In honor of Star Wars Day (yes, that’s a semi-real thing), I thought I’d resurrect my Star Wars blog series. In this latest installment, I explore what the small, but mighty, Jedi Master Yoda can teach us about supply chain. While he might not have said them directly about supply chain management, these pearls of wisdom still apply.
“Many of the truths that we cling to depend on our point of view.” – Yoda
Your beliefs are based on what you think you know. But in reality, are you really only seeing a small portion of a larger picture? When it comes to your view of the supply chain, what you perceive as reality is directly related to how much end-to-end visibility you have. If you’re working with partial or incomplete data—perhaps only looking at top tier suppliers—you won’t really know if you can meet changing customer demand in the most efficient manner. Sure you can determine if orders can be fulfilled, but you wouldn’t really know if you were doing it in the way that best meets corporate objectives. For that, you’d have to look outside of what you think you know, to what all the data—not just your limited view of it—is really showing you.
It also means expanding your vision of the supply chain to include the truths of other departments. So often supply chain functions are siloed within an organization. Sales makes promises supply managers can’t keep. Marketing runs a promotion without letting the demand planners know. Everyone is working toward their own end goals. This creates chaos and conflict. When everyone works from the same complete picture, the same version of the truth as illustrated by the data, decision-making becomes collaborative, and departmental objectives harmonious with those of the company as a whole.
“If no mistakes have you made, yet losing you are, a different game you should play.” – Yoda
Doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results is the definition of insanity. So why do you keep running your supply chain the same old way, yet expect it to perform better? If you aren’t getting the results you’re looking for, perhaps it’s time to change the game! Stop focusing on building that elusive perfect plan. Face it, those forecast accuracy numbers are never going to hit 100%. Instead equip your supply chain to adapt faster to change—like an unexpected order coming in, or an unplanned shortage at a manufacturing site.
Another of Yoda’s quotes, “Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.” highlights this point exactly. Your supply chain is full of moving parts, many of which are not in your control. Running your supply chain based solely off predictions is going to leave you constantly one step behind, even if you think it’s getting you one step ahead.
Let me be clear. Enabling your supply chain to win in today’s unpredictable business environment isn’t about being reactive to change. In reality it’s more about being proactive—developing mechanisms allowing you to know sooner and act faster when things start to take an unexpected turn. This way you’re getting in front of the changing situation, instead of running along behind it. It requires a fundamental shift in mindset about the type of game you’re playing.
But if you don’t believe a change like that is truly possible…
“This is why you fail.” – Yoda
That’s Yoda’s response to Luke Skywalker after he raises Luke’s x-wing fighter from the depths of the Dagobah swamp. Luke tells him, “I don’t believe it.” And that’s a problem facing many supply chain practitioners. Belief that a new way of managing their supply chains could yield better results doesn’t come easily—even if the proof is right in from of them. A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog on just how hard it is to change mindsets about traditional supply chain management. As Yoda says, “You must unlearn what you have learned.”
Current practices and processes are often based on the technology companies are using to manage their supply chain. More often than not, this means enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, Excel spreadsheets, or a combination of both. But these tools can be outdated, and in the case of Excel, have evolved very little in the past several decades, despite huge leaps in what newer technology has made possible.
Changes in customer demands and market trends means your supply chain tools now need to allow for greater flexibility, easier collaboration, faster decision-making (based on accurate data), increased analysis and scenario simulations, and of course, the ability for personalization so it fits your specific and unique business challenges and goals.
“Do. Or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda
Perhaps one of the most iconic quotes from the Star Wars franchise, this simple line has become a modern slogan—a reminder to commit fully, win or lose, to what you’re trying to achieve. Either you’re going to work to improve your supply chain processes, or you aren’t. You either believe there’s a better way than devoting all your time to forecast accuracy, or you don’t.
However, unlike Luke when he’s trying to lift that x-wing out of the swamp, changing your supply chain practices doesn’t have to be an all or nothing approach. Given the complexity and size of many of today’s global supply chains, a phased approach may realistically be the only option.
But that doesn’t mean you still don’t have to commit fully to the project. There has to be an end goal in mind. It could be as small as moving the needle on just one of your key metrics, or as large as connecting all the nodes of your value chain to achieve true end-to-end visibility. Whatever the goal, set the necessary steps to get there and stick with it—even if at times the road seems daunting.
“Patience you must have my young Padawan.” – Yoda
This piece of advice is perhaps the most difficult to follow, at least for me. Once I’ve set my mind to something, I want to barrel full steam ahead. But when it comes to supply chains, that’s rarely the case.
Connecting hundreds of disparate ERPs, located all over the globe, is not something that can be achieved overnight. Mapping all that data, including number changes, currency exchanges, unit of measure conversions, etc., takes time and planning. And that’s the easy part.
Convincing others of the value of a new way to look at supply chain management is an even more arduous undertaking. People are often reluctant to move away from what they know. Being your company’s agent of change means you’re going to need an abundance of patience. But don’t fear Padawan, it can be done. You just have to believe it’s possible.
May the fourth be with you!