May 10

Dealing with anger in the supply chain

Watching and listening to the 2016 Presidential campaigns, you get the sense there are lots of angry voters out there. Since this is a supply chain/logistics blog, I wondered about anger in the supply chain. As any person in the supply chain knows at times you have to deal with anger, either with your customers or suppliers or yourself.  I will focus on this blog on finding yourself to be angry. Maybe it will be from poor treatment for your company, your boss, your co-workers, your vendors or customers.

One option when your angry is to become a loose cannon.  But ultimately that works like an 20th Century Roadrunner Cartoon.  In those films, Wile E Coyote obsessed about catching the Roadrunner bird, to the point that he could not think logically and every crazy schemes he tries to catch the Roadrunner failed and worse ending up hurting him.  In real life, it can cost you your job, your reputation, your income, and put a major dent in your future.

That is not to say you should bury the emotion. That becomes in time a volcano within. We are dealing with enough volcanoes outside our body as is.

So first things, first, recognize that your angry. Once that is done, you start to feel a little more in control of a bad situation.  It is easy to be so worked up about being anger that the anger takes control of your life and your perspective vanishes and you are slave to the emotion.

Second, realize there is a basis for your anger.  It can be positive motivator to move forward and provide the energy needed to bring desired change. A question to ask, is what can done ti constructively to make things better. In the supply chain, listening to find the real problem is an important part and required first step. When a customers is telling you off for poor delivery, engage them to start finding a better solution.

Sometimes a significant change is necessary. Let me give you this non-supply chain example. A famous headhunter blogger, Nick Corcodilos, says he has seen  a number of millennium women angry that they are not making the same money as men in their position. They search for an employer who will pay what they are worth and move on. This is a constructive use of that anger.

If your supplier or vendor is incapable of performing, and when given a chance to improve fails or ignores you, the angry that this brings will likely lead to a planned, better operation situation when changes are made.

So when angry, recognize what it is and start thinking how to constructively use that energy to get into a better place.  Make yourself sustainable, not a target of derision.

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Apr 26

Imagine starting a supply chain from scratch

Last week, the Chicago Roundtable of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) visited Magid Glove in Romeoville, IL.  Magid had a number of stories to tell about moving from an old outdated facilities in Chicago, IL to a new facility in a southwest suburb of Chicago, Romeoville, IL.  Their business is to make, distribute and sell safety productive clothing, with a specialization of various types of safety gloves.

To me the visit could be summarized on their second floor, where on one side of the building is a sophisticated tote conveyor system for storage and retrieval of products and other side the same floor are women working sewing machines with items moved between work stations in laundry baskets. Rarely have I seen such stark contrasts together  in the same building but to me it represented common sense planning.  How can that be? We will get there.

As a private company, it is easier to make long term calls to improve your performance when the firm don’t have investors only interested in quarterly profits.  Magid decided a US presence was needed to stay in business and it wanted to be close to Chicago to keep its skilled workforce and managers. Maintaining its quality of workmanship was deemed an important core company value to be sustainable in its market. It knew its presence workforce was skilled in providing that quality. To keep the employees they stayed in the Chicago market.

Rarely does an organization have the opportunity to redesign your operation from scratch. This was one of those times. One story is that process from moving from old building to new one. They started with their purpose in the marketplace: High quality, individualized safety clothing products shipped promptly and correctly to the customer. For these type of low volume supplies, customers are not getting to do a large amount of planning, so when something breaks or a surge in business comes, they will need the product right now to maintain their production. As this is safety equipment, it must perform as advertised for both moral and certainly legal reasons. So while Magid has a plant in the Philippines, it is too far away to timely ship to the US market.

While machines can make the basic glove, the extra fabrics and detail needed to make a safety glove safe, in the small batch requirements of the customers, it was felt best to have individual people sewing the needed safety details to the glove.   These small batches  can be moved to work stations by sophisticated conveyor machines or robots, but would there be any real savings or any real improvement in productivity?

But the story in the distribution warehouse was quite different. Not only did have the own products to sell but they sold complementary products from other firms. In their distribution system with a lot small quality sku’s, a sophisticated tote conveyor system was chosen to significantly cuts down on storage space needed and speeds the product through the warehouse. It also improved order accuracy.  The investment was large, but the return on investment was quick.

The 30,000 feet view story here is that organizations can’t do everything, especially everything at once with not only limited cash but also limited management resources, even in a starting from scratch situation.  The organization must choose what it thinks would give it the biggest bang for the buck, improving its distribution system in the warehouse. Time will allow the firm to approach other process improvements.

There is a lot of technology out there: the internet of things, SOP, ERP, WMS, TMS, robots, and artificial intelligence among others. Maybe, all them would help your company be more efficient. There is not enough cash nor management personnel to implement everything. The wise managers will prioritize improvements based on what will help the business be successful to meeting customer needs and expectations, where to modernize and where to put off.




