Nurturing the Supply Chain Farm Team

Join the supply chain conversation at Think Supply ChainLast week I had the opportunity to spend time with executives of small and mid-sized manufacturing companies in the greater Louisville, Kentucky area. I was invited to speak at the Metro Manufacturing Alliance (MMA) annual summit at Ivy Tech Community College in Sellersburg, Indiana. My speech focused on workforce development and how important it is for small and mid-sized manufacturers to invest in developing a “farm team” of talented workers who can contribute to the long-term success of companies.

After the conference, I stayed for a smaller luncheon gathering of CEOs. Here’s where my fellow presenters and I were able to really get down to the heart of the matter. I learned:

  1.  CEOs of small and mid-sized manufacturers are first and foremost members of their communities. They know their workers, their families, and their school systems.
  2. They are concerned that the education system, especially at the high school level, focus primarily on steering students toward college instead of the trades, even though skilled trade workers can make as much or more money than the average college-educated worker over their lifetimes.
  3. These CEOs are committed to their workers and are willing to make investments to ensure their success at their companies, but they also struggle with worker retention and want to know that investments they make are going to pay a return.
  4. They are working creatively to develop programs, such as apprenticeships, that train or retrain workers to have fulfilling careers with their companies.
  5. They are not only concerned about the skilled labor shortage, but also succession planning and developing management talent that can ensure the sustainability of their companies.

As we spoke, I was impressed by the sincerity and earnestness of all the people sitting around the table. I believe, with the help of organizations like the MMA and One Southern Indiana, they will be able to make something happen that will benefit their communities and their companies. Then I had to wonder, what is the role that the APICS Foundation should be playing? After all, education, like politics, is local.

Investing in Supply Chain Education and Training Programs

I come from a family of educators and am part of a generation of Americans raised to believe that college is the terminus of formal education. So I get a little uncomfortable when participating in discussions that suggest that all young people should not aspire to go to college. But my husband—the guidance counselor—tells me I am missing the point. True success, he says, depends on discerning the right path for the student based on their abilities and sensibilities. This is no easy task when government and parents are inclined to measure success by the number of college applications accepted. Add to that the enormous caseloads for guidance counselors and their inability to really know their students, and it is no wonder we tend to seek cookie cutter approaches to steering students in the directions of their futures.

Organizations such as APICS and the APICS Foundation can support local efforts by helping to build national and international awareness among teachers, guidance and career counselors, parents, and students about the many opportunities that exist in the world of manufacturing. Some of these opportunities can be found in trade and others in management. Regardless, they both require education and training beyond high school. They both can lead to fulfilling, life-long careers in manufacturing.

How can we start to change society’s views of success? What can APICS do to nurture the “farm team?”

PwC Supply Chain Sustainability Research

Join the Supply Chain Conversation at the Think Supply Chain blog - Jonathan Thatcher APICS Research DirectorHow do organizations actually increase their supply chain sustainability maturity? How much progress do companies see? What barriers are in the way?

Plenty of research exists—from academia, consultancies, and research groups—that addresses these questions. Typically such research will include surveys of senior managers that captures their sustainability plans and goals. But less common is research that analyzes the supply chain and operations management practitioner. And even more rare is research that looks at both the practitioner and senior managers—research that identifies gaps in management thinking that leads to different perceptions, priorities, and barriers to advancing supply chain sustainability.

This year, APICS and PwC, a leading consulting firm, have combined forces to study these less-common, yet vitally important issues. It is an excellent match—APICS has an impressive network of practitioners and research, and PwC has done extensive research from the senior management perspective. Together, we focused on paying close attention, in survey and analysis terms, to both senior managers and supply chain and operations management professionals. By comparing and analyzing their responses, a clearer picture emerged of the root causes that slow sustainability efforts in supply chain strategy.

Initially, the opportunity to produce such unique research came in 2011, when APICS began studying the difficulties practitioners face in advancing sustainability maturity. In 2012, follow-up research suggested that one major challenge was the enterprise’s differing perspectives on supply chain sustainability strategies, expectations, and planning and execution.

