Jan 22

Hiring in the Supply Chain

Virtually everybody trying to be hired finds the hiring process extremely frustrating. In the supply chain, those working in this field have heard for decades about breaking silos in the corporation, but yet the hiring process is almost completely transactional. Maybe it is time to rethink this.

The way most corporate hiring process is done is to write a job description. The description will require the candidate to do X number of things, computer literate, be trained in the supply chain, and history of doing such and such.

So yes the job description can be a baseline. However doing all does things in the job description will not make a successful candidate. The successful candidate will need to these things in conjunction with:

  1. Work with people within the organization
  2. Work with people outside the organization
  3. Deal with constant change, be additive in the process and not a determent to it.
  4. Be a person whose actions allow others in the department to perform betteer.

Let me give a sports example what I mean. There are way too many stories of a really good athlete who destroyed his team by being arrested, and not be available for the big games. There are other stories of a person being a great athlete but is terrible for team chemistry, which causes the team to lose games it should have won. This why the job description may be meant by the applicant but that person would be a really bad choice for the job.

So yes it is important to get out of the silo of the job description and looking at job holistically which includes corporate culture and interpersonal dynamics.

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Aug 04

Be curious about your organization

If you are a person who works in a shipper supply chain/logistics/transportation department of your company, almost assuredly receive a lot of cold calls and emails from trucking companies and 3rd party providers seeking part of your company’s shipping business.

I do marvel how so many of these trucking and 3PL organizations, the sales personnel have no idea why there company is successful and in business. Many times they say to you they can meet your every need. I always tempted to say (but don’t) hey I need 37 truckloads from Minot, North Dakota to Boise, Idaho (not true), can you have them there by 5 pm today. North Dakota is not the center of truck supply. The temptation is there because clearly no organization can do everything and do it well.

So ask the sales person what is the strength of their organization and they can’t tell me. They truly don’t know what niche of the business their company fits into.

I would tell those clueless sales personnel: Be curious about your organization. Figure why the firm has stayed in business and what are they good at. It is fairly easy to find the faults and inefficiencies in your organization. It is much harder to find the positives and things going right that allow the business to succeed.

When I get a rare phone call from a truckload or 3pl sales person who starts the conversation that says are organization is particularly strong doing so and so, I can figure if that service would be of value to my firm. I, then, have something specific to go on, if I don’t need that service today and maybe I will need it 6 months, I will probably remember that firm because so very rare that I get useful information on a cold sales call.

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Mar 31

No computers, Life Before

My laptop was down for a brief upgrade. As I watched the IT person do his thing, I realized there was virtually no work I could do for the company without that device. My work life began in the 1970’s. Then there was either no computer on the desk or if it was there it was connected to a cumbersome main frame system. Many times there was no way you could manipulate the data you received. But you could make your printed tables look good.

My first thoughts during this down time were how did I get any work done then? What did I work with to get anything done? What has changed since then? What has not?

The biggest change since my work career started was the thought that supply chain execution is crucial to the success of the business. Back them, we were only thought as a cost of doing business. I spent much time working on government regulation seeking government permission to use truck lines on certain markets. Exit and Entry has been substantially deregulated since the 1980’s.

Employee responsibilities have changed much also. While Safety was promoted earlier in my career, it was a top down process. Developing a safety culture concept where each employee is responsible for safety, a bottom up safety process had yet to be developed. Employees need to treat other employees with respect was not a concept generally around when I started.

Another change, many employees find ways they can be environmentally responsible within the confines of a profitable corporation. With weak and non-existent federal government regulation for the environmental, many managers realize that environmental responsibility must be promoted by them where it makes organizational sense. Let’s see where being environmental responsible might add to the corporate profits.

So what has not changed? Let me be serious first, but a little less so in a bit. Back then, you respected people who had good values and made you want to work for the organization and do the extra effort. That is still true day. Your good character dose make a difference. Poor values are short term work around, and undermines the long term survive of the firm. Is there vendor you said to yourself it is too risky to deal with because of its lack of good values?

