Orchestrating Your Symphony

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Managing the retail supply chain is a lot like a orchestrating a symphony. Think about what a composer has to deal with. They have all sorts of instruments at their disposal – trumpets, trombones, violins, drums, tubas, cellos. These instruments all have different sounds, different registers and different capabilities.


But so long as they’re all working together in harmony, it’s music to your ears.

In the world of supply chain planning, your instruments are different – customers, retail
stores, distribution operations, transportation planners, suppliers. But the goal is the same – to make them all work together, in harmony, to make music.

Most supply chain planners, however, find this harmony elusive. Sure, there may be pockets of brilliance, but you can’t have a truly great symphony when only your violin section is good.

These days, most supply chains are crafted, designed and run by analytical types -engineers, MBAs or logisticians. Think back to when you were in school. You learned that problem solving was about breaking things down into their base components, then working on making each piece as efficient as possible.

This approach is very applicable to many situations, but it can also cause people to lose sight of the forest through the trees. In the same way that great composers consider a symphony to be a single piece of music, great supply chain thinkers look at the supply chain as an entire connected system from the factory to the store shelf.

Changing the arrangement for the horn section changes the entire symphony. And before changing business processes at a particular node in the supply chain, you must consider the impact to the entire system.

Many people struggle with this and the reason is simple: our training and education has
taught us to consider the pieces, not the whole. But think about many of the problems that prevent supply chains from working in harmony:

  • Measures that pit one group (or company) against another
  • Shifting activity and costs among supply chain partners instead of removing unnecessary steps
  • Lack of information sharing or, conversely, deluging each other with information that’s not actionable

There’s no single piece of the supply chain that can be analyzed to overcome these
problems. You need to think of the entire thing holistically, as one system, and endeavour to understand it as such.

Dan Pink wrote a mind-altering book about 6 new thought processes that will be necessary in the coming decades. And, yes, he called one symphony.

Symphony, he argued, is the ability to see the whole. To connect things that are seemingly unrelated and devise something new.

Each chapter provides some advice and ways to improve that particular discipline. For
example, in the symphony section, he talks about a technique called “newsstand roundup”. Go to a newsstand and buy a few magazines that are completely unrelated to what you are working on. Then, take some time and peruse them. More often than not, you find something that will allow you to connect something else and it will give you new insights into what you’re doing. The reason, Dan argues, is that you’re looking in places you wouldn’t look before. Ever tried that one?

We won’t reveal any of the other techniques and suggestions he has for improving your
symphony. Our advice is simple: get this book and learn from it.

Then, go out and orchestrate your own symphony!

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