Discovering supply chain sustainability trends

The combined APICS-PwC research  revealed gaps on a number of fronts. For example, many executives and senior managers mentioned the importance of long-established sustainability trends and policies at their organizations. However, 53 percent said they believed their employer’s sustainability history was unknown to them, or its history was less than five years old. Clearly, different perspectives about the history of sustainability were in play.

The combined research also revealed that the practitioner and senior manager perceive different barriers. The existence of supply chain sustainability strategy is one example. Only 5 percent of executives and directors reported that they had no supply chain sustainability strategy, while 21 percent of practitioner managers reported having no supply chain sustainability strategy. Further, practitioners said that leadership does not provide mandates, incentives, and resources to turn sustainable strategies into action. Other respondents added that significant confusion existed about the scope and goals of supply chain sustainability. In sharp contrast, 55 percent of executives stated that supply chain strategy exists and is fully communicated across the organization, or that supply chain strategy exists but has not yet reached all levels of the organization.

Another key difference for the two groups was in realizing value from supply chain sustainability. The survey included questions that asked for respondents’ perception of company performance. Two thirds of companies that reported they did not realize value from supply chain sustainability also stated that they had no practical measurement or tracking in place for supply chain sustainability initiatives. In contrast, only 22 percent of companies who did report realizing value also reported they had no practical measurement or tracking in place.

Ideally, both senior managers and supply chain and operations professionals should work toward increasing sustainability with the use of objective, practical, and insightful tracking and measurement resources. These two groups can more closely align their perspectives. Following are several ideas to consider:

  • A communication or feedback path should exist between management levels to ensure organization-wide practice is on target, particularly where practitioner responsibilities are key. The practitioner must be able to work through prioritization, conflicts, and master planning and scheduling. Keep the practitioner updated on detailed strategy. How the practitioner executes supply chain sustainability strategy influences sustainability practice elsewhere in the organization.
  • There must be effective and practical education and training to ensure best practices exist throughout the organization. Shared use and reporting from tools, systems, terms, metrics should be the result—where education is backed up with incentives, real-world use of resources, and best practices.
  • Help ensure executives and directors provide support for staff ideas. Executives and directors say they are enthusiastic about staff ideas toward sustainability and believe there are more metrics and goals in place, but managers and their teams see it differently. Fewer managers report getting support from senior management for implementing staff ideas.

Considering these ideas may help broaden engagement by breaking down silos between senior managers and supply chain and operations management professionals. Remember, effective sustainability efforts do more than help workers feel good, they have the potential to improve brand image, encourage innovation, promote cost cutting, and comply with government regulations.

Supply Chain Professionals: Have You Sharpened Your Saw Recently?

Join the supply chain conversation at Think Supply ChainThis year, I made it a priority to attend more conferences. Since I started working with APICS in 2007, I skipped my own industry conferences to immerse myself in the world of supply chain. I needed to learn about supply chain and why it is critical to business success. I needed to meet supply chain professionals. I needed to understand the various organizations that serve you in the APICS community. Additionally, I still spend a lot of time on the road meeting with APICS partners and customers to understand their perspectives and needs. In the office, my days are packed with managing planning, budgets, people, and more. I have a busy work and personal life, and I know many of you relate.

I rationalized my nonattendance by telling myself that APICS is my best teacher—that what I was learning on-the-job is better than any education I could receive at a conference. Personally, I am travel weary. I didn’t want to be away from home to attend a conference. Plus, I am 54 years old, and I have been working in associations for 27 years. I thought: How much more could I get from a conference?

Then, in January, I became executive director of the APICS Foundation. My new role required me to stretch as an association professional in ways I had not before. I want to be able to meet the new expectations now that I serve the Foundation’s board. I want to lead my staff into new areas and take advantage of the new opportunities that the Foundation is bringing APICS.