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Apr 20

Connecting the Supply Chain to Research

Last Thursday, April 14,2016, the Chicago Roundtable of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) visited the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII). DMDII is a public-private research institute in Chicago which is provided digital manufacturing research for American manufacturing companies so they can succeed.

OK, lots of acronyms and words here. What does it all mean? In this brief essay, I will tell about my visit to the facility, examine how well this research works with the supply chain, why research is value and worthy of the taxpayers’ dollars and finally, an overview of the recently started national research centers, their acronyms, their purpose, where they are located and of course, their website.

DMDII and UI Labs share a brand new building, open last year, on Goose Island in Chicago, a few miles northwest of the loop. One of their Business Development personal, Mary Kate Love, gave us a brief history and overview of the operation. Manufacturing is undergoing changes as a result of the digital technology revolution. To be successful in this environment, research needs to be done to keep America competitive with the world.  DMDII is a public-private center where business, academics and the government can do this research. We saw machines being tested, labs areas and a lecture hall. Industries have provided, on loan, machines to be tested. Some companies assigned their personnel to work there. There is an engineering focus at this location. Memberships annual fees start from $500 and goes up to the several hundred thousand dollar.

Supply Chain/Logistics people are in are the unusual position, of not only looking at the organization inward, but outward looking to its suppliers and customers.  It is significant supply chain/logistics organization, the Chicago Roundtable of CSCMP choose to visit there even though it is not directly connected what supply chain practitioners do in their jobs. It is of value for logistics and supply chain to let management know organizations like DMDII exist and that information needs to be communicated to upper management of this source of research information.

It is of concern that digital research tends to be inwardly focused, just on the machine or the internal process. Data developed in these research projects have implications in production information for the supply chain and for the company’s suppliers and customers. If your organization chooses to join an organization such as DMDII, supply chain leaders should solicit input into the project to make sure these larger picture items are considered.

My belief is that that government has a role in investing in the economy and keeping it productive by doing research. In other nations, research might be controlled by the government. Working in team environment of industry, academics and the government  gives America a competitive advantage to do this research. There is a serendipity effect when people work together. The sum will be more than the parts.  Part of rebuilding America’s manufacturer sector, such inputs as this research will be needed to spur economic growth.  Yes, efforts should be made to minimize failures and wasted money, but fear of failure should not scare us, if we want to have a better future.

The visit made me curious about the other research facilities created recently by current federal administration. Here is a list the research centers which are in existence today and their location. All of these have been started in the last five years.

The national organization is the National Network of Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI). It is part of the Advanced Manufacturing National Program Office (AMNPO) in Gaithersburg, MD, part of the Department of Commerce.

Organization                                                                                            Acronym/Website

Advanced Functional Fabrics of America                                                AFFOA

Research into the new fabrics                                           

American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics     AIM Photonics

Research on photonics, use of light waves to convene data

American Lightweight Materials Manufacturing Innovation Institute                                                                                                                                        ALMMII

Located in Detroit, MI Lightweight materials research.               

Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute                          DMDII

Located in Chicago, IL Digital manufacturing research              

Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation            IACMI

Located in Knoxville, TN.  Advanced polymer composites research

Nextflex                                                                                                                   Nextflex

Located in San Jose, CA. Research in flexible hybrid electronics

PowerAmerica                                                                                        PowerAmerica

Located in Raleigh, NC. Develop wide bandgap

power electronic technologies. Works with the Department of Energy


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Apr 13

Numbers holistically

By thinking and viewing numbers holistically, I mean numbers need to looked at the context of their environment. I ran across a fun example of what I mean by this on Youtube in non-logistics, non-supply chain example, but I will connect it in a moment to logistics and the supply chain.

The video is a TED talk video by Amy Webb. She decided to use numbers to find the best husband for her needs as she wanted to get married. The video is here:

So she developed 72 variables for the ideal mate, weighed them, searched the database and found the winner.  She contacted him, and all she got was silence. She found out that she forgot to figure out what the market wants. It is sort like optimizing for the best transportation cost in a Transportation Management System (TMS)  or optimizing your warehouse to best cost with Warehouse Management System (WMS), but forgetting about what the customer needs and wants.

Your KPI’s and use of data can not be an end to itself.  It is part of process of meeting the demands of your market. For example, if customer needs fast replenishment you may need to invest in additional storage space near the market though it is cheaper to centralize inventory. Data needs to be used in the context of the overall good of the organization not just for a benefit of a silo.

Amy Webb learned from her error, which something that is important. She next did a data survey of what attracts men to answer ads, which can be summarized as offering as energy and confidence.  She revised her profile, and soon start to get responds from men she was interested in.  She did find a mate.

Using numbers holistically can win you customers and help keep the customers you did have.

