Category Archives: Strategy

The Board Gamers Guide to Supply Management Part XIV: Le Havre

You’ve mastered Agricola and feel that you are an agricultural supply master and after sailing Upon a Salty Ocean, you feel you are also a master of logistics and market timing. But can you handle the full meal deal? Especially when you not only have to balance food and resource acquisition with trading and energy needs? Le Havre, an economic construction strategy game, adds a new dimension to put your supply management strategies to the test: having to balance the use of resources for food and the use of resources for energy to power ships, brickworks, iron mills, abattoirs, bakeries, and smokehouses which allow you to acquire and trade resources, convert raw materials into useable building materials, and turn raw fish and grain into food.

You win Le Havre by acquiring the most wealth over the course of the game, and you acquire wealth by collecting, selling, and using goods and by buying and constructing ships and buildings which have a monetary value. This sounds easy enough, but it is a significant supply management challenge as you have to continuously make enough money to cover the entry costs to the buildings you need (but don’t own), acquire enough raw materials that can be used to produce energy to power the buildings that produce food and building materials, and produce enough food to feed your constantly growing workforce at the end of every round (just like your payroll for an increasingly growing workforces increases in real life), which requires more and more food as the game goes on (just as your corporate workforce also grows as your company grows and you acquire more property and trade more resources).

Although you want to focus on acquiring buildings and building ships, as this is generally what helps you accumulate the most wealth (especially if you leave out the special buildings), you’re constantly having to interrupt your strategy to acquire food to feed your workers, raw materials for future buildings, and energy sources. The last thing you want to do is run out of food, because then you have to buy food, and if you don’t have enough money you either have to fire sale a building (if you have one) at half of its value or borrow, and every loan accrues interest every round (and there’s no limit on debt or interest, just like there’s no limit in the real world).

The game consists of a fixed number of rounds (defined as 14 rounds for 2 players, 18 rounds for 3 players, and 20 rounds for 4 or 5 players), each of which consists of 7 turns. On each turn, you take one of two actions:

  1. take an offer from the harbour or
    on each player’s turn, new goods arrive in the harbour and are added to the appropriate offer space, which the player can take
  2. use one of the available buildings
    which can include the construction firm that allows you to build up to buildings of your own

The base goods that are available as offers for the player to take are:

  • fish
    a food source worth 1 food or 2 food if smoked in the smokehouse
  • wood
    used to construct buildings, ships, or supply 1 energy (via fire); it can supply 3 energy if converted to charcoal in the charcoal kiln
  • clay
    used to construct buildings, it can be upgraded to brick in the brickworks to build more buildings
  • iron
    used to construct buildings or iron ships, it can be upgraded to steel
  • grain
    a harvest good that can be baked into bread (worth two food) at the bakehouse, or used to grow 1 more grain (at the end of the round)
  • cattle
    a harvest good that can be upgraded to meat (worth three food) at the abattoir and hides (for every 2 cattle slaughtered); also, 2+ cattle produce one more cattle at the end of every round

All other goods have to be produced. These include:

  • charcoal: an energy source worth 3 energy produced from wood in the charcoal kiln
  • coke: an energy source worth 10 energy produced from charcoal in the colliery
  • brick: produced from clay in the brickworks
  • steel: produced from iron in the steel mill
  • bread: produced from grain in the bakehouse
  • smoked fish: produced from fish in the smokehouse
  • meat: produced from cattle in the abattoir
  • leather: produced from hides in the tannery

There are 33 standard buildings (and 36 special buildings, which you should ignore until you’ve built up some experience with the base games). In addition to the 9 resource conversion buildings already mentioned, specifically:

  • Abattoir
  • Bakehouse
  • Brickworks
  • Charcoal Kiln
  • Cokery
  • IronWorks
  • Smokehouse
  • Steel Mill
  • Tannery

The following 8 buildings are also available, and necessary:

  • Building Firms: necessary to build buildings
  • Clay Mound: a source of clay
  • Colliery a source of coal
  • Construction Firms: necessary to build buildings
  • Fishery: a source of fish, which is a vital food source
  • Shipping Line: necessary to trade
  • Wharf: necessary to build ships

In order to use a building, you have to pay the entry fee (if you don’t own it), have the energy sources to power it, and one or more of the base goods required to use its ability. In order to build a building, you have to have the resource cost, just like in Agricola. Not to mention, it has to be available. This is the challenge of Le Havre, not only do you have to balance food production (to feed your workers) with resource acquisition (to build), energy production (to power buildings) and ship production (to acquire fish and trade), but you also have to build at the right time, use the buildings at the right time, and trade appropriately. Especially since, just like in the real world, only one player can use one building at a time, take an offer from the harbour and the resource type associated with it, or get points for a particular building or action. And the increasing food costs make the game quite challenging if you don’t adequately prepare for food production from round one. In a four player game, you will need to produce 113 units of food and in a two player game, you will need to produce 177 units of food! A growing workforce needs to be fed (paid)! And you just can’t borrow willy nilly, as the bank only lends money to cover the cost of food (as in Agricola, you can only beg for food).

If you really want to test your supply management mettle, Le Havre is a good game to test it on. While it will likely take twice as long as Agricola to get through a session, it puts your thinking skills and ability to balance supply (offered resources) with demand (building [utilization] costs) in a way that maximizes overall value generated (as the winner is the one that acquires the most wealth by the end of the game). So give Le Havre a go. You might just get more than you negotiated for. (And get one step closer to the ultimate supply management challenge.)

P.S. If you want a good guided introduction to the game, try the iOS version and see if you can become Le Havre’s next titan of industry. The tutorial is good as is the gameplay. (But it won’t give you the challenge of going head to head with your team-mate — all AI’s have preferred strategies and predictable responses when you play them enough.)

The (Board) Gamer’s Guide to Supply Management Part VII: Upon a Salty Ocean

SI is almost radiating rainbows now that it’s resurrected it’s one-of-a-kind blog series that will help you take your Supply Management career to the next level by giving you new and interesting ways to hone your supply management skills. Still more fun than reading about the latest study on the daily migration patterns of the three-toed sloth, but now that you can hone your skills while challenging your peers, it’s three blasts and a half.

It’s 1515, and you are a merchant of Rouen. You invest in ships and city buildings in an effort to not only get rich, but be the richest when Francis I comes to visit the city in an effort to win his favour. The city’s wealth is dependent on fishing and the trading of salted fish, herring and cod in particular. Every week, ships full of salt barrels leave Rouen for the fishing grounds of the Atlantic Ocean and, upon their return, sell their fish in the market.

Upon a Salty Ocean is a turn-based work-placement game that consists of 5 turns, where each turn consists of 3 phases: an event phase, an action phase, and a turn end phase. The event phase determines weather and market conditions which affect fishing and the cost of fish and salt. In the action phase, a player chooses to either take a city action (in which she can buy salt or buildings), a navigation action (in which she can take her ships to the open sea and fish or return to Rouen), a harbour action (in which she can move goods to or from her storage depot or build a ship), and a market action (in which she can buy to or sell from the market).

Sounds simple enough, right?

It would be except for the fact that:

  • the event that happens at the start of the phase can bring stormy seas, which will decrease the amount of fish that can be caught; pirates, which will damage the ships and decrease the amount of fish that can be held; market dips, which will lower the selling price of fish and/or salt; and/or market surges, which will increase the selling price of fish and/or salt
  • actions in the action phase are consecutive, each player can only take one action at a time, and every time an action is taken, it gets more costly for the next player — and all purchases and sales affect the market price
  • you begin the game with a small amount of money, have a limited credit line, and interest charges rack up quickly if you go into debt
  • if you prosper, you must invest in a bank to safeguard your money, or you will lose some of it at the end of the turn
  • each building investment provides different advantages
  • a strategy only works if there is limited competition in that strategy, or
    you luck into the right timing