Conferences are a unique opportunity for supply chain professionals

So, earlier this year, I signed up for a one-day seminar on governance. Surprisingly, I loved it! I learned not only from the presenter, but from the others in the room. It was a unique event where association executives and association board members interacted with each other and shared ideas. Now, I am doing some things differently because of that experience. I relate to people differently as well because I gained perspective. I am traveling to another association industry conference in November, and, now, I am really looking forward to it.

Initially, attending the association seminar wasn’t entirely my idea. I was talking to APICS CEO Abe Eshkenazi, and he advised me to network with my association peers. He suggested that I needed to be exposed to other association leaders and organizations outside of supply chain. He was right. Now, I see the value in his suggestion.

When I first read Stephen R. Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, I thought the seventh habit, sharpening the saw, was listed last because it was the weakest. It seemed to be there because seven habits is more aesthetically pleasing than six. I was young, and I didn’t need to focus on balance and renewal. Now, I recognize the value in that seventh habit.

There are many things in our busy work lives that drain energy, weaken our cognitive abilities, and cause us to develop unproductive routines. Taking time away enables us to learn from people in different companies and industries, test ideas, and widen our networks of people—especially those whom we meet in person.

For the last four months, I have spent a lot of time talking about the benefits of attending APICS 2013 from a content perspective. I want to urge you also to consider the professional development arc that includes leaving the office, hearing fresh ideas, meeting new people, and having time to think about applying this knowledge at work and in life. The development arc ends when you return to work, excited by what you have learned and whom you have met, and eager to try something different at work.

That’s my story. What’s yours? Are you taking the time you need to renew and refresh yourself professionally? It’s not too late. Sign up for APICS 2013 today. And, don’t forget to budget the conference experience for next year.

Building Stronger Supply Chain Teams

Building Stronger Supply Chain Teams by Elizabeth RennieAPICS 2013 General Session Speaker Explains the Value of Maximizing Your Authentic Self

From the time our first report cards are sent home to Mom and Dad, we’re taught to focus on overcoming weaknesses. Our grades are lined up in a nice, neat column, and—unless they’re straight A’s—we wonder what we can improve on to become good students next semester. We graduate, get jobs, and soon are striving to be good employees. If only the business world had advanced past the “needs improvement” mentality—but professionals still burn up untold hours attempting to fill gaps, change our fellow employees, and address shortfalls in ourselves and our teams.

Tom Rath, best-selling author of StrengthsFinder 2.0, warns that much of this is simply a waste of time. He believes that, if you spend your life attempting to be good at everything, there’s no chance you’ll be great at anything. “Part of it is just math,” he recently told me. “If you’re trying to be perfectly well-rounded, you just don’t have the time to dedicate to something and become truly great.”

I had the opportunity to interview Rath for APICS magazine in anticipation of him presenting the Monday morning general session at APICS 2013. Truthfully, I was first offered a different assignment, but I requested a swap. After taking the StrengthsFinder assessment back in 2009, I was—yes, I admit it—geeking out at the idea of speaking to Rath. The fact is, StrengthsFinder 2.0 was not just a useful tool for both my team and me, but it also was the permission I needed to fully embrace my inner editor.

One of my strength themes is “Maximizer.” Natural maximizers feel that taking something from poor to acceptable requires a great deal of energy and is not very satisfying; however, transforming something strong into something superb takes just as much work but is significantly more rewarding. As managing editor of APICS magazine, this strength is what makes me effective at identifying diamond-in-the-rough articles that have the potential to be excellent—after the ol’ red pen treatment, of course. And when evaluating APICS 2013 educational session speaker materials for my work with the APICS Foundation, maximization is what drives my commitment to producing content that is truly meaningful for our conference attendees.

The assessment helped me channel my maximizer quality—along with my other strengths at communication and activation. The result was actually feeling happier and more engaged at my job. And when you consider the clear relationship between employee engagement and performance levels, this outcome is also a big positive for my team. Rath is enthusiastic about the benefits of employee engagement through talent development, noting that StrengthsFinder was designed to help teams excel.

