Confessions Of A Supply Chain Executive: 3 Lessons I Learned The Hard Way

Confessions of a Supply Chain Executive : 3 Lessons I Learned the Hard Way

I started my supply chain management career back in the day when the “successful” members of my Big 10 business school class found consulting jobs at the Chicago offices of the Big 5 consulting firms and investment banks.  We paid our dues with 100-hour weeks. I fell asleep on the toilet paper dispenser in the client’s bathroom at 3am.  On the bottom rung of the ladder, we were expected to be supply chain analytics experts. 

As I moved up the ladder, the expectations, expertise and the game changed.  

Gone are the desires to “be all things to all people” or “fake it until I make it.”   What did I not know then and am just starting to figure out now?  How to leverage “Work smarters.” This is my hard-won wisdom that has taken me 20 years to learn.  Here are 3 lessons of working in supply chain I learned the hard way, but you don’t have to:

1.Invest your salary dollars in the best analyst you can afford.  

A brilliant analyst with the capability to turn noisy data into actionable information is worth their weight in gold. “The times they are a changin” and we can all agree that technology is changing faster than most of us can keep up.  Nowhere is that truer than in our Supply Chain departments.  In less than one generation, we have gone from phone orders and mimeographs to ERP’s, Optimizers and proprietary algorithms.  Some of our talent has kept up.  Most of our talent has not.  If you are lucky enough to have the budget to hire Supply Chain analysts with the technical capabilities to combine disparate data sets and create actionable reporting, GRAB THEM UP.  If you can’t hire, find a partner you trust and who knows your business and who can provide analytics as a service.  Work smarters. 

2. Hire people who know what you don’t.  

As first year consultants, we ran update queries, created overly complicated V-Lookups and fixed spreadsheets when our managers broke the formulas.  I vaguely remember looking at several managers in disbelief that they could have gotten to that level without the software acumen needed in 2000. I now recognize that same look from our analysts as they patiently explain the regression analysis code in R that they corrected after I have attempted to fix it.   Not my sandbox anymore.  Know your strengths and recognize the complimentary skills you need in your team members.  Work smarters. 

scm connectiions team working at table

“Know your strengths and recognize the complimentary skills you need in your team members”

3. Know when to bring in outside help.  

Traditionally, we hire consultants to bring sunshine and the fresh air of an outside perspective.  We hire consultants to add jet fuel to the internal speed to execution.  That view may be antiquated.  More and more firms are moving from a purely project-based consultative approach to an ongoing service model.  Supply chain is seeing this trend perhaps more than other departments.  In the past, I would have considered bringing in help for an ERP implementation.  Today, I’m taking a look at the day-to-day services that a consulting firm can provide my team with better results and at a lower cost.  If I can get a more accurate stat forecast from a partner and free up my team to implement, that is worth a second look.  Work smarters.   

No man is an island (and other important clichés).  The most important lesson of my career so far is that we are only as good as the results of our team.  By using the tips above and working a little smarter to get those outstanding results, you may just set yourself apart from the competition.  

Contact Kristi

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