Other things which has not changed are business fads which promise to be all end all, which do have value as part of the bigger whole, but are not the savior of your organization. Leaderships books keep out coming by the dozens and continue to sell. A silly, unanticipated business mess will show up and keep you occupied at work for a long time. I can assure AI (artificial intelligence) will not change this.

Your computer, regardless of type will go down, and you will stare at the ceiling waiting for it to be fixed. You might use the down time to reminisce about where you have been and where the world is going.

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Feb 15

Making Best Use of Intuition in the Supply Chain

In the 4th quarter 2018 edition of CSCMP’s Supply Chain Quarterly there is article entitled “What is intuition in the Supply Chain”. That is where people fit in to this massive data process logistics and supply chain has become. Even as there is more data every year.

Think about a truckload rate bid (RFP) that may have happened somewhere in your career. There was a carrier that RFP which bid low in the lane and you knew from experience that there was just no way that the carrier was going to perform the service needed at a rate that low. So you wisely choose to route that lane to another carrier.

The article describes intuition as this:

“We tentatively define intuition as a three dimensional information retrieval process in which the decision maker establishes: 1) connections between the current and past events, 2) positive and negative gut feelings are evoked, and 3) a decision is made rapidly, automatically, and without much awareness.”

So how can you best use intuition in your decision making processes? Intuition is not like a mathematical formula that has set outcome. In reality it just may show up unannounced. Blocking it out of your decision making may even lead to a blown or poor decision. But when should one question it intuition?

I am troubled by the without awareness part of the definition above. Lots of money is used to collect and present data and there is somebody in the organization who is usually totally aware of everything about this data. But that data will never be the complete pictures no matter how much there is of it. It is an important part but not the total picture. So when you your gut and your experience tells you something in the total pictures is missing, should you not be aware of what this process is all about?

So be curious about the intuition you are having. Can you tell where it is coming from? You remember experience A was really bad but will Experience B which will the outcome of the decision be really as bad in potentially different circumstances? What are the numbers not telling you? How can you justify the decision to yourself, your superiors and most importantly to your customers?

Even if there those not seem to be intuition in the decision making process, there is some quiet judgement going on that the numbers are all you need. So take a moment to smile to yourself and ask yourself what is it that makes me comfortable with these numbers. Again, be curious about yourself.

Don’t let a lack of awareness of intuition’s influence, make less than an optimal decision.

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Dec 12

LTL Pricing can be too Spirit Airlines

Spirit Airlines is well known for all sort of fees added to their base fare. The lure of low base fares dose drive business to the airline. But a sizable number of airline customers are not happy with these type of fees.  It is not the way they want to be treated by airline and choose other airline carriers.

It is my experience that too many LTL (Less than Truckload trucking) carriers use the Spirit Airlines model in their pricing thinking the only way to get business is with low base fares but plan in reality to get additional with extra fees to make margins.

So let’s stop here a minute and talk about LTL carrier costs. Space and weight take up available trailer space. Carriers if they want to be profitable must think about these issues. Outside services such as loading, lumper services at grocery warehouses cost money and deserve to be compensated. Certain origins and destinations may be much more costly than average to serve than others and deserve higher pricing.  Another way to put this paragraph is LTL carriers are businesses with costs and the need for positive margins to be successful.

Some Spirit customers is to get to the airport and find out a there are unexpected fees which if they don’t pay means they will not get their destination. So they pay them.

Shippers are somewhat in the same boat. If there is a surprise in additional fee or accessorials, usually learned after the fact and when their customer has been billed, the shipper’s profit margin goes out the window.  Shippers will need to pay up or probably will not have that carrier’s service in the future.

In today’s massive data and technology world, LTL carriers are in the best shape ever to figure their costs. And yes, LTL carriers need to cover the costs and to make margins.  LTL carrier’s knowledge is rarely communicated when RFP or bid time comes around and ultimately make’s everyone look bad, shipper and carrier alike, when costs do not match estimates.

Ultimately this lack of communication of anticipated costs increases effects the carriers and shippers cost to process transportation billing and leads to both carrier and customer dissatisfaction with each other.

