The Supreme Idea for Supply Chain Success
Keith LaBotz - August 12, 2021
No Easy Answers for Great Supply Chains
The Supreme Idea
Is there one great idea behind great supply chains? A supreme principle that’s more important than supply chain integration, continuous improvement, collaboration, and sustainability? The big idea behind these big ideas.
Ideas matter in the supply chain and the supreme idea matters most. You’ll know just how vital this is for supply chain success in the next 5 minutes. Let’s take a look.
Supply Chains Are a Collection of Ideas
Supply chains are a collection of ideas. These ideas are transformed into action through the people, software, and machinery comprising supply chain processes. The effectiveness of the process depends on how effectively it aligns these actions with the principles guiding the business.
An effective supply chain aligns these principles so they strengthen one another while also contributing to the larger strategic objective. That’s leverage and it’s the secret ingredient for efficient supply chains. Finding the supreme idea will give you the recipe for a leveraged process.
Searching for the Supreme Idea
Finding the supreme idea will take you on a journey that will change your view of supply chain processes. It’s an exercise of clearly defining and prioritizing the principles that guide supply chain decisions.
These principles can be derived from rules, business requirements, goals, corporate objectives, value statements, policies, software algorithms - any guidelines for decision making. Regardless of their form, rules ultimately adhere to a greater underlying principle steering the supply chain.
Sound like a lot of work? It is, but well worth it.
Wanted: Supreme Idea Requirements
Let’s add are a few qualifications for considering a principle as a potential candidate for the supreme idea:
- Universal. Applies to all supply chains regardless of industry, culture, size, complexity, or any other qualities you can imagine.
- Immutable. Does not change or expire.
- Technology Agnostic. Unaffected by technological progress. Big Data, predictive analytics, blockchains, IoT, AI, and other solutions sit in its shadow.
- Self-sufficiency. Governs all ideas in the supply chain and is accountable only to itself.
- Maxim. It’s the standard for testing the merit of any strategy, technology, or plan proposed for the supply chain.
Choosing the Winning Idea
Picking the top principle is a matter of judgment. None of us see the entire picture and that’s why its better to have more than one judge. We all have a bias limiting our perception and it’s a product of our education, experience, and ideology. That’s right, you have an ideology. We all do and so does every business, and it influences supply chain decisions. We’ll get to that in a moment.
The point is, we’re naturally attracted to ideas that comport with our perspective; we focus on the familiar by default and that can lead to differing opinions. It’s neither a good or bad thing - diverse views are necessary for any process of elimination.
Testing each idea and letting go of those that cannot withstand criticism is essential to progress. Not all ideas are equal; some are superior and they are the ones fueling great supply chains.
Peeling Back the Supply Chain Onion
Finding these principles entails peeling back the proverbial onion to its core. There will be multiple principles at work with multiple dependencies. The hard part is prioritizing which principle is primary or more important. For example, every supply chain process can ultimately be reduced to this most basic principle: meeting stakeholder expectations. It can be argued quite convincingly that every decision in a supply chain ultimately serves this purpose.
Is meeting stakeholder expectations the supreme idea? You might be convinced that it is until you start thinking about technology.
Nothing Happens Without Technology
Technology is the enabling force behind the ideas, and without it, we wouldn’t have a supply chain to discuss, at least as we know it. The principle of meeting stakeholder expectations would be pointless without technology. The principle of efficiency would have no context either. Same for collaboration. Nothing happens in the supply chain without the right technology.
Perhaps meeting system requirements is most vital to supply chain success. Is this the supreme idea?
Then again, technology would have no value if it were not for the aforementioned principles. Which of these principles comes first and which is more important? Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
Supply Chain Ideology
We cannot forget the role of ideology in all of this. You might associate ideology with economics, politics, or religion, but every business also has an ideology influencing its view of the supply chain.
We’re talking about a supply chain ideology. By that, I’m referring to how a business, or individual, thinks about the supply chain.
Supply chain ideology shows up in strategic objectives, ethical imperatives, economic or technical principles, humanitarian ideals - any belief organizations subscribe to. Whether the beliefs are part of a sustainability strategy or a company culture, they find their way into business processes in the supply chain.
Green logistics and humanitarian values are examples of ideologies affecting supply chain decisions. For instance, a business committed to reducing emissions may use a smart routing solution to plan delivery routes and choose transportation partners with smaller carbon footprints. As sustainability initiatives grow, ideology might supplant economic measures in some instances, such as valuing environmental impact over efficiency or profitability.
Is supply chain ideology the supreme idea? Ideology can evolve, so it’s not the immutable supreme idea, but sustainability as a concept, is a fixed layer in the process. If Ideology is part of sustainability, then maybe sustainability is the higher principle here. Can you find a higher principle than sustainability?
I think there is, but we will not open that can of worms here.
The Other Supply Chain Visibility
Searching for the supreme idea gives you a new lens for understanding the supply chain.
Examining relationships between principles forces us to connect the dots and that leads to a more holistic view of the supply chain.
You’ll know you’re on the right path once you begin noticing relationships previously hidden in plain sight. This is where things start to get interesting.
Welcome to the other supply chain visibility. You’ll gain insight into the composite of processes, principles, objectives, and dependencies at work. With enhanced visibility, it’s easier to spot the people, software, and machinery in alignment and broken links in the chain.
Buzzwords: Check Your Buzz at the Door
You’ll also see buzzwords differently through your new lens. You’ll have a framework for interpreting buzzwords, cutting through the jargon to reveal which ideas align with your supply chain. Ideas that don’t align are probably hype.
Filtering out hype makes it easier to understand and determine the value offered by vendors, products, process improvements, and information. With this clarity, you’ll spend more time on substantive ideas and also protect your supply chain from getting stung by the buzzwords.
You’ll be able to decode every past, present, and future supply chain buzzword. Buzzwords can be translated into plain, meaningful terms relevant to your supply chain and teammates.
Truth Can Be a Buzz Killer
Revealing the truth behind a buzzword can be a buzz-killer in a good way. Buzz that does not harmonize with your principles will sound like noise and you can tune it out. Buzz-free communication does this for you:
- Highlighting what’s relevant to your supply chain.
- Ensures supply chain plans remain in line with the optimal position.
- Allows you to extract the true value proposition more quickly.
- Exposes and flags hype so you can focus on the most important issues.
With those benefits, who needs the buzz?
Supply Chain 4.0? You’ll arrive at the same answer once you begin connecting the dots. Ditto for all buzzwords. The ideas wrapped in buzzwords should be a natural conclusion from this exercise. Understanding each layer of the supply chain onion lets you skip the jargon and get right to the value proposition.
The Final Idea
What is the supreme idea? I have my opinion and you’ll have to pick your own winner.
This is one of those deals where the journey is more important than the destination. Even if you never find the supreme idea, you’ll find a new lens for understanding the supply chain. That may be the best discovery you’ll ever make for supply chain success.
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