Okay, so I may be a little late to the game when it comes to jumping on the Star Wars bandwagon. Yes, I am aware The Force Awakens hit theaters months ago. Yes, I have already seen it. And yes, it was good – although in my opinion nowhere near as great as the original trilogy, which left my younger self convinced I could be the next Jedi Master (sadly, I am not). So what took me so long to write a blog about it? Well firstly, this is in fact NOT a movie review site. If that’s what you’re looking for, I suggest you check out this one on Rotten Tomatoes. Secondly, connecting the dots between Star Wars and the supply chain takes a heck of lot more time than the Millennium Falcon needed to complete the Kessel Run.
Sure, there were a few obvious choices – These Are Not the Supply Chains You’re Looking For, The Ewok’s Guide to Inventory Optimization or Yoda’s Advice for the Supply Chain Padawan. Ultimately, I decided to focus on something more practical. How you can use the force to improve value in your supply chain. I promise there are real world applications; things that will provide benefit to your supply chain in the here and now, not just a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.
So how does one tap into this awesome power and harness it to improve supply chain performance? You use the force, and by force, I don’t really mean the essence of the universe flowing through your veins. More that you’re attuned to the constant fluctuations in market demands. It means shifting your mindset from a traditional supply-driven value chain, to a demand-driven one.
Think of it like this. When Luke first learns to use his light saber, he practices against a remote target. He sees its movement, but is so focused on where he thinks it’s heading, he fails to accurately guess its actions and fend off the attack. That’s what happens in a supply-driven environment. Supply chain managers see changes in the market place, but are so focused on where they think the demand will be, they often fail to provide the right product in the right location at the right time. They’re just too dependent on what their forecast models tell them.
In Luke’s situation, the result is a thorough whomping from a tiny droid. In the supply chain manager’s case, it’s dealing with the fallout and expense of obsolete or excess inventory in some areas, and shortages in others. Not to mention the drop in customer satisfaction levels!
Now picture Luke in his helmet with the blast shield down. Instead of trying to predict the movement of the target, he senses where it is, effectively allowing him to fend off any unexpected blows. He’s no longer focused with single-minded intensity on what he thinks will happen, instead he responds to what’s actually happening. That’s more aligned with a demand-driven supply chain.
For the supply chain manager, it’s the ability to detect real demand, and then respond to it accordingly. Unfortunately, it’s not quite as easy as mastering the force when you’re a Skywalker. But it is a lot simpler than trying to build a perfect plan, only to realize that’s a near impossibility. Or relying solely on a forecast that is woefully out of date and inaccurate.
Just like Luke, utilizing a demand-driven strategy allows mangers to wait until the last second to make any necessary corrections – minimizing the risk that when a customer reaches up their hand for your product, you aren’t able to immediately give it to them.
It takes a highly nimble Jedi to master using the force, and an even more agile supply chain manager to master these demand-driven tactics. Having the right tools makes all the difference. Luke has his light saber; supply chain managers have their software solutions. And those solutions have to be agile, flexible, provide end-to-end visibility, allow for rapid reassessments of changing market demands, and provide opportunities for easy collaboration when you just need advice and guidance from your infamous smuggler friend and his favorite Wookie co-pilot.