Uncharted territory: How I found my way in the supply chain world
Inspired-Talent | 1 December 2020
During a presentation I recently attended (online), I was asked the question: Did I ever expect to be in this role? My answer: No. I answered in a half a second. Why did I answer ‘No’ to my screen? Because less than a year ago I entered the, for me unknown, world of Supply Chain Management(1). I did know something about recruitment and with my background in social work I certainly learned skills that I could apply. But I didn’t know anything about ERP systems and terms like 3PL, BOM, LDV, ROI, S&OP. I only knew what order picking meant because my best friend order picked her way through her studies.
In the past year I did learn a lot. There are 5 things I want to share with everyone for whom supply chain is also uncharted territory.
1. “Forecasts are always wrong”
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that in supply chain you can face many unexpected situations. When something happens you have two options: you can avoid or embrace it. Nobody knows exactly what to do, as you can’t know exactly what the future will bring. Or as my colleague said: “Forecasts are always wrong.” Instead, what is going to help you is the right mindset: consider multiple situations, work out different scenarios and determine how to deal with them. Besides that, collaboration throughout the entire chain is very important. Like Ujendre, managing partner Inspired-Talent, previously stated: “People still make the difference.
2. Let others tell
So I entered a new world and that’s what I like; discovering, learning new things and unravelling processes. My heart doesn’t beat faster from spreadsheets in Excel and I have never worked in SAP. But I did enjoy conversations with people who describe themselves as Excel nerd, tell about the processes they have improved and what ambitions they have for the future. I try to learn from them. After all, everyone likes to talk about something they are good at. Note: it’s just like when you clean up the attic; first it always becomes a bigger mess and then you get more overview.
3. To measure is to know
Ask me to sort things out and my first impulse says: use Word. As a graduate in Pedagogy and Cultural Anthropology I am used to dealing with qualitative, some quantitative, data. Reading between the lines, investigating underlying structures and bringing them to the surface. In other words: mainly a lot of text and relatively few figures. When Ujendre asked me to sort something out for our workshop I did so. Then I got the remark (with a smile): “How funny that you used Word”. Measuring is knowing and you don’t want to use Word, as it is more difficult to apply filters and to compare information.
4. Learning by playing
After signing my contract in December 2019, I immediately received a stack of supply chain and logistics journals and registered for an online course on Coursera. This is obviously important to gain more insight in the field and to familiarize yourself with the terminology. However, what worked even better was participating in (online) games with my colleagues. We participated with a team in The Blue Connection and The Fresh Connection of InChainge. Learning by playing, this is something that was self-evident during my study Pedagogy, where you learn about developmental psychology of children. However, it doesn’t get less important as you get older. I highly recommend this to gain more experience and get to know your colleagues better. It doesn’t make the supply chain picture any simpler, but the complexity and decisions you may have to deal with become much more tangible. We had to make certain choices: what strategy do we choose and how do we ensure alignment throughout the entire organization? What are the problems on the other side of the world that affect the chain? For example, we had to deal with piracy and extreme weather conditions; this will affect your stock and your (un)ability to deliver on time to the customer. At Cultural Anthropology they let you delve deeper into processes near and far from home and the influence of all these developments on daily life. Something you clearly notice in supply chain in practice.
5. How It’s Made
When it comes to gaining knowledge in a way that is tangible and close to everyday life, take a look at “How It’s made”. This documentary-like show illustrates how everyday objects (such as clothing, food, sports equipment) are made. And it shows the complexity of the supply chain. Do you know how everyday products like running shoes, peppermint or magnets are made? All these products consist of different components. The more components there are, the more complex the supply chain is.
Do I know everything about supply chain? Certainly not. It’s a playing field that is always subject to change. So, if you have any tips for me to increase my knowledge or if you like to share your experience with me as a supply chain professional or beginner, don’t hesitate to contact me: email@example.com. After all, you are never too old to learn.
For people who are not familiar with supply chain, a short introduction:
i] Supply Chain Management (SCM): the flow of goods and services that includes everything (processes, systems, people) from the production of a product with raw materials to the final delivery to the customer and consumption. It includes phases such as production, shipping, distribution and possibly return systems.
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