XX and XY: A Different World in Supply Chain

by Lora Cecere on June 8, 2014 · 1 comment

The deserts of the southwest sprawl below me as the plane ascends from San Diego. It is such a very different landscape than the green mountains of my farm in West Virginia or my city streets in Philadelphia. It appears SO barren from my window in seat 4D.

It has been a good week. I now have a working manuscript for the entire book of Metrics That Matter. Writing this book has been like a black cloud hanging over my head. Working on it, and completing the writing while managing a start-up, has been tough. But, then I have never been one to shy away from a challenge.

I jeopardized the release date of the book by taking an extra three months to finish the Supply Chain Index work. The book is now 98,482 words and eight chapters. It is a fictitious story of a guy named Joe that does not want to be an average. He is trying to figure out the answer to these questions:

  • What defines supply chain excellence?
  • Who has done it best?
  • How has progress changed over time? What does it mean for the future?

Since supply chain can be a bit boring, I made it into a narrative. In the story, Joe and his leadership team work together to learn the answers to these questions through a series of strategy days.

Writing a book is a bit daunting. Definitely a labor of love, I have pored over digital pages on my laptop for many days. It is tough to write on airplanes. During the process, I have flown more than 120,000 miles. On the journey, I have lost five wireless mice, used over six reams of paper, and damaged three laptops. It is hard to write on the road, but I am now down to final editing. So, as my plane takes flight today, I breathe a bit better and walk a bit faster. A milestone is completed. It is time for reflections.


Yesterday, in the middle of completing charts and graphs for Chapter 7 of the book, I facilitated a webinar for Kinaxis. The topic was on mentorship and sponsorship of women in the workplace. When the offer came across my desk, I did a Marmaduke moment. <Remember this cartoon character? He is one of my favorite. Marmaduke is a lovely Great Dane. When he heard something startling, he would always raise his ears and make a sharp sound.> This was me when I was asked.

Why, I thought, would Kinaxis be interested in doing a webinar on women in supply chain? In my opinion—it is a very biased opinion, I admit—the role of women in the workforce in supply chain has come sooooooooooo far during the time of my career. There was no line in the bathroom at the Kansas City CLM conference in 2001, but there will be at the CSCMP conference in San Antonio in 2013. In fact, it will probably be a long line.

Today, based on our studies, women compose about 43% of the supply chain workforce. I was on the cusp of the transition. I was a first generation female pioneer. When I went to engineering school at the University of Tennessee in 1974, there were two women in my class. I still remember the professor throwing down my Statics and Dynamics midterm test on my desk with a red “D” on the top and asking to see me after class (90% of the class had failed, and none of my male classmates were asked to stay). The follow-up conversation was not pretty. He basically told me that women did not have the ability to be engineers. This was a story that he did not recount when he quietly laid the final test with a red “A” on my desk at the end of the term.

The Webinar

At that time, my friends and I felt that we needed to deny our femininity to be accepted in the workforce. It was a hard battle fought with grit, determination and chagrin. The stories were poignant. It was before the days of sexual harassment policies, but not before sexual harassment. Being female in an all-male world was difficult. It was not the world that fathers would wish for their daughters. Several of my friends ended up in therapy with an identity crisis.

Not me. I was just so busy fighting the fight that I forgot to enjoy the journey. Tough as nails and focused, I plunged ahead. There were many years that I just could not let myself feel anything. But yesterday, as I put my manuscript to the back of my desk at the Omni hotel in San Diego and took a break to facilitate this webcast with a panel of four wonderful women, I took time to enjoy the journey. I heard advice that I wish someone had shared with me on my journey:

  • Be Thankful for Feedback. Shellie Molina, now VP of Global Supply Chain at First Solar, told the story of learning how to receive feedback. She told the audience to ask for feedback often and thank the giver. As a crusty gal that was fighting the hard fight to be accepted in a man’s world, this would have helped me immensely. I needed so much feedback and fought the people who tried to give it. I give thanks to all the people who persevered. I am a better person for it, but I fought it all the way. Her advice, “It takes guts for colleagues to give you feedback. When it happens, thank them and ask for clarity. Use it as a time to build the relationship.” Great advice. Don’t make the mistake that I made.
  • Outperform and Then Ask for More. When asked how to get a sponsor, Laura Dionne, Director of Worldwide Operations at TriQuint, replied, “Outperform and then ask for more.” She shared that this had helped her to get sponsorship from her managers. Laura also shared that she was promoted three times while taking pregnancy leave to give birth to her children. It made me reflect on how important sponsorship is and how it can shape others’ lives. It also made me think. As a result, I sent three Thank You notes over the weekend to my prior sponsors. I would not be who I am without them.
  • Don’t Be Afraid to Be Female. Elisabeth Kaszas, Director of Supply Chain for Amgen, shared that women should not be afraid to be female in the workplace. This was advice that I sorely needed as an entry-level employee. I loved Elisabeth’s perspective that women have a level of modesty and pride that helps the workforce, and that other women should encourage their women peers to speak at conferences, participate in programs, and stretch their aspirations.
  • Pull Up the Chair at the Table. In the practice session, the panel often talked of encouraging other women to pull-up a chair to the table and participate. Verda Blythe from University of Wisconsin spoke of the building of soft skills in the academic setting  to help both women and men embrace diversity.

All of the panelists shared that the world today is a very different place for women in supply chain. It is their belief that the opportunity is with filling senior roles; and in this regards, they were not sure that the supply chain roles are that different from other senior roles. The facts as the panel sees them are that there just are not enough senior women sitting at the boardroom table. I agree.


So, as I look from my window, and look at the desert below, I smile. The workforce today, for female supply chain leaders, is no longer a barren, hostile landscape like the view stretching beneath me on my way back home. For that, I give thanks.  Paving the way was hard. I am glad that I survived. However, I am thankful that other women will not have to face the hostility and unforgiving world that I persevered in. It was tough. I am glad that it is behind me.

It is almost midnight. I am now landing. It is a new day. I will start it with a smile. I refuse to not enjoy this last part of my journey and I hope that you will join us at the upcoming Supply Chain Global Summit.

Countdown to the Summit

If you are interested in the Supply Chain Index, and the research that we are doing on understanding supply chain excellence, and the Index methodology prior to the book being published, join us to hear the research insights on a series of webinars over the summer:

Consumer Value Networks webinar on June 12th on 11:00 AM
Healthcare Value Networks webinar on July 17th on 11:00 AM
Industrial Value Networks webinar on August 12th at 11:00 AM

Our Global Summit is 95 days away, and we are busy preparing. Lots to do. There are about 60 seats left. We expect to sell out on this exclusive networking event for 230 supply chain leaders. Make sure that one of the remaining seats is yours!

In preparation, we are finishing up research on supply chain planning excellence, big data and supply chain, supply chain talent, and digital manufacturing. As always, we would love your insights on our research studies. When you give to us, we give back to you  through open research. We share the research openly, but we never share your name or your individual responses. Working with us on surveys is a good way for you to get insights for your team. And, if you give us ten minutes of your time in filling out a survey, we will be glad to share the responses with you and your team on a one-hour call.

The open research studies that we are working on for the summit include:

Supply Chain Planning: Is Faster Better? A way to benchmark supply chain planning implementation times and planning productivity.

Digital Manufacturing: How are process manufacturer’s using the Internet of Things to automate process manufacturing, and how are digital manufacturers embracing 3D printing?

Corporate Social Responsibility. What is the role of CSR in defining supply chain strategies in the race for supply chain 2020?

Big Data Supply Chains. How are companies embracing data lakes, streams, and clouds to use a growing variety and increasing velocity of data?

Reflections on Hard Hats and Safety Shoes…

by Lora Cecere on May 31, 2014 · 0 comments

Manufacturing teams used to manage the supply chain group. Today, in most organizations, the supply chain team manages manufacturing. The irony is that fewer and fewer people within the supply chain team understand manufacturing. Unfortunately, few have worn hard hats, safety shoes and calibrated a machine to run within spec. I feel lucky that I have.

As I work with teams to envision the new tomorrow, I find fewer people know the basic concepts of manufacturing planning–cycle inventories, freeze duration, slush period, bottlenecks and constraints. As a result, it is more difficult for the teams to see the swirl of opportunities that are on our horizon. Instead, many of these teams just accept manufacturing strategy as a constant. However, if we look at the current trends, I think that we have the convergence of new opportunities to drive a manufacturing redesign. It requires rethinking mental models. To do this, leaders need to be knowledgeable on both manufacturing and supply chain concepts.

