The Opinion Page
News and comments about the issues facing today's SCM and Inventory Management professionals.
My career in inventory and supply chain management began more by accident than design. That's the way things worked in the early 1980's. Out of University, I was recruited into the Management Development Program at Sears, worked at the retail level learning the business "from the ground up" and then made a decision to pursue a position in Sears' Department of National Distribution at Head Office. It seemed to be a progressive department, led by innovators and a single true visionary, Mr. David Chapman.
I was lucky. In those days, Sears had a fantastic training program, that exposed me to Best Practices in retailing and distribution. I learned how different levers can be pulled in the business to exploit market opportunities, and how important it was for all areas within the business to work smoothly together - it was an ERP approach before the term was even imagined.
But many other firms viewed physical distribution and logistics as field into which people were dumped. It was forklifts and pallets, warehouses and trucks, diesel fuel and propane, union workers and invoice clerks. Inventory Management was not-so-fondly termed "The Sales Prevention Department" as the buyers and planners, while trying to impart some sanity on the procurement process, simply got in the way of the brainiacs in sales and marketing, deemed to be the life blood of many a company. So, people tended to stumble into the supply chain rather than design their careers towards that area.
Can anyone imagine a firm, even 40 years ago, hiring an accountant, and allowing him or her to learn "on the job"? No! Any sane business would hire an accountant with a professional designation (CA, CPA, CGA, or CMA). Would the firm hire a truck driver without a driver's lisence? A person to fly an airplane without a pilot's lisence? Ridiculous!
Much of the training for the supply chain staff, on the other hand, was "on-the-job". There were few position descriptions, and those firms who documented work processes assembled documents that were indecipherable. There were few organizations, apart from APICS, CITT, PMAC, and a few others, who trained and educated people about Best Practices in operations management. So, new staff tended to be educated by older staff. Work routines and habits passed from one gereation to the next, with no one understanding whether those practices were right or wrong. They were simply the practices that seemed to get the employee through the day without too much hassle from the boss. Workers had a very hard time understanding whether they were doing their jobs correctly or not. Moreover, practices that were right one day might be wrong the next due to changing priorities and objectives.
Thankfully, many forms are growing to realize that they must entrust their valuable supply chains to professionals - those who have accreditation from a recognized education provider, such as APICS. Operations can play too important a role in strategic planning, and in building market advantage. The assets in the supply chain are too valuable.
Dr. Deming argued that it is very difficult to erase improper training. It may require implementation of a totally different method, in effect starting from scratch.
Once new, and correct practices and procedures were implemented, the variability of workers' ouputs could be measured by control charts. If a worker's output was out of control (speaking statistically) training was required. Once the process was stable, training was no longer required. New training would be required upon introduction of new technology or processes, until stability was achieved.
Dr. Deming used the analogy of the student learning to play the piano from a teacher who has never taken a lesson. "He learned by himself how to play. If you take lessons from him, you will learn a lot that is wrong; you might learn some that is right. Neither pupil nor teacher will know what is right and what is wrong."
John Skelton is the Principal Consultant and founder of Strategic Inventory Management.