HBR’s Breakthrough Ideas for 2010 are Good for Your Supply Chain, Part I

The Harvard Business Review recently ran a great article on Breakthrough Ideas for 2010. While many of the ideas aren’t new (as a few can easily be traced backed decades), for many, their application would be. But more importantly, their application could fix a lot of problems in the world today.

What really struck me was how they all had good supply chain equivalents that could help you revolutionize your supply chain. So, over the next three posts, I’m going to explain how their supply chain equivalents are ideas you should strongly be considering if you haven’t implemented them already.

  1. Motivate Your Employees With Meaningful Goals, Resources, and Encouragement.
    Recognition does indeed motivate workers and lift their moods. As the authors note, you need to take great care to clarify overall goals, ensure that people’s efforts are properly supported, and refrain from exerting time pressure so intense that minor glitches are perceived as crises rather than learning opportunities. And your benefits will multiply if you cultivate a culture of helpfulness and of learning. Happy, challenged, engaged workers are productive workers.
    In addition, if you’re a manager who knows that the head of Sales from down the hall is Maury the Management Moron who likes to constantly promise first, worry about delivery later, and then bug your people on a regular basis for this piece of information or that report or participation on a last-minute call, you need to put a stop to that behaviour immediately. You need to make it very clear that *ALL* requests go through you, and no one else, and that if you ever, ever, ever catch him bothering one of your hard working sourcing or IT professionals without your approval, you will take him to task, and if he keeps it up, you’ll bring in Mr. Louisville if you have to. Nothing is more disruptive to productivity than when Maury the Management Moron is out of control. Nothing.
  2. Remotely Monitor Your Supply Chain Health.
    Just like remote monitoring of patients using a kiosk or similar device is a health-care breakthrough, remotely monitoring the status of your OEMs and shipments is a breakthrough for your supply chain. A supply chain visibility solution that lets you keep track of where your raw materials and inventory is at all times is truly priceless. It enables you to detect minor deviations before they become major disruptions and fix them. And if something major happens, such as a natural disaster shutting down a factory, a civil disruption cutting off a transportation route, or a political embargo closing borders, you’ll know almost immediately and have time to implement your risk mitigation plan.
  3. Fund an R&D Center.
    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. R&D labs are what made North America great in the latter half of the 20th century. Pretty much every major technological advance that didn’t come from a DoD sponsored initiative came from a private research lab like the ones that used to be (significantly) funded by AT&T, Bell, Xerox, and TI — and which are on the verge of going extinct. (We hardly hear of AT&T labs anymore [just endless commercials about their network], Bell is now Alcatel-Lucent, Xerox Parc is now just Parc, and the original TI Labs have been replaced with the new “Kilby Labs”.) Breakthroughs come when you have time to sit down and think about the bigger picture and experiment, not when you’re trying to meet quarterly targets.
    The R&D lab doesn’t have to be a big one. You could start with one person who’s job is to simply evaluate potential technologies and processes that could improve your supply chain, and then slowly add a couple of people to help with the institutionalization of best practices, staff development (after they attend train-the-trainer workshops), and system maintenance. Then bring in an engineer to work with your supply base to take cost out of the process and a systems architect to help your vendors build better systems that meet your needs. After a few years, the ROI will be simply extraordinary as you transform into a best-in-class world-leading organization. 

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