StrengthsFinder helps teams identify who should do what tasks, communicate with each other, overcome difficulties, and make sure there is a good balance of expertise. The assessment sets these benefits in motion via an online tool that presents pairs of statements and asks each team member to identify the one with which he or she most agrees. It is rarely a simple choice. The test will even time out if you spend too long on a certain statement—but, interestingly, it takes into account your inability to choose when revealing your top strengths.

Some people enjoy the reveal; others are surprised or disappointed. But Rath notes that it’s not necessary to embrace all five strengths. In fact, he’s seen people build highly successful organizations by just owning and focusing on a single skill. “What matters most is that people identify with even one or two of their themes and find ways to build upon that,” he told me. “That’s the essence of it.”

Have you discovered your top five strengths? How can you apply them to enhance your role as a supply chain and operations management professional? How can revealing strengths advance your teams and your organization as a whole?

Can Supply Chain Innovations Create Customer Happiness?

Join the supply chain conversation at Think Supply ChainJeremy Gutsche will be one of the general session speakers at APICS 2013. In anticipation of meeting him in Orlando, I have been spending some time “getting to know him” through his hugely popular website Trendhunter.com. As the site states: “With 40 million monthly views, TrendHunter.com is the world’s largest, most popular trend community.” At its core, Trendhunter.com is a crowdsourcing community of more than 117,000 individuals who spot and share trends. Trendhunter.com staff post microtrends every day to help site members and readers “generate ideas, stimulate creativity, and ultimately unlock cool.”

To me, Trendhunter.com embodies this year’s conference theme, “Leveraging the Power of the Customer.” Gutsche’s success is directly related to his opinion that companies seeking to innovate make a mistake when they “microcompare” themselves to their competition, resulting in a market full of similar products. “Cool” is not a synonym for popular. Cool represents a “pocket of opportunity” that companies can potentially seize to lead—not follow—in the marketplace. Companies, including Nestlé, Kellogg’s, P&G, Samsung, and Intel, contract with Trendhunter to provide special dashboard reports that help them seize their opportunities.

Supply Chain and Opportunities for Innovation

Searching “supply chain” on Trendhunter.com, I found an interesting story about Coke2Home. Coke2Home is the brainchild of Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages. The company believes strengthening its supply chain will support its development as a world-class company; and, therefore, it puts an emphasis on supply chain innovation.

Coke2Home does what the name suggests. It delivers Coca-Cola products to the doors of customers in Ahmedabad, India. Consumers placing an order online before noon will receive delivery the same day. In a recent interview with the Times of India, T. Krishnakumar, CEO of Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages, explained, “our entire suite of products become available to the consumer to choose from, and a significant drop size provides us with a viable model for door-to-door delivery.”

The milk truck has been around for decades, so why does this Coca-Cola service count as cool? The answer is simple: Home delivery in India ultimately is responsive to the end consumer. With retail shelf space at a premium and personal transportation difficult, home delivery of groceries ordered online is bound to be popular with India’s rising middle class, saving them time and money. Of course, from a supply chain perspective, there will be challenges to overcome. But if Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages can develop a model that balances consumer value and company profit, this supply chain solution likely will create a competitive advantage for Coke in the Indian marketplace.

So can supply chains deliver happiness to the customer? What other trends illustrate how companies are leveraging the power of their customers to innovate and create competitive success?

Online Supply Chain Mapping: the Dawn of a Golden Age?

Join the Supply Chain Conversation at the Think Supply Chain blog - Jonathan Thatcher APICS Research DirectorSharon Rice: I’m pleased to welcome guest blogger Jonathan Thatcher, CSCP, to “Think Supply Chain.” Thatcher is the APICS director of research. He also writes the “Ask APICS” department for APICS magazine.

If you like supply chain maps, take a look at the website Sourcemap. This free social mapping site is capturing a growing number of supply chain maps that “tell the story behind a product or a service: map the locations of suppliers, add descriptions, photos and videos, calculate the carbon footprint, and embed or link to the map to share it with the world!” Or have you ever wanted to “mash-up” different kinds of data into a single chart and see what they looks like? What insights might appear?

