VFS: Accident or Planned?

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m in the process of dissecting the latest report from CAPS Research on Value Focussed Supply (VFS) with ultra-fine tweezers because it might just turn out to be the most important report of the new decade — if you can get past the fact that they’ve thrown YAMA (Yet Another Meaningless Acronym) our way. Or, it might just be a trivial summary of obvious supply chain improvements from the past few years and have no lasting impact. However, unless we dive in to the details of the 90 page report, we won’t know for sure.

Early in the report, the authors state that the aim of the report is to understand how a holistic value approach differs from traditional competitive sourcing approaches. The hypothesis is that companies that are successful at VFS (which The Mpower Group would term next practices) do two things:

  1. Follow a Value-Focussed Process for Key Categories
    that links to current and future business and technology needs, establishes fact-based value goals for the category, and formulates, implements, and measures strategies designed to achieve the fact-based goals
  2. Invest in Process Enablement
    to conceive, identify, deliver, and sustain value for the near and long term

And while one must agree that any organization that does these two things has a good chance of increasing the value obtained from supply management — as the organization will be looking beyond simple cost reduction to sustainable value creation through supply risk reduction, alternate supply sources, quality improvements, and increased value add to the core product — there is also a chance that, for an average organization, VFS is arrived at by accident. A significant disruption occurs. The team steps up and finds a creative way to solve the problem and restore quality supply in a timely basis, and, in the process, creates additional value as a side-effect because the new process is more efficient or the new materials are more reliable, etc.

Consider the case study for Powercon Co. It had 300 part numbers that could only be obtained from a sole-source supplier that was 40 days late, on average, when a delivery date was missed and that only managed to achieve 50% on-time delivery performance. As the company could not identify any alternate suppliers that would meet all of the company’s needs (affordably), the company had to do something about the problem to improve the supplier’s performance in order to maintain its productivity (and, presumably, profitability) as the late orders brought about a host of problems for the company which did not want to delay its own shipments and face customer service level issues due to a supplier’s problem. In addition, the late orders were also limiting the company’s ability to optimize its manufacturing operations, forcing it to keep excess inventory on hand.

In this situation, even though the company eventually took a formal effort, based on Six Sigma, to improve the situation, VFS was as much an accident as a planned project. The Supply Management team didn’t wasn’t sitting around looking for new ways to add value, they were responding to a dire situation and looking for a way to put out the flames. With the help of an external expert who designed the Six Sigma program, the company improved the supplier’s performance by over 95%, achieving an on-time delivery of 98%, and reaped all the benefits that came from the improvement, but not all of the value was by design.

But sometimes value is by design as well. Consider the case study of F&B that rationalized specifications to reduce SKUs and requirements to those that customers valued and paid more for. This effort had a significant design element up front. But is it really VFS from the get-go? The ultimate goal was cost reduction, and this was a way to achieve the same goal since increase profit per unit is sometimes just as good as reduced costs since it reduces the percentage of revenue spent on raw materials.

What do you think? Is VFS by design or is it by accident?

More to come.