Just like in the real world,

  • shipping is subject to stormy seas, pirates, and other calamities
  • no one can take two actions at the same time in the real world, w.r.t. the markets in particular, and every action taken increases or decreases the cost for everyone else
  • your resources are always limited, debt is costly, and too little cash flow can bankrupt you (and prevent you from taking any more actions for at least one turn)
  • the more you have, the bigger the target you become for thieves and the more you have to invest in security
  • different capabilities in Supply Management give you different advantages, some tactical, some strategic, some innovative, etc.
  • not everyone can corner a commodities market, a CPG segment, etc.

It’s a real supply management market conundrum. Do you try to conquer the seas and get the most fish? Conquer the market, buy low, sell high, and make your riches off of trade? Or do you acquire the most buildings and make money off ship building, banking, and building the church? Played properly, all strategies can win, including the fishing-free market strategy. Played wrong, and bankrupt you will go. Just like the real world.

While You’re Celebrating Your Thanksgiving in the U.S.

Think about what you can do to make the rest of the world, including the 870 Million people in the world who are chronically under-nourished, thankful as well.

As Procurement Pros, you have a lot of control over the global food supply whether you realize it or not. Money does talk, and with enough pressure, the supply chain will walk to your marching orders. And if those orders are appropriate, maybe we can prevent half of the food being produced going to waste.

According to The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, roughly 1/3rd of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year, approximately 1.3 Billion Tons, gets lost or wasted — due to losses during harvesting, storage, transport, and processing. This loss is almost four times what would be needed to feed all of the chronically under-nourished people in the world, and part of the reason food reserves are at an all time low.

And to make matters worse, the growth, and partial harvesting, storage, transport and / or processing produces 3.3 Billion tons of CO2 emissions and wastes precious water and energy resources. So, not only are people starving when there should be enough food, but we’re wasting limited fresh water and energy in the production of the food that is being wasted.

In developing countries, 40% of this loss is occurring at post-harvest and processing levels due to financial, managerial, and technical constraints in harvesting techniques as well as storage and cooling facilities. Additional infrastructure investments would solve the financial and technical issues, and getting smart people on the ground would solve the managerial issues. If a large grocery chain decided to invest on the ground, and reduce loss from an average of 35% to 10%, it would effectively increase production by almost 40% and lower the cost per unit by almost 30%. (Production levels go from 65% to 90%. 40% of 90% is 36%. 30% of 90% is 27%.) This is not a hard problem to solve. And it wouldn’t take too long before the grocery chain saw ROI.

In developed countries, more than than 40% of losses happen at retail and consumer levels. Faster transport, better storage, and better inventory planning could have a big impact at the retail level. The only thing a Procurement Pro can’t really control is consumer waste.

So think about what changes you can make in your organization to minimize food waste and encourage investments on the ground in the regions, and on the farms, you depend on. And when costs go down, your organization will have something to be thankful for too!

What Do Bid Optimization and Corporate Strategy Have in Common?

Last month, Pierre penned a very interesting piece over on Spend Matters when he asked What Do Bid Optimization and Corporate Strategy Have in Common and answered Everything. SI doesn’t entirely agree, but definitely agrees that bid optimization and corporate strategy have a significant amount in common.

Pierre is 100% correct when he says that people who say sourcing optimization is too complex and a nice area barely used and needed by most sourcing folks are dead wrong. As Pierre says, ignorant statements like this throw out the philosophy, methodology and techniques that are behind the tool. Optimization is more than a mathematical model embodied in a piece of software — it is an encompassing process designed to make sure you achieve the most value from your efforts. It starts during the problem definition phase where you define your objectives and then figure out the appropriate model, data elements, options, methodology and measurements of success — not after you’ve collected a bunch of semi-random data.

