Yoda’s Advice for the Supply Chain Padawan

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In honor of Star Wars Day (yes, that’s a semi-real thing), I thought I’d resurrect my Star Wars blog series. In this latest installment, I explore what the small, but mighty, Jedi Master Yoda can teach us about supply chain. While he might not have said them directly about supply chain management, these pearls of wisdom still apply. “Many of the truths that we cling to depend on our point of view.” – Yoda Your beliefs are based on what you think you know. But in reality, are you really only seeing a small portion of a larger picture? When it comes to your view of the supply chain, what you perceive as reality is directly related to how much end-to-end visibility you have. If you’re working with partial or incomplete data—perhaps only looking at top tier suppliers—you won’t really know if you can meet changing customer demand in the most efficient manner. Sure you can determine if orders can be fulfilled, but you wouldn’t really know if you were doing it in the way that best meets corporate objectives. For that, you’d have to look outside of what you think you know, to what all the data—not just your limited view of it—is really showing you. It also means expanding your vision of the supply chain to include the truths of other departments. So often supply chain functions are siloed within an organization. Sales makes promises supply managers can’t keep. Marketing runs a promotion without letting the demand planners know. Everyone is working toward their own end goals. This creates chaos and conflict. When everyone works from the same complete picture, the same version of the truth as illustrated by the data, decision-making becomes collaborative, and departmental objectives harmonious with those of the company as a whole. “If no mistakes have you made, yet losing you are, a different game you should play.” – Yoda Doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results is the definition of insanity. So why do you keep running your supply chain the same old way, yet expect it to perform better? If you aren’t getting the results you’re looking for, perhaps it’s time to change the game! Stop focusing on building that elusive perfect plan. Face it, those forecast accuracy numbers are never going to hit 100%. Instead equip your supply chain to adapt faster to change—like an unexpected order coming in, or an unplanned shortage at a manufacturing site. Another of Yoda’s quotes, “Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.” highlights this point exactly. Your supply chain is full of moving parts, many of which are not in your control. Running your supply chain based solely off predictions is going to leave you constantly one step behind, even if you think it’s getting you one step ahead. Let me be clear. Enabling your supply chain to win in today’s unpredictable business environment isn’t about being reactive to change. In reality it’s more about being proactive—developing mechanisms allowing you to know sooner and act faster when things start to take an unexpected turn. This way you’re getting in front of the changing situation, instead of running along behind it. It requires a fundamental shift in mindset about the type of game you’re playing. But if you don’t believe a change like that is truly possible… “This is why you fail.” – Yoda That’s Yoda’s response to Luke Skywalker after he raises Luke’s x-wing fighter from the depths of the Dagobah swamp. Luke tells him, “I don’t believe it.” And that’s a problem facing many supply chain practitioners. Belief that a new way of managing their supply chains could yield better results doesn’t come easily—even if the proof is right in from of them. A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog on just how hard it is to change mindsets about traditional supply chain management. As Yoda says, “You must unlearn what you have learned.” Current practices and processes are often based on the technology companies are using to manage their supply chain. More often than not, this means enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, Excel spreadsheets, or a combination of both. But these tools can be outdated, and in the case of Excel, have evolved very little in the past several decades, despite huge leaps in what newer technology has made possible. Changes in customer demands and market trends means your supply chain tools now need to allow for greater flexibility, easier collaboration, faster decision-making (based on accurate data), increased analysis and scenario simulations, and of course, the ability for personalization so it fits your specific and unique business challenges and goals. “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda Perhaps one of the most iconic quotes from the Star Wars franchise, this simple line has become a modern slogan—a reminder to commit fully, win or lose, to what you’re trying to achieve. Either you’re going to work to improve your supply chain processes, or you aren’t. You either believe there’s a better way than devoting all your time to forecast accuracy, or you don’t. However, unlike Luke when he’s trying to lift that x-wing out of the swamp, changing your supply chain practices doesn’t have to be an all or nothing approach. Given the complexity and size of many of today’s global supply chains, a phased approach may realistically be the only option. But that doesn’t mean you still don’t have to commit fully to the project. There has to be an end goal in mind. It could be as small as moving the needle on just one of your key metrics, or as large as connecting all the nodes of your value chain to achieve true end-to-end visibility. Whatever the goal, set the necessary steps to get there and stick with it—even if at times the road seems daunting. “Patience you must have my young Padawan.” – Yoda This piece of advice is perhaps the most difficult to follow, at least for me. Once I’ve set my mind to something, I want to barrel full steam ahead. But when it comes to supply chains, that’s rarely the case. Connecting hundreds of disparate ERPs, located all over the globe, is not something that can be achieved overnight. Mapping all that data, including number changes, currency exchanges, unit of measure conversions, etc., takes time and planning. And that’s the easy part. Convincing others of the value of a new way to look at supply chain management is an even more arduous undertaking. People are often reluctant to move away from what they know. Being your company’s agent of change means you’re going to need an abundance of patience. But don’t fear Padawan, it can be done. You just have to believe it’s possible. May the fourth be with you!