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Apr 03

Logistics Infrastructure

When the word infrastructure comes up many of us think of roads, ports, waterways, railroads and maybe electricity and sewers. These are the basics of infrastructure and have been under invested in now for many years.  But infrastructure should also include the staging area of logistics.

The Georgia Port Authority recently invested in an inland ports in Cordele, GA and Murray County GA in northwest Georgia as a place to assembly freight going to and from Savannah, GA a growing port. By making it easier and more cost effective for local industries to serve the port, their business has a chance to grow, raising employment and increasing tax revenue.

And yes, there is a chance these investments no matter how well thought could fail.  In the present political and cynical climate, only overwhelming success can stop strong political criticism of projects like these. Additionally, individuals who may loss property or have their peace destroyed by industrial activities are sure to be opposed to projects like these.

My philosophy is that there is role for government to play as a catalyst and sometimes planner in these logistics projects. One of the fundamental goals of government should be (particularly in a democracy) is to do its part in economic growth.  Away from the supply chain, when you see a strong downtown area in a city it is almost always successful, because local government support was instrumental in its planning and success.  Yes, tax payers dollars were used but in these cases, investments were paid back by the growth in the local economy.

You can site examples on this on the federal level, interstate highways, and state level also such as the inland ports mentioned above. Relatively rarely, unfortunately, those the electorate think in these terms, but we should in the logistics community would be wise to support well researched and thought out projects.

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Mar 14

Sometimes Zigzagging Works

The inspiration of this article came from two different venues, the Bible and college basketball. In the telling of Exodus. God directs the Israelites  out of Egypt on a zigzag course deliberately, so as avoiding an immediate battle with the Philistines, which they were not prepared to fight in the days after leaving Egypt (Exodus 13:17).  It was a strategic zigzag from a direct route to allow success further down the line.

Oh yes, college basketball. A guard takes the ball down the court. An opposing player stands between the guard and the basket. The guard goes forward, the opposing guard retreats with him.  The guard pauses and zigzags back, with the opposing player still back pedaling. There is now space to make an uncontested shot to the basket.

The strategic and well thought out zigzag or pause is one of the tools supply chain and logistics managers have.  Its use is dependent on understanding what other players in the situation would likely do. Using the zigzag or the pause,  increases your value as a manager to the corporation and is something a computer logarithm is unlikely to be able to do. Here are some examples.

Let’s say you want the firm to pay for a new software which will have the potential to significantly improve your operation.  Assume further, your company is in a temporary cash crunch. If you push the software now to upper management and finance people, they will likely say “no” and that “no” may even prevent future review of the software. So timing your presentation to a better company cash situation will likely improve the chances the software will be funded.

Managers having to put out fires of an operation problem.  Sometimes, if they just wait a few hours,  the situation may be resolved to the customer’s and organization’s satisfaction at lower cost than if do something immediately.  You may take some heat, but if you are ultimately successful, people will remember the success and not the heat.

Probably the best use of the zigzag or the pause is implementing major changes in an organization.  It is normal for people to resist change and by pausing to get buy in the project might work better. An historical example, Abraham Lincoln’s issuing of the Emaciation Proclamation. He might of wanted to do so on day one of his Presidency, but doing this would have lead to his being blamed for the succession of the South. He waited for year and half into Presidency before issuing preliminary documentation in September 1862. He did when he felt the political time was right for issuing the Proclamation, when it had a good chance for success.

In certain situations, if after reviewing what outside parties are doing and/or thinking, a pause or a zigzag in managing a situation may be appropriate.

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Mar 03

Not near my backyard

I was at a networking meeting telling people I work in logistics, and stranger listening responded saying nobody wants trailers near them.

I was curious what that meant. With a bit of conversation, it was learned that the firms he deals with are having problems keeping truck trailers in their lots because nearby residents complaining about them being unsightly and a nuisance.  Those of us making a living either arranging transportation of the trailers or filling them with goods to go somewhere, might have a more romantic and positive view of truck trailers, but not so nearby residents.

In addition to visual issues, noise truck operations create is a significant issue. Many times the truck noises are at night, engine humming, brakes humming, and things going bang in the night.

As a supply change or logistics specialist and manager, more so than most management positions you are outward facing. Responsible organizations know that in addition to being responsive to share holders, customers and employees, being a good neighbor is important to continuing sustainability of operations.

Being aware of actual and potential issues in the community your businesses function, is an important value you can bring to the firm. Being outward facing and in the supply chain, you can bring value to your organization anticipating and responding to these challenges. Respectful attitudes must be maintained even when others may not be.

I like to continually write about individuals who add value to the organization, in a way which can not easily outsourced to robots, software or other organizations. Handling these type of issues, making top management aware of these concerns, and providing good solutions all speak to one more reason why a firm needs you and not another robot or software.

