Think, Plan, Source, Make, Deliver

Join the supply chain conversation at Think Supply ChainAsk anyone in the field and they will tell you successful supply chain and operations management professionals are skilled planners who know what needs to be done to accomplish their objectives. Tactics are important, they get the job done.

Companies, however, increasingly are emphasizing supply chain design to meet their goals. I can think of many examples across a variety of industries where supply chain is a strategic competitive differentiator: Unilever and P&G in the consumer packaged goods world, Apple and Samsung in consumer electronics, TESCO in retail, the list goes on.

Can supply chain professionals meet the needs of two masters? Can they excel both at strategy and at tactics? Can anyone?

Over the last couple of years, APICS has been striving to build strategic acumen  as well as tactical expertise of the professionals we serve. While we were planning the content for the upcoming APICS Asia Supply Chain & Operations Conference in Mumbai April 4–5, I challenged myself to develop an education session to help supply chain professionals practice strategy development.

During the course of my career and in multiple settings, I have heard people say that individuals are either tactical or strategic in nature. I cannot quibble with this; it may be true. But I do know that, while we may each have a preference for one or the other, we can learn how to engage in both. Over the next several weeks, I will be gathering techniques and tools that help professionals engage in strategic thinking, the first step to developing strategy.

As I study how individuals can develop their strategic-thinking ability, I’ll share in this blog what I’m learning. In turn, I invite you to share as well. How do you ensure you are taking a strategic perspective in your work? Are there tools you use to aid this process? Have you read books or attended programs that have been particularly helpful? Let me know. I am excited to learn what works (and what does not) in the real world.

12 thoughts on “Think, Plan, Source, Make, Deliver

  1. I think one of the most important skills to move to a more strategic perspective as a supply chain professional is to understand the impact the supply chain has on financial performance. An article by Priscilla Wisner from the University of Tennessee titled, “Linking Supply Chain Performance to a Firm’s Financial Performance,” can begin that thought process.

  2. Excellent idea Sharon and I am sure you will get many participants – starting with me!.

    In my experience many companies display a strategy because that is what is expected (per academia), but this strategy is not known by their employees and cannot be related to, let alone deployed, to the operations of the company. As such it remains a string of impressive, high level, conceptual words.

    In your efforts to suggest how professionals/companies should engage in stategic thinking, please first define what stragety/strategic thinking is and how it can relate to the operations of the individual/company.

  3. Sharon,

    In my company the strategic objectives are shared via internal company emails and space is allocated on the company intranet. Many of our members can relate to these sorts of communication and many times they are deleted before they are ever read or ignored on the website. But what I have found to be helpful is to reflect on the objectives and try and relate them to how my own functional organization’s mission and purpose support and lend themselves to the achievement of the objectives. Discussions with my employees to consider the day to day within the context of these strategic objectives is useful and sheds a new light on their efforts and they contribute to those objectives. If linkage can be established then understanding typically follows.

  4. Another wonderful way to get up to speed on strategic thinking is the APICS CPIM Course Strategic Management of Resources. This course does a wonderful job of fostering a higher level of thinking, strategic thinking. How? By relating strategic planning (all aspects) and relating it to the management and execution of operations. Additionally the course source book provides a wonderful compilation from six different texts. In addition to great educational content it also provides real case studies that put the material into real life context. Students attending this course walk out with a new perspective and understanding of strategic thinking and planning.

  5. I AM one of those people who’s VERY tactically oriented. I never got strategy 100%. It never seemed to advance things forward so what’s the point? I got the definition of strategy as a “pattern of behavior” but so what! I just finished the book by AG Lafley (interesting enough the former chairman of P&G) titled “Playing to Win” I finally get it! He says a successful strategy answers 5 questions:

    1) What are your aspirations?

    2) Where are you going to Play?

    3) How are you going to win?

    4) What capabilities must be in place?

    5) What Management Systems are required?

    Now I have a map that makes sense and am starting to rethink how I want to do business. My point is this, besides recommending this book and it’s tools, being able to connect to an explanation of strategy that makes sense to you and connects to your orientation is just as important

  6. Sharon, thank you for opening the quest for the “soft skill graal”. Since 22 years of professional activities, the issue of managing both tactics and strategy has always been an issue. An issue, but not an unsolved problem…

    Successful people I have met have this ability of “switching from one mode to another”. I would take the image of an elevator : upper floors are populated with “strategy” while the lower ones have “tactical” inhabitants.

