Logistics – A word with many meanings or a meaning with many interpretations. For most professionals and practitioners the term is still defined as the movement of something; of mainly raw materials, equipment, items of astronomical sizes and values and pieces as small as a hairpin. Just for theoretical sake though, we will adopt the view that logistics is concerned with material and material flow, as suggested by Cooper et al (1997).
Theory and the real world
The very words, ‘movement’ ‘flow’ and‘materials’, often occur with system glitches, human error, late deliveries, operational capacity challenges, crowded ports and the list goes on. We have seemingly grown accustomed to a supply chain outcome that has failed in the last leg of the triathlon, delivering late and sometimes in an unsatisfactory state.
Some believe that the academic solutions for a seamless supply chain may never work in the real world. However, in my experience, a contingency plan, especially for high risk and high-value goods movement, can diffuse, at every turn, supply chain bottlenecks, before they arise.
Determining the success and failure rate of many strategies to resolve the challenges logistics face, is not intended to be debated here. However, logisticians and supply chain professionals should identify the much underrated hidden problem solver, just like the talented upstart on the football B team, waiting on that opportunity to shift to the first division.
For all late outages, late deliveries, bottlenecked processes and the disgruntled internal or external customer with one more day for project completion and the spare has not arrived on time, we bring to you, not a miracle act or a new Michael Porter model. It’s the logistics B team.
The B team at work
The B team would execute the contingency and serve as your alternative plan of action. The B team, at work, isn’t a fairy tale supply chain solution. It must be a well-researched and possibly tested solution if the opportunity allows it.Without a doubt, the application of a risk assessment approach or applying, what I call, the ‘what ifs’ approach of Failure Mode Effects Analysis (FMEA) can determine, with extensive brainstorming and coming together of stakeholders, contingencies and mitigating solutions to prevent potential failure issues. So when something goes wrong, rather than spending useless time blaming the vendor, the software, the weather and the port, we can easily resort to our alternative plans, already defined with contacts, times, flights, ports, routes and so on. Now isn’t this a best practice approach?
Here is a quick look at my plan b toolbox:
- Alternative routes
- Alternative flight times
- Alternative ports
- Alternative incoterms and transport modes
- Alternative vendors
- Alternative specifications
- Alternative manpower
- Alternative materials
- Alternative funding
- Alternative procurement strategy
Taking the blows in the ring corner
Is the supply chain responding to these local obstacles? For now, we are accepting them, with phrases such ‘these are uncontrollable factors; that’s the way it is; and we have done all possible at this time’. Supply chain Managers might also be told that ‘we don’t own the vessel’ and that’s the process so we have to deal with it’, not relying on the backup plan of action. Simply put, and without trivializing the challenges faced, supply chain, must be able to access the plan as the challenge presents itself.
In the new environment of lean operations and tight budgets by both private and public sector organizations, failure isn’t an option, as hard as it seems for logisticians and supply chain professionals.The Logistician must now develop ‘standby’ solution with confidence that if a ship is delayed at a foreign port or a flight is delayed in Miami, real-world solutions, already defined, could now be applied immediately.
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Faculty– Operations Management/Strategic Change Management/ Supply chain and logistics