Feb 22

Working with the Difficult Inclined

One of the joys of career life is coming in contact with wonderful, competent, and caring people. In the logistics/supply chain there are plenty of those types. There also thieves, scumbags, and people who have a disagreeable personalities.  Some times you are stuck in the middle with them because of contractual obligations or legacy holdovers. In this essay will call these unpleasant people the difficult inclined (DI). In time they will go away, but you have a job to do and you are sometimes stuck with working with them.

Do not look to the US present political climate in how to deal with these people. In political climate, there is social media bashing, belittling, and humiliating going on at record levels. If you do those things in your work life you will come in at the short end of the stick and make a bad situation much worst. Instead use preparation, metrics to verify performance, patience and yes humility.

When you are dealing with a responsible person, one sentence might lead the other person to not only do what is required but all the necessary work around it. That will not happen with the DI. They will do as little as possible and only what you directly and clearly ask. To get the necessary  work done requires more detailed preparation, more detailed planning and clear scope of procedures must be prepared.

Ron Reagan’s administration was famous for its “trust but verify” motto. In the DI case  there probably isn’t trust, which why metrics need to be developed to tell if the job details have been completed. Know that the DI probably will try to subvert the metric. Some data verification will be necessary.

Deep down, the DI loves when they sense you are perturbed about them because its own way gives them power over you. So a certain amount of patience is needed plus most importantly, the ability not to lose emotional control of the situation.

You can bet that the DI will love to take advantage of smugness, arrogance, and superior you feel towards them.  These emotions can blind one to the facts of the situation and the DI knows it. So keep interactions professional and have humility. Broadcasting that you are much better than the DI, will ultimately be used in a harmful way. Humility should not be confused with fear, Pollyanna states of mind, or subservience to the DI. It is rather an understanding and respect of the situation. It is focus of the job that needs to be done rather than on the DI.

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Feb 01

SC advise for Hell and Hand Basket

Perhaps some of may have noticed that the political environment is getting a bit of chaotic out there, hell and hand basket type space.  Those us in Supply Change and Logistics make our living trying to organize chaos in a multi-party environment. Preparing for this type of stuff, even has a name Supply Chain Risk.  So what advise those the supply chain offer the present political system in dealing with chaos?

Supply Chain/Logistics organization have little control of disastrous weather, politicial decisions, new technology and surprise customer decisions that show up in their world.  The political environment is in a surprise period too and people struggling on how to deal with it.

First, I will discuss about handling these surprises in the Supply Chain. Second, there will be apart about preparing for unknown unknowns.

When the unexpected happens, most supply chains will gather people from as many expertise they can get, both inside and outside of the organization, to develop an action plan to resolve the immediate issue. We will call these groups emergency teams. Why do they bother with this bureaucracy rather than have a boss just make edict on high?  (Although it usually the boss he arranges these meetings.)  Any response that does not consider those who are affected by the decisions will be sub-optimal at best and may make the situation even worst.  In the political process, a multi-interest coalition will likely make better decisions and have more clout than one interest group going at it alone.

In the Supply Chain these emergency teams need to establish objectives and ways to measure success. Communication of issues and successes is strong key to success of the efforts, once success is defined. In the political system, people are looking for ideas and actions that make sense, so communication is a key there also.

And when the crisis is ended, the supply chain emergency team work is not over. There will need to be follow up to see what they can learn and prepare for the next unexpected events. Once you go through ones of these the unknown unknowns, the concept becomes a lot more real. For instance, automobile manufactures were hurt badly by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan leading to long and expensive plant closures.  Now many of them have plans re-start programs when a major supplier is lost. There is a term for this type of planning which is Supply Chain Risk with the idea that initiates planning for unexpected events which  might be helpful when an emergency committee responses to a new issue.

The political system because it is so large and many times unorganized has trouble learning lessons and preparing, but perhaps that should be part of the political plan process also. Just reacting usually puts one behind the eight ball.

Posted in Inventory planning, Learning from failure, Logistics, Logistics IT Security, Logistics Safety, Sustainability, Transport Security, Transportation | Tagged | Leave a comment
Jan 24

When You Experience Poor Leadership

My last blog was how everybody in the supply chain can and should be a leader and a good one at that.  We all know the opposite happens. It sure does! Poor leadership can result from poor practices, processes and attitudes. It is a major road block to achieving success.

