Can Six Drucker Questions Simplify a Complex Supply Chain? Part I

A recent post on the HBR Blog Network on Six Drucker Questions that Simplify a Complex Age poses us with a interesting inquiry — can they simplify a complex supply chain? After all, these are questions out of Drucker’s writing handpicked by Rick Wartzman (Executive Director of the Drucker Institute at Claremont Graduate University), not out of Drucker’s mouth (as Drucker died 8 years ago), and given the recent turmoil in the economy, Drucker might choose different questions to lead us back to the road to recovery (and he might not).

Getting straight to the point, as an existential discussion on what Drucker may or may not ask today doesn’t help us much in the real-world of real-time supply chains, we will skip the philosophical debate and jump right into a discussion of the first three questions.

  1. What Does the Customer Value?
      SI agrees that regardless of what has happened since his death, Drucker would still be asking this question — and it would probably be the first question out of his mouth in any business discussion. The tighter times get, the more the customer focusses on what they really need where necessity is concerned and what they really want where discretionary spending, which is limited in difficult economic times, is concerned. If the pie is small, an organization’s only chance of getting a piece of it is to be better at giving the customer what they want than the competition.
      This is a very important question for Supply Management as the Supply Chain should be designed to produce what the customer values, and only what the customer values — extra activity is non-value add and only adds cost to the chain (that Supply Management should focus on removing as soon as possible as that’s easy, instant, cost savings).
  2. What is our Business, and What should it Be?
      SI agrees that Drucker would still be asking this question, an in particular, the latter half of this question. If a customer values X and Y, and the organization is producing X when it could produce Y more competitively, and gain a larger market share, then it should probably switch to producing Y.
      This is another very important question for Supply Management as many Supply Management organizations are still focussed on cost savings when they should be focussed on value generation. Cost can only be taken out once. Value can be generated year after year after year by identifying products and features customers will pay more for and functions that will help the other organizational units do their jobs more (cost) effectively and increase the value those organizational units bring to the table.
  3. What is the Task?
      SI agrees that this is an important question, and would probably be asked by Drucker, but is not sure that this should be in the top 6 questions as SI does not think this question is a starting point.
      More specifically, SI thinks the first question should be What is the Goal?. The task, which is fuzzy in knowledge work, is better understood once the goal is well defined. Moreover, this is not covered by the last question. The last question simply helps the business identify what it should be doing (such as making sprockets and not widgets), not what it should be achieving (such as becoming the market leader in standard sprocket class AZ or the market leader in custom manufactured sprockets for the automotive industry). That’s where the goal comes in.
    In supply management, the task might be to source sprocket springs, but that’s not a clear task until a goal is identified, which could be reduce acquisition costs by 10%, which should be achievable based on current steel prices and supply demand dynamics or select a new strategic supplier who will jointly implement the a new spring production process designed to reduce steel requirements and environmental impacts, which will, in the long run, decrease costs by 25%. Once the goal is defined, the task is better understood and can be mapped out with a workflow and project plan.

Come back tomorrow when we will address the last three questions.