Google describes “Fusion Tables” as a service for data management, integration, and collaboration. According to the Google site, “You can easily upload data sets from CSV, KML, and spreadsheets, and visualize the data using a variety of tools. Users can merge data from multiple tables and conduct detailed discussions about the data (on rows, columns, and even cells). You can easily visualize large data sets on Google Maps and embed visualizations on other web pages.”

Now consider Google Public Data Explorer, which easily produces charts and graphs from datasets of public records and performance metrics. Examples include economic performance, population demographics, and international rankings of regions, from the World Bank, the United Nations, and other national government data providers. With this tool, you can combine your own datasets and produce graphs.

Supply Chain Mapping Tools

These new applications help us visualize supply chain strategy. For example, by comparing different supply chain maps, we can see which are designed for speed or lower transportation costs.

Another possible application is to look at changes in a company’s supply chain map over time. This tells the company’s story. How did it grow? What long-term decisions and investments did it make? How complex did its supply chain become?  And if you look at the supply chain maps of several companies serving in the same industry, you can start to see their separate strategies by regions, distances, similarities, and differences. Students can instantly see real-world examples of theory.

Public supply chain maps offer supply chain practitioners a number of benefits and challenges. Benefits include supporting sales and marketing when you are local to your most important customers, or when you want to emphasize investment in specific locations or nations. New audiences also can find new uses for supply chain data. For example, regional planners can see how their company-specific supply chain fits their resource and infrastructure planning. New suppliers can look for under-served locations and spot growth opportunities.

With these new innovations come new challenges.  Competitors can study your supply chain map and better estimate your strengths and weaknesses in areas such as supply chain risk, supplier preferences, and potential distribution patterns. Customers may misunderstand the true scale and volume of your supply chain. In the past, supply chain professionals could only dream of easy-to-use tools to visualize and share supply chains maps. And they could not imagine the visibility and awareness these tools would create.

Combined with social media and blogs, new audiences are continually “consuming” supply chain mapping information. These new audiences include, but are not limited to, small businesses, government planners, competitors, and supply chain partners. Online supply chain maps are part of the big data revolution. Big data tools help graph and visualize complex relationships, making them more understandable.

But all this raises several questions. Can public access to supply chain maps be too much of a good thing? Do these maps potentially reveal competitive information? Is it possible access to this information will lead the public to form faulty conclusions that are difficult to correct? Or does this level of transparency benefit the customer in the end?

Women’s Influence in Manufacturing and Supply Chain

Join the supply chain conversation at Think Supply ChainIn March, I picked up a study conducted by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute (MI) titled “Untapped Resource: How manufacturers can attract, retain, and advance talented women.” The first paragraph hit me hard:

“In the midst of the resurgence of manufacturing in the US, companies are facing a widely acknowledged talent shortfall. Meanwhile, there’s one obvious source of human capital that the manufacturing industry has not fully tapped: women. Across all manufacturing sectors in the US, women are underrepresented in the workforce. While women represent nearly half (46.6 percent) of the total US labor force, they only comprise a quarter (24.8 percent) of the durable goods manufacturing workforce. The proportion of women in leadership roles in manufacturing companies also lags behind other US industries.”

I took a look on LinkedIn to see how many women I could find in vice president positions related to supply chain management. I sent notes out to some asking if they would be willing to talk to APICS about their experiences as female leaders in the field. After conversations with these fascinating women, it was clear we needed to do a feature article on women in supply chain for APICS magazine. However, one question still bothered me: while clearly there are very successful women in supply chain management, why are women still underrepresented in manufacturing?

One reason may be that even with all the diversity initiatives today, we continue to be uncomfortable talking about the lack of parity that exists in the workforce. It doesn’t matter if the subject is gender diversity or cultural diversity, it makes people uneasy. We are afraid to bring it up in conversation. When others do, it’s easier  to suggest that no problem exists, as if there is no longer an issue. Clearly, there is.