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Feb 17

Filling Supply Chain Jobs

Community Colleges across the country are starting to fill a need for supply chain training. Last week I attended a Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) session at Harper College in Palatine, IL near Chicago where this was topic of the day.  CSCMP is a professional supply chain organization.

I attended decades ago Penn State and received a MBA with a major in logistics. There are of course a number great universities across the country providing supply chain training, the current buzz word for this field. There is a level of knowledge and educational sophistication these programs provide. They can be useful for high paying jobs in large organizations, global in size, billions of revenue and complex. However not every organization needs that level of talent or can afford to pay for it, but do need supply chain skills, knowledge and work ethic.

The featured company at the event was Innovative Components of Schaumberg, IL. They make knobs. There website is  They have two plants, one here in Illinois, and one in Costa Rica.  They have a need for educated and trained work force in the supply chain, people who know the concepts and vocabulary and can meet the needs of this relatively small organization when compared to the multi-national behemoths.

Harper College offers certificate courses in Procurement and Supply Management, Transportation and Logistics, Warehouse Operations, Demand Planning, Inventory and Production Control, and Supply Chain Analytics.  Connected to these programs are CSCMP exams which are benchmark exams which be recognized by many companies as marker of knowledge and skill, which will be better known throughout the country than the Harper College name and add credence to the certificate program.

Many manufactures are short skilled people to run their operations. No longer can a non-degreed person just walk in and just do repetitive tasks on assembly line or just call a truckline to ship. Manufacturing jobs do pay living wages as they are skilled jobs in demand.  But their suppliers and customers may be fairly sophisticated and they will need suppliers and customers who can understand their issues.

One of the points the representatives of students are telling high schoolers and young community college students is that not all jobs require going into tens of thousand of 4 year college debt to be able to get to the point where one is employable.

Harper College administrators and faculty, as is typical in community colleges come from people who have actually worked in the field, who are not just teaching a “textbook” because of their experience and practical knowledge.


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Feb 09

Its In the Details

The attached article is a good essay on why details are so important to transportation shipments.

In the world of import-exports there are ways to get big fines for your organization, which not only money for the fine itself, but the significant amount of time its takes the organization to resolve any of these issues.

It is important that software used account for these details of shipment.  The software can be used to remind and enforce procedures. That is all well and beneficial, but training in the organization, formal and informal, must teach the underlying fundamentals.  The transportation manager and personnel must be aware so I can handle new marketing issues as they come up or handle unanticipated events in a professional fashion.


Posted in Export, Import, Inventory planning, Learning from failure, Process Management, Supply Chain, Supply Chain Education | Tagged | Leave a comment
Jan 26

Combating the Sounds of Silence

In the supply chain and logistics, your job success depends not only on your own work but whether you can get others inside and outside your organization to work together on ways to increase efficiency and resolve problems that come up.  It is very dependent on people listening and hearing each other.  The data on your computer systems generate is only good if people uses it wisely.

Yes, there are times people will refuse to listen.  More often it is the case that a person does not even realize he or she is not listening. There is a silence there which is invisible with all clutter going on in everybody’s work life.  You probably not their direct line boss, so you cannot force them to listen, therefore one must provide benefits and reasons to listen.

Below are some thoughts on how to deal with this sounds of silence, but first here is how not to deal with it: telling people off, condensing to them, screaming and shouting, and plotting conspiracies to make that person’s life difficult. You are in this for long haul, and you will need these people support in the future.  People remember how you treat them. Logistics and supply chain have lots of details needed to be done right and they are easy to ignore.

Here are some keys to getting people to want to listen and hear.

  1. Know what the project or work objective is and why this is being done, and be prepared to clearly explain it. People will put no voluntary effort into any activity if its value is unclear and its objective unclear.
  2. Use your knowledge and empathy to understand what the person you are dealing is trying to accomplish in their job and what sort of work dynamic they are dealing with (i.e. is this peak season?).   Projects and work objectives has to placed in a context of their job, otherwise it will have no relevancy to them. Again, typically you are not their boss and you do not have power over them.  To get buy in, there must be some understanding why working together will be of benefit.
  3. Develop questions on the project that will help bring out barriers and concerns these persons will have.  Many of us, have been in situations where it is better to keep our concerns to oneself, but these concerns are landmines which could destroy the project and keep from being successful. Well placed questions will help break down this barrier of silence.  Respect the person and the experience of the people you need to work with.
  4. Provide feedback which is the best way to show that person concerns are being addressed and the project is moving forward.

There is one other element that is important. Be enjoyable to talk to. Who wants to talk to anybody who is difficult?  Part of being enjoyable to communicate with is making it easy for dialogue and communications to take place.  Respond to instant messengers, emails and phone calls on a timely basis. If you are too busy to respond, the other person will be too busy also.



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