Furthermore the methodology employed is critical and relates to corporate strategy. Pierre says the overarching methodology is corporate strategy, but SI believes that the relationship is a little more subtle — corporate strategy limits the methodologies that can be used. The objective of corporate strategy, which is a fact-based process of developing strategic scenarios and then determining how to best allocate finite resources to support various business objectives and a balanced scorecard, is to define strategies that should be “optimal” in the sense that they minimize trade-offs and are doable by the various stakeholders. The chosen strategy limits the methodologies that can be employed because only so many methodologies will support the strategy, and only a subset of those will be capable of delivering an optimal result. For example, if the corporate strategy is to dominate a foreign market, then the methodology employed must support getting more knowledge and demand for the brand, getting the product on more shelves in the market, and making it affordable for the consumers in that market. The methodologies would have to support developing advertising congruent with the market, logistics efforts that work on the ground, and cost control to insure the product could be priced to maximize sales. If the corporate strategy is to reduce costs to improve the bottom line, the methodologies would have to support better sourcing, more efficient production/distribution, and better supplier relations. With respect to better sourcing, we’re limited to strategic efforts — tactical or catalog buys are out. And with respect to cost minimization, depending on the product being sourced, where it is being sourced from, and the market dynamics, this may dictate an open auction, a multi-round negotiation, or decision optimization based upon final best bids, logistics costs, incurred and usage costs, and/or other value drivers. Optimization doesn’t always mean the most complex model you can imagine, but it does mean insuring everything you do is optimal and that every sourcing event is driven off of a lowest-cost baseline, which is easily calculated by a decision optimization solution built on a proper model. (This is because you only spend more if you get value back — whether it is better quality, marketing power through the supplier’s brand, or joint development efforts — that is at least equal to what you spend.)

And when you apply the proper methodology and process to a category, as Pierre explains, it will improve how Procurement will tap supply market power to help the stakeholders meet their objectives. After all, resources are limited, stakeholder requirements are diverse, and trade-offs and constraints are plentiful — which is the precise problem strategic sourcing decision optimization was designed to solve. And when scenarios are developed with stakeholders during the planning processed and then used to improve the robustness of the category strategy, how can you not win?

In short, corporate strategy has a lot to do with bid optimization, as it drives the sourcing strategy and model objectives, and you really can’t succeed in one without the other. They have a lot in common. Not everything, as some aspects of strategy have nothing to do with bid optimization (such as advertising tactics employed or market positioning, although other types of modelling will be used to determine the expected effects of each potential strategy), and some aspects of optimization and based purely in math and logic (which not all strategies are).

And using the two hand-in-hand makes perfect sense. So, just like Pierre, I have to ask why is it when we take this approach to a specific market basket and sourcing project, it somehow becomes an obtuse technology thing rather than just doing good strategy work? It just doesn’t make sense. Without both, you are playing a game of win, lose, or draw with a greater chance of losing or drawing then winning.

Remember, the power of “collaborative sourcing” or “market informed sourcing” is not the tool, but rather the philosophy of cross-functional teams doing scenario planning, defining what they really want as an objective, reducing or eliminating unneeded constraints, and fully tapping supply market power. The optimization tool is just an enabler, albeit a critical one.

Go, Pierre, Go.

The End of Competitive Advantage: A Review, Part III

In Part II of our review, we laid out the four rules for competing in the new landscape of temporary advantages when your organization has reached
The End of Competitive Advantage. In summary, they were:

  1. Compete in arenas, not industries.
  2. Get (out) while the gettin (out)’s good!
  3. Use resource allocation to promote deftness.
  4. Don’t try to tame temporary advantages without the support of a leadership team that believes in temporary advantages (and doing what is necessary to tame them).

Today we want to dive in to what is meant by gettin’ (out) while the gettin (out)’s good, how resources need to be viewed, and what defines a leadership team that will believe in, and support, the continuous pursuit of temporary advantages, according to the book’s author, Rita Gunther McGrath.