There are many perspectives from which to discuss this issue. Yes, one is political, and if the issue was strictly such, it may not be an appropriate conversation for a professional association. But, as the Deloitte/MI study points out, an important workforce development conversation must be had.

Drawing women to manufacturing

Working harder to attract and retain women in manufacturing is beneficial to everyone in the manufacturing industry. An increased number of women in manufacturing, according to the Deloitte/MI study, can

  1.  Address the skills gap issue in manufacturing.
  2. Improve the competitiveness of the industry by gaining women’s insights as consumers and influencers.
  3. Improve profitability. According to Catalyst research, Fortune 500 companies with a high percentage of women officers have a 35 percent higher return on equity and a 34 percent higher total return than companies with fewer female executives.

To address this issue, employers, professional associations, and educators need to participate in meaningful initiatives. Companies that want to attract and retain women must create more flexible work environments and amp up support for continuing professional development—benefits that attract talented men as well. And the manufacturing industry as a whole must do a better job of targeting and presenting itself to women. For this to happen, we have to be able to have the conversation. What can we do together to increase the number of women in manufacturing?

Reverse Innovation and Supply Chain

Think Supply Chain - Jason WheelerSharon Rice: I’m pleased to welcome guest blogger Jason Wheeler, CPIM, CSCP, to “Think Supply Chain.” Wheeler is Process Improvement Engineer, Warehouse Operations for Roche Diagnostics Operations and the APICS chair-elect.

I recently heard the term “reverse innovation” used during a discussion at work. Not being familiar with the concept, I quickly did a little research to find out more about it. The broad definition means goods are developed as inexpensive models to meet the needs of developing nations and, then, repackaged as low-cost innovative goods for Western buyers.

Wanting to learn more, I began looking for articles or a book that could provide more insight on the topic. A quick search brought up “Reverse Innovation: Create Far From Home, Win Everywhere,” written by two Dartmouth professors, Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble. The book provides a better understanding of the concept while also discussing why large corporations have struggled with this idea.

Using the reverse innovation mindset, GE designed a portable, low-cost ultrasound machine that could be used in rural China. That same product now is used in many ambulances right here in the United States. GE went on to use the same process to design a low-cost portable electrocardiogram (ECG) unit for rural India. After the initial unit was completed, GE designed additional products with some minor enhancements. Similar to the portable ultrasounds, visiting nurses and primary care doctors are able to use the ECG units at rural clinics that could not afford the high-end units.

Where are some other areas where reverse innovation might be put to use? How might it be applied to improve supply chain and operations management?

The Total Scope of Supply Chain Management

Join the supply chain conversation at Think Supply ChainDefining the total scope of supply chain management—as an association professional, advocating for supply chain professionals—is one of my biggest challenges.

@ Supply Chain Management is an excellent blog run by Chris Jacob, a senior consultant for IBM. I am a little behind on my reading, so only today did I come across his post from February 11 in which he reproduced a graphical history of logistics and supply chain management originally published by SCM-Operations.com. It is a really interesting and valuable chart; however, it fails to present supply chain management as a holistic discipline that is more than the sum of its parts.

We do not share a common definition of supply chain management across the industry. Just take a look at the various professional associations to which you belong. Procurement organizations and logistics associations alike claim supply chain management as their expertise. And to be fair, APICS, which defines supply chain management from end to end, has its roots in planning and production. Even so, the APICS Certified Supply Chain Professional designation uses the SCOR model to validate candidates’ knowledge and skills from planning through returning.

Defining supply chain management

The APICS Dictionary, 13th edition, defines supply chain management as “the design, planning, execution, control, and monitoring of supply chain activities with the objective of creating net value, building a competitive infrastructure, leveraging worldwide logistics, synchronizing supply with demand, and measuring performance globally.” This definition of supply chain management first appeared in the 9th edition of the APICS Dictionary in 1998. As we are in the midst of producing the 14th edition of this reference, it is a good time to ask: Is this an accurate definition of supply chain management? Does it adequately capture the scope of supply chain management today?