    Like Eric and Blair illustrated it, I agree with the first thing to do, that is “unlock doors, give access to all floors and push people out of their own appartment”:
    - give everyone the taste and curiosity for discovering the other’s mindset (strategy and tactics function together, not isolated)
    - find a common langage to be able to share and understand each other (link objectives with daily work or give daily work a ‘higher purpose’)

    The second goal, in terms of skills, is to give the ability to “take the elevator many times during a day, that is go up and down between floors easily and frequently”.
    - this requires to have in mind the key points of strategy
    - … also know the links between these key points and operational processes
    - … and finally the cause-effect relations between actions or decisions and what may happen in real life on the field

    The challenge is very stimulating and the best tool I have seen at work is the “house of entrepreneurship”, that is not foar from Chuck’s sharing. I would describe it as follows :
    A- Top of the roof = Vision (“what is our highest purpose ?”) and Values (“what are our 3 – 7 key beliefs, on top pf everything ?”)
    B- Roof = Mission (“what do we do as a business ?”, “what do our customer pay for ?”)
    C- Roof base / Ceiling = Ambition (“what are we going to achieve in the next 18 to 36 months ?”) = possibly 1 single figure (ex. : reach 10 millions of certified profesionnals)
    D- 3 to 7 pillars below the ceiling = Priorities (“On which major work streams will we focus in order to achieve our ambition ?”
    E – Floor that supports the pillars = Operational Processes (“The basics of our daily work”)
    F – Foundations of the house = Referentials (“all key information, data, structures, documents, skills, knowledge, tools…”)

    Based on that tool, bringing people together periodically at all levels of hiererchy and choosing the right monitor (this point is another key issue) will mek it possible to link strategy and tactics.

    Let’s share more in the future and long life to this blog!

  7. Sharon:

    A person can improve their strategic thinking ability by mastering three different methodologies or techniques:

    1.Outcome Driven Innovation (ODI) is the first, understanding customer needs and what is not being satisfied by current offerings is critical. Customers and potential customers often do not understand their needs and they provide canned answers when asked. What is needed is a methodology that can navigate this maze of barriers and arrive at the true needs. When these critical unsatisfied needs are surfaced the next step is an organizational “gut check” to determine if they have the means (money, skill–sets) to create a product or service that satisfies the need. The third and final step is assessing competitors’ ability to respond to the possible new offering.

    Netting it out, I do not think a strategy that is not based on the findings of ODI (or QFD) is truly strategic, its fantasy. The good news is that the 2013 Annual Conference might have an ODI learning path!

    2.The second is cause and effect thinking. This can be developed as a skill. The book I recently authored has a whole chapter on it. It uses a survey of the top ten critical issues in the food manufacturing industry, and examines the connectivity between the issues, and if resolving one was a prerequisite to solving another. The conclusion was that eight of the nine issues contributed to the resolution for the number one issue. I can envision APICS creating a large library of study cases.

    3. Another is A3 thinking, a favorite of the experienced Lean System advocates. What attracts me to this technique is the emphasis on not drawing premature conclusions,confirming by observation, securing peer by in, and simple graphical communication. Other contributors to the blog can elaborate on many other techniques out there.

    Some more good news, IBM conducts a bi-annual survey of CEOs. In the most recent survey, they concluded that the majority of them DID NOT have confidence that they could solve future problems because the business issues borne out of the new global economy were different from bounded historical issues. What are needed is critical thinking abilities, not canned approaches to a stable competitive situation.

    I look forward to visiting the blog regularly.

    Best regards,


  8. Thanks for creating a relevant and needed blog. I do believe most experienced managers are capable of the dual analysis. An added question might be, how are support staff trained to provide the input appropriate to both aspects.

  9. I firmly believe that most of us have a natural talent for strategy vs tactics.. Depending on your natural preference, one can inspire you, while the other can overwhelm you, bore you, frustrate you unless you have developed techniques to bridge the gap between your natural talent and the “whole you”.

    A couple that I learnt as I am grow

    Charles Fine book Clock speed taught me the value of speed of evolution. This inspired me to benchmark supply chain practices not in the industry that I work in but industries that have significantly higher clock speed than mine. It’s like glimpse into the future allowing me to always ahead in my learning curve.

    Example: Over the years the value parts going into an automotive has increasingly shifted from metals to electronics. This means I need to benchmark electronics supply chain practices to prepare for shorter product lifecycles.

    Scenario Planning: Strategy is not just about dreaming and thinking about the future, it is a lot about taking learning’s from the past, deep understanding of the current and knowing the ideal future to develop scenario planning – staircase , roadmap etc to bridge the gap between today and tomorrow. To me personally this is the most critical element of strategic thinking. I can’t think of any one book or class or course. This is a product of life experiences.

  10. Sharon,

    Comment 1 above mentions Scenario Planning. An extraordinarily engaging read and seminal reference on this topic, from which I learned to plan strategically while at Monsanto in the late 1990′s, is Kees van der Heijden’s “Scenarios: The Art of Strategic Conversation “. ( ) This book is now available in Kindle format. We used this methodology to consistently produce 4, each at one page, scenarios to use for decision support: new lines of business, product extensions, strategic alliances, etc. Royal Dutch Shell’s breakthrough use of the technique is chronicled very well in this reference.

  11. Organizations that embrace (key word) a common set of guiding principles & values starting from top down and then bottom up, across all functional areas provides the critical linkage for connecting strategies with tactics. But before we can define our
    strategies, we must first define the core purpose of the organization. Once we
    know our purpose, we can then communicate this out to our people and hold them
    accountable for making decisions that support the higher purpose. People can
    then create brilliant processes (tactics) to support the higher purpose. When
    this happens, the results are truly amazing!

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