The best supply chain is invisible, but an invisible supply chain gets no recognition in your average company.
This is the one lesson they don’t teach you in Operations Management or Supply Chain 101, probably because they don’t want to discourage you given the upward battle we still face in our chosen discipline of Supply Management.
The sad reality is that your average employee in your average company, and even your average C-Suite executive in too many companies, has no knowledge of this paradox. Just like your average person is unaware of Bernoulli’s Paradox or even the Birthday Paradox.
At an average company, the majority of the supply chain function is invisible from most employees. Good show up at the warehouse, then get shipped to the office / store locations. When an employee needs a new laptop, tablet, or phone, s/he logs into the company portal and selects one of the pre-approved options and the item is on her desk within 2 business days. The sales guy places the order, and the customer gets it when promised. No one knows how much research and time goes into identifying appropriate suppliers, negotiating contracts, signing contracts, placing purchase orders, negotiating change orders, receiving goods, performing quality spot-checks, receiving invoices, matching everything, making sure the right goods get to the right locations, coding restock alerts / automated orders, handling returns (and ensuring credits are received and replacements arrive on time), handling switch overs when a new source of supply needs to be brought on, ensuring industry regulations are not violated, ensuring sustainability goals are met, ensuring there is no third party child labour in the supply chain (or anything else that could tarnish brand image), and so on. Hundreds, if not thousands, of hours have to go into making that “one click laptop replacement” work as desired.
Plus, in a well researched, planned, and smoothly executed supply chain, raw materials and components show up almost just-in-time (JIT) at the plant that is producing your goods. Then the boxes are waiting at the other end to package them, and as soon as the boxes are filled, the palletizer is there to pallet them. As soon as the pallets are full, the pallet jacks are waiting to load them unto the truck that just pulled up to take them to your distribution centers. Etc. Etc. Engineers don’t have to worry about raw materials or components being late or in insufficient supply. Loading dock personnel don’t have to worry about needing extra temporary storage as the trucks are there when the order is complete. Etc. Etc. Not only do they not have to worry about supply chain functions beyond their jobs, but your job looks like it’s the easiest job in the world because, like magic, everything (and everyone) is there when they need it. As a result, the better your supply chain runs, the less respect you get in an average company for doing a “hard” job because you make it look so easy.
That’s the supply management paradox, and one of the reasons many of us still don’t get No Respect.