as the companies are getting more connected you would assume that it should be easier to find the telephone numbers and get in touch with companies. Many companies now make it harder to get their telephone numbers and they prefer their consumers to communicate via e-mail or other electronic channels on their websites.
I think it is actually counterproductive. By creating this layer of protection which perhaps might save a few dollars, companies take away the customer’s ability to pick up the phone and call them in case of any confusion related to buying their products or using their services. In the end, unless the company is making a product which is only going to be bought by each consumer once in their lifetime, they should be making it easier for the customer to communicate with them using any channel they choose, even while using their product, because a good consumer in that case becomes a customer for a lifetime.
If I know that any time I have problem, I can pick up the phone, talk to somebody who can explain to me the intricacies of using a particular product or clarify any doubts that I might have, I would appreciate that level of attention to my needs and continue to buy the company’s products for a very long time. You might think that all this lack of accessibility is due to high costs of communication. In most cases, my conclusion was that it was rather a lack of clarity in the process, and customer needs.
The third confusion which kills the profitability of a business is actually on the opposite side.
What does that mean?
You would argue that it should be pretty clear that the purchasing manager is responsible for purchasing. But, hold your horses. In many companies the responsibility for purchasing, procurement, strategic sourcing is divided between the operational business units and, the strategic sourcing department or the purchasing department or the procurement department or whatever they are called.
Now this divided responsibility is generally meant to work very well where specialist knowledge of procurement and strategic sourcing departments comes in handy for the operational people when they purchase things, especially direct materials for their business needs.
However, this can also lead to the confusion where both of them feel responsible for certain things (say overseas fact finding missions) and neither of them feels responsible for other ones (say analytical preparation and grunt work).
And, a lot of things can fall through the cracks, as a result. Very seamless process or seamless working relationship between the operational department and the purchasing/procurement department is critical in order to make sure that the suppliers, the vendors or the outsource service providers do not take advantage of the confusion, and come up with their own de facto processes or their own de facto way of supplying which suits the vendor more than it suits the company themselves.
I can give you numerous examples where outsource service providers rely on such a lack of clarity to force their customers down the track they want. A typical IT or logistic service vendor comes immediately to mind. They will try and provide the service in such a way that it suits them: it reduces their costs to the minimum and at the same time imposes additional costs burden on their customers.
In one case, a logistic service provider would bring in their truck to make a pick up at a time where the customer would have to pay extra overtime costs to their own crew, as well as the service provider, because it suited them marginally better. In another example, one of our clients had a logistic service provider who was taking the client’s products to the warehouse which was halfway across the city – one and a half hour journey each way. Although this provider had a warehouse right next to our client’s operations, which had space availability, taking the products across town would have generated a lot more revenue.
Hence, they decided to store the product one and a half hour journey away from our client’s premises. W
hen you go and ask the service provider for a reason, usually they will create a half-convincing reason to explain it away.
However, a deeper causal analysis generally reveals that it is because of the confusion of responsibility between the operational unit and the purchasing unit.
It is common that purchasing unit did a deal where they signed off on a very low rate with the vendor and the vendor was left in a position where they could decide on the process. As logic follows, they decide on the process which suited them the most so that their revenues (and profits) were still very high.
The fourth confusion which can kill your profit is the planning confusion, especially between a sales forecast and the operational forecast.
The sales staff, within their own department produces their own forecast to answer the question how much they are going to sell. Obviously, they want to have enough units in stock when customers walk in. And they tend to be fairly optimistic about how much they are going to sell.
So, sales forecasters are optimistic people and they do not realize that there is a cost for this optimism. Having far too many extra units in the warehouses for months is actually counterproductive. Not only is this a lot of money lying around in the form of working capital on the shelves, it is also a bad signal to the customer himself.
Customers look at all these extra inventory and start asking for pricing discounts; they believe that the company is not able to sell as much as they are buying or producing. On the other hand, the task of operational people is to make forecasts in a more analytical manner, in order to keep the inventories to the minimum.
As a result, their forecast tends to be generally lower. This brings us to the big confusion between the 2 types of forecasts – the sales forecast and the supply chain/operational forecast.
Therefore, until there’s a joint forecast which everybody has agreed on, the confusion will continue to kill profitability. Companies not only need to know what they are going to produce and sell in terms of joint forecast, they also need to know, what they will do in case of extra demand or extra supply.
They need to have a plan for the fact that forecasts are never accurate. I will address the problems with forecasts (there are at least 5 to 10 different problems with forecasts themselves) in a separate blogpost. But in this piece I just want to highlight the inaccuracy of forecasts. By definition they are going to be wrong, either you are going to forecast too high or too low. What you want to do is to minimise the error, and the consequences of it by having a plan to cope with those consequences.
So if your forecast is too low and the demand is higher than anticipated, how will you meet that extra demand? Will you scramble the business units to produce more? Will you buy it from the market place? Will you be able to hold the demand in the pipeline? Can you tell the customer that you can produce it within a short period of time and supply them? You have to have a plan. Similarly, in case your forecast is too high and you produce too much, you still need a plan for the disposal of the extra units. It should not be just a fire sale because there is nothing that kills profit more than the fire sales.
Now the fifth confusion, maybe the biggest one which kills the profit – but dangerously, also the most covert. Companies budget their business on an annual budgetary cycle where the CFO and his team create the budget once a year.
At the same time they are doing the operational planning cycle on a monthly basis: they are running the sales and operations plans on how much they will produce and sell once a month. This confusion between the financial plan – which is a yearly plan and is rarely updated with the same rigour before the next annual planning cycle, and the operational plan – which is a monthly plan and is updated every month, leads to a situation where the finance function is almost always out of touch with the operational, as well as the sales realities of their business they are trying to control.
Financial controllers are doing their best to control the business with a tool that is totally out of sync with the business operational planning cycle. Again, examples abound, where due to budgetary constraints, companies have made suboptimal decisions in their purchasing, in their production, in their inventory calculations, in their sales forecasts just to be able to meet the budgets. And this has been not just suboptimal, it can totally kill the profit of the business.
The operational team may feel compelled to make these decisions because although profit could be killed, their careers are (not yet) on the line. I will write a more detailed blog on this fifth confusion to discuss how this disconnect between the annual budgetary planning cycle and monthly operational planning cycle can actually lead to immense profitability decline in the businesses.
It is rather obvious what to do about these confusions once you become aware of them. I will welcome comments on which of these, and any additional confusions you have seen in your business, and how you dealt with them.
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.
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.