Supply Chain Lessons: Having Our Cake and Eating it, Too

Black_Forest_gateau 400x300Truth to be told, I think the biggest lesson learned from my experience in supply chain management is that managing trade-offs is a sure fire way to limit the potential of the supply chain as a driver of business performance.

Yes, I said it. The most depended-upon framework for managing supply chains for decades: choosing between cost or quality, efficiency or flexibility and innovation or production at scale may have produced the lowest cost supply chain or the most efficient supply chain. What it hasn’t done is enable rapid, sure-fire innovation, a demand-driven supply chain or sustained competitive advantage.

We didn’t get here through stupidity or because we intentionally wanted to limit our potential. We got to this point because those priorities were what we believed were important. As Peter Drucker said decades ago, “what get’s measured, gets done,”

Now, having learned the lesson, it’s time to change the way we manage the supply chain. We couldn’t ask for a better time to embrace the power of “and” – pursuing cost and quality, efficiency and innovation. The timing is perfect because today’s technology innovations are able to support the transformation. The advances we’re seeing break down the focus on limitations and allow us to do more, do it better and push the boundaries of excellence.

Like what, you ask? 3-D printing is one example. It used to be just for prototyping. But now the technology is available for some volume production. The fidget-spinner is a perfect example of how 3-D printing enabled the movement from idea to product to the hottest gadget in just a few weeks. Capturing the demand – and the sales – once would have taken months or even a year. Now, it’s weeks and sometimes even days.

Some might say that the fidget spinner example isn’t one of real, industrial manufacturing. Regardless, we can’t ignore the fact is that the cost curves for 3D parts are continuing to come down, making more and more traditional manufacturing fabrications technologies candidates for 3D alternatives. Entirely new business opportunities are being created as a result of low cost and rapid, iterative design.

Collaborative robots represent another innovation that will transform supply chains. Once a tool solely for productivity and efficiency in production, robots now are able to do more tasks, provide insight into ways to improve the performance of those tasks and free people up to do more critical thinking. They will ultimately tighten the links in the supply chain between demand and delivery, allowing manufacturers to improve agility and capture greater results in shortened market cycles.

Nascent, but something I think with real potential for improving supply chain performance is blockchain technology. The applications for facilitating peer-to-peer collaboration offer real promise in bringing all stakeholders in the supply chain together in a trusted, credential-enabled way. Better, faster collaboration with key partners and lower risk. Efficiency and agility and innovation.

It’s an exciting idea, isn’t it? After all, who doesn’t want to have cake and eat it, too? Now, we can get closer to that. I’d welcome your thoughts on the trade-off you most want to see knocked down. How do you think innovation will make that possible? Reach me here @jim_lawton.

Originally published on Beet Fusion.