Right now there are few pricing processes that can avoid the stress of unanticipated additional charges after the bid. At the minimum, for a short term solution, I would recommend Shippers and Carriers ask the question about what costs are likely to occur and not visible on the bid. LTL carriers have done a poor job of being user friendly on pricing.  My guess is there is market out there for the carriers who find way to to have predictable pricing.

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Aug 12

Davy Crockett and the Supply Chain

Davy Crockett

In the latest addition of Supply Chain Quarterly,  Dr Bruce Arntzen, Executive Director of Supply Chain Management at MIT writes an article about the lack of leadership training for students in logistics/supply chain courses entitled “4 Keys for Unlocking Leadership Potential” http://bit.ly/2vX1LUL. Colleges are really good teaching logistics/supply chain processes but not so good in teaching how to apply these processes in the real world.

Reading the article all of sudden there was Davy Crockett leading the third key to leadership.

Next paragraph I will get it why he was in the article, but first a word about who was Davy Crockett (1786-1836) is as you might now not have been alive in the 1950’s when Davy Crockett was everywhere in pop culture. Davy Crockett was Tennessee frontier’s man, who served in Congress and fought against Indian racist of his day. He lost his seat for that reason and moved to Texas after the election defeat. There he died fighting for Texas independence at the Alamo. In 1948 Walt Disney decided to make a television show about him, and it also resulted a hit song entitled “Davy Crockett”  prompted many children to wear fake coonskin caps.

In the days before trucks, logs were rolled down local streams and rivers to get the wood were it needed to go. Davy Crockett championed the term “logrolling” in Congress for describing the act of trading votes behind the scenes to get your bill pass. The bill would not meet a perfectionist goal but progress was made, rather than have no progress. Yes things like do happen when a bill is not one issues  of those partisans scream about.

Connecting this term to day to day life of an organization, many people have different agenda and interests. To get anything done, sometime compromises and half measures need to happen. Corporate politics has a bad name, but it can be used for constructive processes also. Part of change management practice is to listen to others and understand their issues.  Budget issues will be extremely important in change and maybe not everything can be afforded at the start of the change. Supply Chain has been in a continuous process of change since the mid-20th century. Maybe the logistics/supply chain change your promoting will not be fully implemented as envision If 75% implementation helps the firm and that is the way to make it possible, accept this logrolling moment. Many times once the change is proven, process improvements will have political support to the change and closer to perfection can be achieved.

So “logrolling” as championed by Davy Crockett is an important part of leadership in complex organizations. It is an important part of change management, which is rarely discussed or championed.


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Jul 12

What Could Possibly Go Wrong

Havard Business Review has been putting out a series of articles on Artificial Intellience (AI) replacing all sorts of businesses management and labor including recently in the supply chain with article entitled The Death of the Supply Chain. https://hbr.org/2018/06/the-death-of-supply-chain-management. This article is in the June 15, 2018 issue.

To oversimplify what the article says, all the lower management people will be released and few data scientist types will be watching computer dashboard to see how the supply chain is running. Before I start to try to deconstruction this let me first say that higher levels of information and automation of repetitive tasks will change the supply chain in positive ways and will lead to some personnel changes. However lower management people should not yet being check if their local burger place needs somebody to flip their burgers.

The underlying flaw in the article is the author’s apparent lack of knowledge of how things get done in the real world. I put under the heading of “What Could Possibly Go Wrong”.   High level data is tremendously useful in managing operations.  But the actual execution part that is handled at much lower level. Yes, you can have the computer call in the trucker, but what if the carrier can take the load but two hours later than initially offered. That may be alright. It may be alright if the plant knows about the delay. As changes occur somebody using the system but outside the system needs to problem shoot. No program or AI system can anticipate everything. Importantly customers want people to resolve issues, not machines putting out data.

For large operations, the dashboard AI products will be very useful for a high level of the operation and seeing what issues come up analyzing the data. In large measure it will be the lower management level who will actually deal with resolving the issue.

