How supply chain planners should spend their time, with cues from Chris Hadfield

addtoany linkedin
Stage of the Kinexions event

I was fascinated watching the key note address from Chris Hadfield at the Kinaxis user conference, Kinexions 2017. Canadians and space junkies will know him as the first Canadian to walk in space and as a commander of the International Space Station.

While in space, he also did a live stream playing Space Oddity from the ISS. See his web page, for more information. But, it was not all his accomplishments that made everyone else in the room feel inadequate. It was his level of preparation.

As Hadfield said, “Astronauts are not adrenalin junkies. Adrenalin is an indication of lack of preparation and can have fatal results.” Rather, astronauts train for what they must do. They train to handle all the things that might go wrong and for making decisions with incomplete information.

During the presentation, especially on hearing about having to act despite incomplete information, I thought more about the role of supply chain planners. What I see is planners spending all their time chasing the latest shortage rather than efficiently planning their supply chain.

Following the theme of Hadfield’s presentation, wouldn’t it make more sense for planners to plan? For example, rather than scrambling to find another 100 units, think of how much more effectively planners could use their time by creating a game plan for an increase in demand or changes in the sales mix. Or, plan for what might happen if, let’s say, Puerto Rico endured a severe hurricane, or if Houston was flooded, or if a tsunami hit the Philippines, or if earthquakes occurred in Mexico. All of which happened.

Whose supply chains recover most quickly from unpredictable events? The answer is simple. It’s the supply chain with a plan that’s ready to execute should disaster happen. So, the looming question is this… does your supply chain have ready-to-execute plans in place for changes in demand due to natural, or even political disasters? Which brings us back to Chris Hadfield and an astronaut’s level of preparation. Wouldn’t it be better for supply chain planners to spend their time setting planning parameters rather than chasing shortages? Wouldn’t it be better for automated processes to handle routine operations and even some frequent exceptions so that planners could deal with the real exceptions? Wouldn’t it be better for planners to develop game plans for foreseeable events? And, wouldn’t it be better for planners to simulate their plans to be sure they would actually provide a recovery should the event happen? How would you rather have your planners spend their time?  


Vijay Subramanian
- October 24, 2017 at 9:24pm

Thanks for summarizing your thoughts on Chris Hadfield’s key note address and the takeaways from it for supply chain planning. I was also fascinated by the speech and quite inspired by it as well. I gave some thought about the speech also and compared it to supply chain planning in the business world especially regarding the notion of having backup plans for all possible scenarios. If I compare astronaut’s preparation and planning vs. preparation and planning in the business world, a couple of things stand out for me. In the first case, it is a life-or-death situation so cost should not be a big constraint but the business world is not always life-or-death and cost is a big factor. Planning and having some backup options are important in the business world also but having to plan for all scenarios in advance and having many backup plans may not be cost effective. So, the happy medium for the business world may be to have some plans and backup options combined with systems and employee skillset so that they can respond to changes or unexpected events faster. RapidResponse software provides the same ability for businesses, “to respond faster”. I am curious to know your thoughts on my analogy.

Vijay Subramanian
Prana Consulting, Inc.
Duncan Klett
- October 26, 2017 at 12:33am
Hi, Vijay. Thanks for your comments.
Of course, you are correct. It does not make economic sense for planners to have a plan in place for every possible contingency and it makes huge sense for skilled people, processes, and tools to find a solution and to respond faster when something happens (good or bad). The first step is to identify that something has changed and then to determine the impact of that change. Next, if the change is in a category for which a response strategy has been defined, it might be possible to have an automatic and immediate response. Otherwise, the system might recommend one or more potential solutions. Finally, people can investigate the recommendations or new approaches to responding to the change.

Leave a Reply