supply chain

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?

Can You Take the Risk?

by Lora Cecere on April 11, 2014 · 1 comment

“This is not a supply chain process. It is a new way of doing business.”

Financial Leader in Discussions on Demand Sensing

In 2013, 80% of supply chain leaders had a material supply chain disruption. It was not just one. The average company had  three. Yet, in a study that we just completed, when asked about business pain, supply chain risk rates low. How come?

It is new.  It lacks a consistent definition and set of practices. Companies reward the urgent. Risk management requires a focus on the important. It requires leadership and orchestration. Teams don’t know what to do. The companies that are the most mature learned the hard way. They had a disruption.

Defining the Topic

Let’s start with a definition. For the purposes of the study that we just completed, we defined supply chain risk management as the proactive identification and resolution of potential risks to the supply chain. The key word in this sentence is proactive. Unfortunately, too many supply chains are reactive. The systems respond, but they do not sense. Performance is measured by indicators, not by performance predictors. The reward systems focus on the urgent, not the important.

In this series of posts, I will be sharing insights from the research from this recent study. This data will also be featured in an upcoming report in our newsletter.

New Insights

When you talk to supply chain leaders about risk management, their answers tend to be hard-wired for supply. Many will wax eloquently about the work that they are doing on “control tower” or “supply chain visibility.” It is not sufficient. We are only dipping our toes into turbulent waters.

I have been working as an analyst in supply chain management for the last decade. In this role, I have done a study on risk management about every five years. I seldom get surprised on study results; but, the answer to the question on risk drivers in this survey surprised me.  As you can see in Figure 1, today it is less about supply and more about demand. The largest gap in risk management expected over the next five years will be the management of global operations. For me, these two trends hop off the page:

  • Increasing Complexity of Operations. With a decade of building global supply chains behind us, companies are feeling the impact. Local regulations, fair labor, variability in shipping lanes, new materials, outsourced manufacturing and faster product development cycles are all contributing to the pain. The financial stability of contract manufacturers and third-party logistics firms is a growing risk. It is not just one factor. We are better at managing regional supply chains than tangled/knotty global ones. The organizational dynamics and politics make regional/global governance difficult.
  • Demand Variability. The biggest surprise for me in the research is the role of demand uncertainty on risk. The building of demand sensing capabilities requires the automation of market sensing and the use of channel data. The change management issues are high. It is difficult for the supply chain to accomplish this by themselves. Why?  The term “supply chain” is politically charged. It has become a function, not an end-to-end process.  Marketing and sales are also functions. The functional approach does not allow us to build demand processes. By and large, marketing and sales are not good at forecasting demand. They introduce bias. To combat this issue, and drive success in demand sensing, many companies have to rename the work stream so that it can truly be an end-to-end focus. For sales-driven and marketing-driven companies, this is a major change management issue.


Figure 1.

Supply Chain Risk Drivers

So, What Should Companies Do?

Recognize the Issue. Simplify OperationsThis includes simplification of the product lines and the definition of standard ingredients and/or interchangeable parts. Our research supports that getting this on the product development agenda is a barrier. Mitigating this risk issue requires striking the right balance between global and local governance. There is less variability in the management of regional supply chains. Accountability and priorities are clearer.

Use Channel Data and Build Demand Sensing Capabilities. Reduce demand latency and automate the processes of demand. I work with many companies on the differences between marketing-driven and sales-driven processes and the journey to become market driven. When marketing and sales operate as functions, they are not aligned to more holistic end-to-end processes. This is growing as an enterprise risk.

Focus Where It Matters. Yesterday, I hosted a webinar with David Simchi-Levi of MIT. He has defined a Risk Index which analyzes the Time for Recovery and the Financial Impact (FI) to analyze the risk of the supplier base. It is a great technique to use in supplier development and network design.  For those interested, check out David’s recent article on Harvard Business Review. His work with Ford is profiled in Figure 2. After the analysis of Ford’s supplier base, David offers recommendations and actions that are shown in figures.  However, to use this methodology requires the organization to be proactive. In the Ford example, the greatest risk was with a tier 2 supplier of O-rings that had low spend. David’s methodology is a stark contrast to the conventional work on supplier development and network design. In the conventional approach, companies would look at the suppliers with the greatest spend and miss the impact on the tier 2 suppliers with low spend. David’s point in the webinar is that you have to be focused and deliberate. Ford has 5,000 suppliers. It is not a simple activity. It requires work. However, based on the results of the study, it is worth it.


Figure 2.

Chart by David Simchi-Levi


The slides from the risk management webinar are now available on SlideShare. Check them out. We will be doing complimentary webinars twice a month in a countdown to the Supply Chain Insights Global Summit. In this event on September 10th-11th, 230 supply chain leaders will gather to focus on the supply chain of the future. With the coalescence of digital manufacturing, new forms of analytics, The Internet of Things, and the collaborative economy, we think that it is time to re-think supply chain practices and imagine what it could be. Today, 45% of the seats are sold. It is limited to 15% technology and consulting attendees. We would love to see you there.