Golf and the art of supply chain improvement

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I'll admit it, I am a not a great golfer. Even though I can now drive the ball well, two years ago I could barely make contact. Like every golfer, my short game needs work and more often than not I’m happy to just get the ball on the green, never mind close to the pin. If I actually manage to sink a putt there may or may not be some enthusiastic dancing on the green much to the embarrassment of the rest of my foursome. But the general trajectory of my game is one of improvement. The lesson I’ve learned is to study my performance and make adjustments to be a better golfer every time I go out. There are some clear parallels between golf and supply chain improvement if you stop and think about them.

  1. Use the right club – You wouldn’t use a sand wedge off the tee on a long par five, nor would you use a driver when you’re two feet from the hole. There's nothing stopping you from using which ever club you want at any time, but with experience comes the ability to know what the best club to use for shot you're facing. Similarly, understanding and anticipating the right tools to use in a supply chain planning environment is something you can learn. We all have access to Excel, and it's good to use in certain situations. But that doesn’t mean it’s the right tool manage a complex, global and volatile supply chain plan. And while some companies use big enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems or platforms that connect various Excel spreadsheets through a common dashboard to manage their data, it still isn’t the best tool to accomplish the task. Merely connecting the dots without analyzing, predicting, or intuiting what they mean limits the possibility of a positive outcome. When millions of dollars are riding on the outcome of one shot, use the right tool for the job.
  2. It’s not just about playing the course – According to CNN Travel the hardest course in the world is the Ocean Course on Kiawah Island, South Carolina designed by Pete Dye (pictured, top right), who is affectionately referred to as “The Marquis de Sod”. The Ocean Course includes “huge sand dunes, thorny marshes, fiendish pot bunkers and super slick greens”. The current supply chain business environment feels just as treacherous. Tariffs, geopolitical disputes, resource constraints. It’s hard enough to score well when conditions are perfect. Now let’s throw in some rain. Or wind. Or a hungry alligator. Even on the toughest of courses, things can always get harder and there will be surprises. It’s important to know that just because you can see the course that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be prepared for other risk and have a plan to respond. There is known risk and unknown/unforeseen risk to manage. To play your best game a plan should includes having the right flexible and responsive tools to mitigate those risks. Maybe even visualize multiple different scenarios that could happen so you’re ready for anything. Then make sure you pack an umbrella, and have a general idea of what to do when your ball lands next to a 6 foot reptile basking themselves in the low country sun. (Hint: my suggestion is to take the penalty but I’ll leave that to you)
  3. Drive for show, putt for dough – South African professional golfer Bobby Locke is credited with this phrase, and while it conjures up some great visuals of an impressive back swing I’m not entirely sure it’s great advice. Precision and patience matter, in golf and supply chain, at every step. Just because a drive is strong and powerful, doesn’t mean it’s accurate. And let’s face it, when you smash a ball out of the box only to have it wind up in the trees or the rough it takes an awful lot of additional swings to get back on course. That takes time and resources to correct. And even if you get a great first drive, you can screw up the entire hole if you don’t give enough “oomph” on your short game. The take away here is there aren’t two parts of supply chain planning, the start and the finish. It’s an entire process that should be considered as a continuous flow and every stage is as important as the one before and after. More to the point, the parallel process would be aligning your strategic, tactical and operational activities as one total package, not three parts to your business. So think about your supply chain drive and putt as both show and dough. It all matters so create a holistic plan from start to finish.
  4. Play backwards from the pin – This is perhaps my favorite rule of thumb in golf and in life. Start a plan with the end goal in mind and then work backwards to map out the intermittent approach/attack/steps to get there. So, if you’re on a 520 yard par 4 hole think starting from the pin and work backwards so you can aim for specific locations on the fairway to move you up the course. This reduces the risk of missing your target because you were charging forward, “driving for show” and missing important milestones along the way. Same in supply chain planning improvement. Think about the final KPIs or goals that you want to achieve, and then create a documented plan from your desired end goal backwards to create a mutually agreed upon executable plan that will motivate your team.

In the coming weeks, as we get ready for our sports themed Kinexions User Event in Orlando, we’ll be focusing on driving the message that supply chain improvement doesn’t have to be as difficult (or agonizing) as perfecting your swing. Better performance, margins and customer satisfaction can be attained by analyzing your current actions, making small improvements, and investing in the right tools to get the job done. So, if golf and supply chains are your thing, join us October 13-16 in Orlando at Kinexions '19. I promise to show off my sweet dance moves when I sink a putt.


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