A company that gets while the gettin’s good focusses on continuous reconfiguration and healthy disengagement to constantly move from one temporary advantage to another. The reconfiguration process can be thought of as the secret sauce that allows a company to remain relevant in a situation of temporary advantages, because it is through (this) reconfiguration that assets, people, and capabilities make the transition from one advantage to another.

A company that is continuously reconfiguring is constantly morphing. Instead of (extreme) downsizing or restructuring, the plagues of companies that try to hold onto competitive advantages that aren’t sustainable, continually morphing companies shift resources from one wave of temporary advantage to another, as needed. Business units are replaced by opportunities managed by appropriate leaders, execution strategies are adapted to the situation, and the wave rises and falls with the transient nature of the competitive life cycle of the arena. In the beginning, resources are assigned to define and develop the product. When production begins, more resources are assigned. When it’s time to launch, support resources are assigned and added as needed until the product peaks and R&D resources are taken off to being work on the next wave. Once the peak is reached, resources are successively taken off of the wave and assigned to other waves where they can add more value. At some point, the product line, and support, is ended or sold off, the remaining resources are reassigned, and the leadership team is refocussed on other projects.

As the temporary advantage wanes, the leadership begins to look at disengagement strategies in an effort to identify the one(s) that it will pursue. The right strategy for disengagement is typically defined by the value of the capability and the time pressure. If the capability is in decline and there is little time pressure, the leadership team will probably choose to run-off and be well paid to maintain support for customers while decreasing investment. However, if the capability is core to the future of the business and the time pressure is intense, the leadership will have no choice but to pursue a hail mary and divest formerly core capabilities as part of an effort to find a new core to migrate too. For example, if you were in film processing when everyone went digital, you found a new core or you filed for bankruptcy. In between these extremes, the company may pursue an orderly migration, garage sale, fire sale, or last man standing disengagement strategy.

A company that competes in arenas can only win if it is innovative and deft. A company deft at resource allocation follows the new strategy playbook for resource allocation. This means the following:

  • It manages resources centrally, not in business unit silos.
  • It organizes around opportunities, not an organizational structure.
  • It aggressively and proactively retires competitively obsolete assets, and moves the talent that was supporting them to new opportunities.
  • It has a real options mind-set structured around variable costs and flexible investments.
  • It’s all about parsimony, parsimony, parsimony. It invests only when the time is right.
  • It knows that access trumps ownership.
  • It leverages what is available, wherever it is. Inside or outside, it doesn’t matter.

When it comes to innovation, it has more or less mastered the process. It has obtained a level of proficiency where innovation is ongoing, fueled by an ideation pipeline, and supported by the leadership team that spins up new operating groups as needed to explore potentially viable ideas, and that then spins them down, without negative repercussions to the team, if it is later determined that they are not sufficient to conquer the target arena(s). There are no failures, just learning experiences that guide, and increase the chances of success of, the next idea.

The book also summarizes a process for managing the ideation and innovation process, which was outlined in more detail in the author’s previous co-authored book on Discovery-Driven Growth, the core competencies required by the leadership team, and what transient advantage means for your, personally, but we’ll leave that to your review of the book.

This three-part review concludes with the statement that this book, packed with relevant examples and case studies, not only makes a great case for transitioning away from sustainable advantage strategies when the industry your organization was operating in no longer supports them, but also does a great job in laying out the rules and framework your organization will have to adopt if it wants to ride the waves of temporary advantage that will otherwise wash it out to sea if it’s not prepared. It is well thought out, well written, and a must read for anyone that wants to adapt to the constant change many business have to, and will soon have to, cope with. I recommend this for any business leader that wants to stay on top of her game (because even if she has a sustainable advantage today, it may wither tomorrow) and strongly recommend this for every Supply Management professional because history has shown that supply chain advantages (which depend on labour costs, the price of oil, global market dynamics, etc.) are always temporary.