Here are some opportunities that I see:

Service Parts. Last week, I spoke at a partner meeting for a large consulting company. Many of the partners in the room work on service part supply chains. When they asked about the current state of service-parts planning software, I asked, “Why are you not asking about the redesign of the service supply chain?” Today, using the Internet of Things, companies can sense equipment status and predict failure. We no longer have to plan maintenance based on the prediction of mean-time failure. Instead, we can sense the patterns on the equipment and be proactive about service. I also think that we can use 3D printing to manufacturer more and more of the parts in the field. Perhaps digital files can be sent to the local UPS or FedEx office, which they print using specialized printers and deliver it to the site of the equipment. As a result, we will have to stock fewer and fewer parts. And, the service supply chain can be redesigned to have less inventory and more uptime.

 Let me give you an example. I live in West Virginia. The mining equipment in WV is located in remote locations that are hard to service. The equipment is at the heart of the operation. When the equipment is down, the work stops. Today, heavy equipment is equipped with telemetry that transmits signals frequently on the state of motors, oil and belts. Why can’t we sense these in real-time monitoring and provide a newly designed demand-driven service supply chain that senses equipment starting to fail and then stages equipment based on need? And, where possible print the parts in the field, on demand, as needed. I like the thought of having a bearing printed in Boone, WV instead of being stocked in Chicago and then flown into Charleston, WV to then be driven to the coal mining site. The time to service the equipment would be in hours versus days and the amount of inventory to provide the service would be greatly reduced.

Apparel. With the rising costs of labor in China, many apparel manufacturers share that there is only a 6% differential between sewing a garment in China or manufacturing in the United States. When the added costs of transportation and inventory working capital impacts are added, there is a solid logic to bringing manufacturing back to North America.

Mexico has become more attractive, and many companies are looking at alternative sourcing in Latin and South America. With every shift, we have the opportunity to redesign the value network to better sense and translate demand. The focus needs to be based on market drivers with a view on the total impact of the decision. I love the fact that we now have technologies that allow us to make the decisions based on total cost and impact on the Effective Frontier. The decisions on postponement, push-pull strategies and buffer inventory positioning are not always straight forward. The use of technologies like Llamasoft, JDA’s strategist and Solvoyo enable more advanced analysis than the first generation of strategic optimization technologies found in the Oracle and old Manugistics tools.

Medical Device.  Today, implants roll around in the trunk of a salesperson’s car. It is called trunk stock. The inventory in the medical device industry turns at 3X a year. Many times, multiple devices are taken into the operating room to ensure fit. So, what if the patient could be scanned in pre-op and a custom device could be printed in the hospital? Need a new knee? Have it printed the day before based on your scans of the knee using the technologies and specialized substrates in the back room of the hospital complex.

 Process Industry. Today, there are thousands of machines in all process manufacturers that emit signals based on programmable logic controllers (PLCs). The outputs of the machines are not used in a comprehensive manner. What if we had a cognitive learning engine with a rules-based ontology sitting on top of these PLC inputs to help us schedule the line? The current planning systems assume that production should be scheduled based on predictive maintenance programs based on mean-time failure and recommended maintenance intervals. However, if we could directly sense the patterns in the equipment could we do a better job of scheduling maintenance and planning production? I think so.

Also, order streams are recorded and processed in batches. As this happens in the process industries, companies lose visibility of flows. Let me explain. Is customer X ordering more or less of product Y than expected? What is the pattern and how does this tie to market drivers or past demand? Today, companies can see volume, but they cannot see patterns. I think that the combination of cognitive learning for planning along with the use of signals through the Internet of Things has the opportunity to usher in a new era of process manufacturing. I envision a greener process with less inventory and lower costs. I was speaking to one manufacturer the other day that told me of a factory that has two employees. The operators sit at home and run the factory in their PJs in front of their terminals in their living room. Quite a different story than the large teams I used to manage in a factory.

 The redesign is exciting. The potential is endless. It requires the adoption of new mental models. We are currently doing research on this topic for a July report. If you fill out the survey, and share your story, we will be glad to share the results.

We would love to hear from you on where you are on adapting your manufacturing processes to adopt these new techniques. And, as always, if you fill out one of our surveys, we will keep your responses anonymous, and only share the data in aggregate. I look forward to hearing your story.