It is easy to get very angry in these type of situations. Poor leadership will not only prevent a given project from working or working well, but will have an adverse affect on your career and the business culture in your life.

Good leadership requires clear goals, listening, respect for others and patience. In a bad leadership situation these skills are still needed by you. It will minimize the damage to the project and yourself.  Complain if you must in private, but listen and learn, there will be more opportunities ahead and what you can learn will be of value.

If you are in a bad situation with your boss whose poor leadership results in hindering your success, and condensing belittling attitude towards you, it time for a change.  Perhaps you have seen employees in bad situation for years. I have. Most cases there is a fear that there is no other choice but to live in that bad situation.

When you are being belittled by poor boss, you have to make it a point to think positively of yourself, which is of course the exact opposite of the input you are getting. Look for help from supportive spouses, relatives and friends.  Getting a positive attitude about yourself is one of the hardest things you will ever do.  Remember how bad being belittled makes you feel, so avoid doing that others as result of the frustration you are feeling

It is easy to focus on job income and promotion but you should also be looking for a company culture to helps you be productive and successful.  Those in poor business cultures are going to have less successful career life, with significantly more health issues.  Good health is result of not only healthy eating and exercise but a good mental situation.

Bad situations come and they will only stay bad — if the work is not done to change them.



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Jan 10

Supply Chain Leadership Even If It Isn’t in Your Title

I volunteer at a food pantry and one day I asked the people there if in their career life they had ever had a good boss. None of the people I spoke to could remember even one good boss.

When you talk about bosses, you are really taking about leadership. Good leaders are needed everywhere, but Supply Chain despite its technological intensity ultimately is a people business and a team operation requires good leadership.

No matter where one is in the supply chain, the top, the bottom or somewhere in between it is important to know that leadership is required. Much has been written on leadership but here are things particularly important in logistics and the supply chain.

  • Developing a clear ideas on what needs to be accomplished and how can it be measured.
  • Understanding how this affects other members of the supply chain team you are working within the company and without. This requires the ability to listen to them, and the ability to learn. Respect for everyone is a key. That respect should include seeing the process from their perspective.
  • Empowering the appropriate personnel to act as needed. It might be that your first thought is only your boss can do this.  Maybe that person has the ultimate power but if the boss does not know there is reason to empower a person it might never happen. Yes, you can provide leadership even when you are not the boss.
  • As problems occur, look as these as opportunities to learn from errors or the environment of the business and do better.
  •  Put the processes in writing, but not in stone, so as things change, the process and you can change. You can provide leadership to change the process as appropriate.

Yes, leadership requires one more thing, passion.  Passion for the people who work with you, again inside and outside the company. Passion to be on task and do a good job. Passion to make the process enjoyable.

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Dec 06

The importance of your neighbors

In recent issue of Trains Magazine, there was a story about a regional railroad crew in the southeast United States. Enroute they would stop the train, feed an apple or some similar fruit to a mule who was always smart enough to walk to the tracks when he heard the train coming. The crew when asked why they did it, they said yes it was enjoyable making the stop but it was important to that their business had good relations with the people who resided in the area.

Supply Chain risk which has been written about a lot. There are worries about severe weather, earthquakes and other natural disasters. There is worry about supplier of product or transportation services disappearing or being unavailable for a long time. But its your neighbors in your community who make the zone ordinances which allow your business to operate and operate efficiently. It is likely your neighbors will be the supply of people who might hire to help run your supply chain.  So it is part of the company’s effort to ease and eliminate supply risk, good neighbor relations are important.

So planning community relations is part of the process. Maybe it having school children to explain what you do. Maybe it is supporting your local community college and having them having supply chain classes. Maybe it is keeping in contact with local government. After all what you do, helps a community grow.




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Oct 24

The S&S-Sales Force and Supply Chain

Sales forces want to sell. Supply Chain wants to deliver, but with understanding of the cost to the enterprise and the physical realities of warehousing and transport.  The part in the last sentence after the word “but” is where the complexity comes in the relationship between sales and the supply chain.

Meeting customer expectations for expedited delivery costs money.  Getting products shipped in peak demand periods is hard.  Customer delivery requirements can be difficult. If every customer load is hot, there is an issue there. Supply Chain sometimes tells the sales force personnel that customer expectations can not be met. Ugh! It is enough to make you thing Supply Chain thinks the customer is only somewhat right.

