The Opinion Page
News and comments about the issues facing today's SCM and Inventory Management professionals.
My apologies to my loyal readers for not having posted on this blog for quite some time. I have been very busy working on two exciting projects: first, I am helping to set up a new small business which covers the spectrum from creative thought to manufacturing to final assembly to carrying the product to market. The second is that I am writing a book - who knows if it will ever be published.
Both projects are incredibly challenging, but both bring to bear many if not all of the skills that I have developed in the past thirty years. My knowledge of inventory and asset management, including forecasting and demand management, drew me towards the first project. Since there is very little resource to invest in technology, we are challenged to build solid fundamentals of procurement and inventory management into the business from the start. But the level of risk is very high - much higher than anything I have seen before - and as such one needs to be flexible from an operations standpoint. Forecasting is very helpful, but one never really knows the direction a new business will take. I feel a little like Gandalf leading the Fellowship of the Ring into unknown territory - we are all very skilled, but in spite of our rigorous preparation we know not what lies ahead of us. I am also very appreciative that my career has exposed me to many business families: from the shop floor to the warehouse to the marketing department to sales to merchandising to visual merchandising to technology to Finance to accounting to advertising and promotion. It has truly equipped me to be able to put all of the pieces together into a largely cohesive unit, understanding the interrelationships within the business unit.
Writing the book frequently takes me back to lessons learned in Mrs. Ferguson's Grade 10 English class at Lorne Park Secondary School. She, in large measure, taught me how to write. How to construct a sentence, how to vary the rhythm of the piece, why spelling is important, and developing a decent vocabulary are all aspects that come into play when writing. Writing, unfortunately, is becoming a lost art due to advances in technology, and there are negative ramifications in business communications. With the book, the joy is in the creation, not necessarily the publication.
Deming's 13th Point advises us to "Institute a Vigorous Program of Education and Retraining". This is critical both for the business entity and for the individual. This is especially true in the 21st Century environment, where technology, as indispensible as it is, changes so rapidly that it is almost impossible to keep up. Some new developments should be ignored, some need to be adopted right away to achieve competitive advantage. Five years ago, Twitter barely existed; now it is ubiquitous. In the 1980's Sears Canada was on the leading edge when we introduced an internal communication system called "PROFS" - it was an early version of something called "email". In 30 years, email has become an essential part of commerce and individual communication in both Developed and Developing worlds. In order to survive, we need to constantly improve and learn.
I have, for many years, been an advocate of APICS, who has occupied a leading position in offering continuing education in Operations Management. There are many such educational services providers in a broad variety of disciplines. In SCM in Canada, many Universities and Colleges have joined independent educational service providers such as CITT and PMAC in offering post-secondary accreditations and degrees in SCM, OM, and Logistics. Take advantage of these offerings in the field that interests you most. Or, take a course in something from way out in left field.
Dr. Deming has said: "How do you help people improve? What do you mean by improve? I would say that I find a general fear of education. People are afraid to take a course. It might not be the right one. My advice is take it. Find the right one later. And how do you know it is the wrong one? Study, learn, improve. Many companies spend a lot for helping their people in this and that way. In arithmetic, geography, geology. learning about gears.
"You never know what could be used, what could be needed. He that thinks he has to be practical is not going to be here very long. Who knows what is practical?
"Help people to improve. I mean everybody." (from Mary Walton's "The Deming Management Method")
So, get out there and learn stuff. Adopt a learning culture in your life and your business. Nestle Canada, for example, was (and might still be) very good at this, building such a requirement into their annual HR Review Cycle. Build knowledge into your personal and business tool kit. Your prospects for growth will improve immeasurably.
John Skelton is the Principal Consultant and founder of Strategic Inventory Management.