For smaller and medium sized operation, undoubtedly third party will be available to provide analytics and data dashboard at a cost. The larger the operation the more this will be economically feasible.


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Jun 11

Talk about the data

I sometimes think  about changing the wording of a famous poem about the sea and lack of water to drink to focus on the flood of data and it would read:

Data, Data, everywhere, although the laptop did squeak, data, data everywhere, but no time to think.

Companies and organizations spend a lot of time and money getting data. Weeks, days and even years spent getting the systems to operate well and as anticipated. Meanwhile  hardly anytime is spent figuring out the process that the leaders and users  in the organization can effectively use that information.

It is only human to work on technology puzzle lacking implementing a system. It is relatively clear objective with an endpoint and a place you can call success. It is much less clear how to use the information in an effective matter in the organization and how to declare that process a success.

Here are thoughts on the process of people using the data.

  • The data should be arranged in matter useful to the users. Software makes it to easy to create dashboard and charts but many times they are hard to decipher and the most needed information is now usefully presented. Planning and involvement of users needs to be done.
  • Creating time to think. It may be that setting a regular meeting may be the tool to create the time to think about the data and make useful and actionable.
  • Related to this is getting others to think. That people at all levels who are affected by the data, need to be able to have input. Sometimes what one group thinks is the issue of the data, is viewed totally differently at  a different level or outside party to the organization affected by the data. Sharing the data can significantly increase its usefulness.

Once it enters into the organization of using its leadership and users in an effective matter for one software program and it will be used for others.





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Apr 01

Trendy Blockchain

A few weeks ago in the March 12, 2018 edition of Bloomsberg Businessweek Paul Ford wrote an article entitled ” The Blockchain is a Mind Virus”.  In writing this, he was pointing about how trendy items in the business world take a life of their own.

In between the lines of his article, I felt there was actually some praise for trendy items as it got people to think and do action. But it was mind virus because it kept people from looking at less costly and maybe better alternatives to do the same thing.

Blockchain has obvious attributes for handling the complexity of international shipments and supply chain visibility. Some people think this will be the end of the middle man broker operations. I don’t see that happening, but their role will change.  Most shippers will not be able to justify developing the software in house, so there will be a need for a middle man to be the supplier of software. Just because something is visible to national customs operations those not mean something can’t go wrong and that middle man will be needed  for theire expertise to resolve the issue.

Certainly blockchain software has many advantages, but it not only way to accomplish desired results. So let blockchain motivate to look for a better way to do things, but never limit your search to that.


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Mar 04

When You Least Expect It

Sometimes you find supply chain-logistics issues where least expect it.  Back in 2009, a documentary film entitled “The September Issue” was released. It told the story of putting together the 2007 September issue of Vogue which is one of the leading indicators of fashion. Right near the beginning of the movie in Paris, the editor of Vogue, Anna Wintour meets with Burton Tansky, the then CEO of Neiman Marcus.

And what does one of the leading fashion retailers talk about with the leading editor of the leading fashion magazine in the film? That demand is high, fashion is getting late to the stores, and could she talk to the fashion industry about this issue? Anna Wintour mumbled something about making fashion less complicated. The subject never came up again in the movie.  The movie’s presentation of Anna Wintour is highly focused individual who ignores anything that those not have a high priority with her. Supply Chain definitely was not her focus.

But it needed to be for a retailer like Neiman Marcus. Yes, in 2007 a lot of the super supply chain software was not yet out there or in early development stages. Numbers tell the present story but do not have the ability on their own to make things better . That is where management skills and adding value with your employment to the organization comes in. It was a wise decision by the Neiman Marys CEO to start asking these questions to improve the supply chain which would lead to increase store sales. And like any journey, there will be some dead ends but that should not stop the search for a better process.

Knowing what we know now, 2008-2010 were years recovering from a world wide recession. So any supply chain process change for the peak of 2007 was would also need to deal with the valley to follow.  So the peak may create the birth of energy to seek process change when things are not working out. But remember, the process change must all deal with down times, also






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