How can one approach these challenges? It fairly important to create an environment where sales can be successful. The approach that has the greatest chance of success is one where the company, supplier of the customer, creates value for that customer.

Let’s take a look at the issue of every load for the customer is hot, many times requiring premium transportation which hurts the supplying company profit.  Supply Chain should encourage sales not to just react to hot loads but to find out why they are happening. If you can lower the customer’s stress and therefore lower his costs that might be a win for everyone. I seen this type of problem resolved in many ways ranging from the simple, having customer service call every few days to the complicated where the supplier plans customer demand.

The ideal solution lower both supplier and customers cost and builds a stronger relationship which keeps the customer buying from your firm.

Most organizations have at least an annual sales meeting. Representatives from the Supply Chain / Logistics area of the company should attend at least a part of the meeting, to hear issues and complaints.  Communication will spark ideas to improve performance of both meeting customer expectations, in some cases shaping those expectation, and improving company processes to serve those customer needs.

Posted in Learning from failure, Management, Process Management, Supply Chain, Supply Chain Education, Sustainability, Transportation, Warehousing | Tagged | Leave a comment
Oct 10

Nuts and Bolts of Software

You can call it nuts and bolts or blocking and tackling. It is easy to take a 30,000 feet view of software and all the grand things it can do. In the case of supply chain software, to enable any software to be established, work and do its thing, it takes a team effort on many levels of the corporation.

Almost any corporate IT department is overwhelmed with work it can do. Somehow the business realities of customer requirements, management requirements, financial requirements and in some case legal requirements need to be meshed. In the supply chain we talk about visibility to the process a lot. For the IT personnel, many times they do not have the visibility to the needs of the business to do their best work.  That can have bad ramifications.

Let’s look at the worst case scenarios for software implementation. The software has start date for entire company and its bombs, making impossible to conduct business. Sadly this happens. Or another situation, that is also sadly too common; software is suppose to save X amount of dollars or percentage of cost and it does not come anywhere close to meets it proposes goals.

It is the nuts and bolts of the software process, or put another way with different words,  the implementation process that both enhances the probability of success of the project and equally important prevents it from failing.

A good implementation process should include the following in its plans:

  1. Communication with the people affected by the software, to mine their business experience in the area the software is affecting and use that knowledge to program the details of the software to work in a real business environment. Provide the visibility of the process to the people planning the software.
  2. Related to that, it desirable for the people in will actually use the software with feel they have a stake in its success. If they don’t they will try to do everything they can to work around the software because its gets in their way to be successful. So both the old process and the new process suffer.
  3. Start testing and implementation in some area of the company, one plant, one sub-unit, and learn how it works there before expanding it to the whole company.
  4. Communicate not only the successes but also the challenges.  That tells people its more than code, more than some crazy top management project, its about serious effort to improve the companies operations.
  5. Every software has limitations.  Learn what they are and put processes in place to deal with these issues.
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Aug 29

Blockchain and the Supply Chain

In the August 29, 2016 edition of Bloomberg Business Week in the opening remarks section there is article by Olga Khariff and Peter Coy about Blockchain, a software that came about to control Bitcoin and other electronic currencies.  This software is about controlling a large system, such as a currency system and making it visible. It limits a given item such as money token to one use per person.  In my mind’s eye it reminded  me of a complex supply chain.  So what is the value of Blockchain to the supply chain? It is a system software, so in situations of drastic change such as a large natural disaster this software will have limitations, because the system cannot easily transform. So after writing the software probably can not handle a disaster, I will turn around and say this will be great software for post disaster planning and getting the right support items.

The dreamers of this software, and yes you need dreamers to innovate, champion, and execute any new idea, see as a way to end corporations forever with a group think management style.  No more CEO’s.  Everybody in the system will be equally powerful. Since most of these people hate bureaucracy and corporations, I suspect they have not spent time looking how organizations survive and prosper through change management with a champion at the top. You can dislike wage disparity between CEO’s and everyone else, and still see a need to have a constructive organization direction.

So don’t let the political rhetoric distract for the value of this software which allows all parties to use their resources in the system to create an action, and in the supply chain that will be about getting something moving or stored.  The software specializes in making transaction visible, so a second tier supplier actions would be visible to the primary supplier and the end user, useful information to manage the system efficiently. In a set up supply chain that is running relatively smooth over a period of time, the attraction of this software should be self event.

But the software is not going to predict a change like going from DVD’s to music apps and then back to long running records. Or a earthquake in Japan knocking out sizable production, and new alternatives will be needed much faster than the software can be changed. The needs of the market place will fundamentally change. Any software which promotes a system will be a hindrance in drastic change situations

Speaking of disasters, I see a good use the Blockchain software might be very useful in a post disaster situation. Frequently after disasters, the blizzard of donations after the terrible event rarely meets the needs of what is needed. You might have to few blankets, but way too many pots and pans. I could see non-profits finding value of a software where one could see what is needed and make the donation. Much of this type of demand can reasonably anticipated so software can mostly be set up in advance and activated on short notice.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Posted in Infrastructure, Learning from failure, Logistics, Logistics Software, Management, Patient transport, Public Policy, Supply Chain, Sustainability, Transport Security, Transportation, Warehousing | Tagged | Leave a comment
Aug 15

Benchmarking Legal in Transportation

File this essay on there has to be a better way department.  How often as a transportation contract between a carrier and a shipper taken months to resolve, usually over one word, liability?

After months of negotiation, red-lining contracts, sending out emails, and having a bunch of meetings a contract; it is resolved in a way almost all parties could have predicted at start. Carriers know what shippers will want. Shippers know what carriers will want. Yet the original contract contains pie in the sky liability sentences which could only exist if due diligence is not done by the other party to the contract. Yes it happens, but 99% of the time, it does not.

It is safe to say that lawyers are trained to be advocates for liability protection for their clients being they shippers or carriers. It probably also safe to say also that lawyers were never trained to due the process efficiently. Trained appropriately on the details of law, but left out on how to get this done efficiently.

So let me propose some professional organization, provide contract benchmarks. Say this is the standard on liability that 75% of the shippers and carriers agree to. It would be more efficient and save time if the standards were agreed upon being written down on paper. Negotiation time would be cut in probably by 80% and a clear path to written contract could be accomplished.

So you ask why will only lawyer or lawyer firm agree to that since it would cut the amount of revenue each contract brings in? Corporate lawyers are going to be paid anyway and they can be incentivized to bring efficiency into the process.  Carrier attorneys can be rewarded the same way. And ultimately it will be a survival strategy, somebody is going to come in with a legal business model to promote efficiency and take a large share of the business anyway.


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Jul 26

Driverless Trucks-Really?

There are lots of driverless trucks articles out of late. There is talk that a truck can do 1000 miles in one day therefore make multi-warehouses redundant. Realizing there is already one driverless truck out there Volo is testing in Europe, let’s just take a step back to consider what it will mean to logistics and the supply chain.

I am one who believes that the driverless truck technology will be of value but in limited circumstances. Public acceptance will be an issue. The ability to program for the complexities of urban delivery though makes me a skeptic about its use for local operations.

Let’s talk long haul interstate or divided highway situations. That is a controlled situation which relatives few anomalies.  If I was the head of the American Truck Association,  I would be thinking how in the world to make this acceptable to the public who is deeply suspicious of trucks in general.  I would be looking even before the technology is available for an interstate highway run test area to prove the concept to the public, that it is safe and viable. There may need to ab internet site or phone number, people can call if there is incident in its operation, which I think would offer some assurance to the public that safety is being considered. Any responsible operator of carriers, thinks safety day in and day out, but one spectacular accident involving a truck, to easily dissuades the public that is money trumps safety. An interstate highway operation would be probably easiest to control and be easiest to defend against cyber security issues.

Despite the ability to avoid human hours of service limitations, with the need for quick delivery in major urban areas, I doubt there will be significant changes in the number of warehouses and location of main warehouses in the country.  Today’s drivers can do 500 to 600 miles which is an overnight journey. The fact you can do 1000 miles in one vehicle in 20 hours really is too slow for much of e-commerce.

Pick up and delivery deals with a massive number of unusual dock and terminal situations particularly in older urban environments.  Can a machine handle blocking off the street while a truck backs into a dock off the street?   There are a lot of judgements drivers make in that situation based on situations sometimes fairly far out and down the road.  For an individual site you could program for it. It would be expensive to consider and hard to program all the possibilities for local pick up and delivery. I suspect that trucks in non-controlled environment of local streets is more of a cyber-security risk.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.


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