David Brin
- May 04, 2016 at 5:50pm
Alas, this cute riff has one problem. If your life depended on it, you could not come up with a single action or major statement by that awful gnome - Yoda - that is verifiably "wise." In fact, every single policy or action that he takes leads to calamity and betrayal. Please, name one exception. That should be easy, right? Name one.

"There is no try?" Seriously? Trying different things and then using feedback loops - conscious or unconscious -- to reinforce what works, that is the human way of self-improvement and it works for companies, as well. What stunning drivel!

As for applying faux-"eastern" techniques to supply chain maganement, let's appraise how resilient just-in-time proved to be in Japan, where Japan Inc simply shut down, days after losing access to the small portion of parts in the stream from the Fukushima region. Efficiency is one thing... but we have learned that we ignore resilience at great cost.

With cordial regards,

David Brin, author of EARTH, The Postman, The Transparent Society, and Star Wars on Trial
- May 11, 2016 at 10:13am
Thanks for the comments David!

Thankfully supply chains aren’t Hollywood films and don’t require exciting plot twists to make them work. And, I’m definitely not advocating anyone ditch their current business strategy and go with one conceived by a fictitious green puppet. The point was more to be fun and get people thinking—so thank you for getting the conversation going :)

In terms of the famous ‘There is no try’ quote, it’s included more in the sense that if you are going to try something (which as you pointed out is indeed part of human nature), then make sure you actually try it. Too often I see people go half-heartedly down the path of change, only to hit the first obstacle and give up and turn back because they don’t want to put in the effort and time to see it through to the end. That’s my point. You either do something as completely as you can to the best of your capabilities, or don’t bother starting it at all. But I know how hard that can be when it comes to supply chain. Sometimes it’s really difficult to even try in the first place because people are constantly caught in firefighter mode. On the plus side, technology is getting to the point where you can simulate what would happen before you actually try something—which means you’d know the outcome in advance, and if it’s a positive one, I’m betting more people are apt to follow through completely. Talk about seeing into the future (albeit in a small way)!

When it comes to supply chain efficiency vs. resiliency, why does it have to be an either or? Yes, there were definitely some lessons learned in Japan, but having a supply chain that’s able to respond quickly to assess impacts of potential changes is part of what makes it resilient. You know how to mitigate the risk associated with things like suppliers all located in one geographical region, and can respond to the unexpected in a more predictable way. Next generation planning systems take both into account. They plan, but also allow for continuous monitoring, with the ability to respond to change in minutes instead of days or weeks.

The improvements seen across global supply chains over the last few decades thanks to more lean practices has substantially helped eliminate waste—on a scale that likely dwarfs the budget for the entire rebooted Star Wars franchise.

I’m definitely going to have to check out more of your work—looks fascinating, even if we have a difference of opinion on how loveable Yoda is!
Ted Linklater
- May 12, 2016 at 12:27pm
An interesting and entertaining read.

Sometimes it is worthwhile to just "step back" and reflect from a general point of view.

If nothing else, we might be able to get a better focus as we delve into all of the enormous amount of data and issues that we are inundated with.
Leeway Logistics
- May 13, 2016 at 8:16am
Empowering your supply chain process supply chain logistics system to stay ahead of competitors requires the necessity to adapt to the changes taking place in the industry. To stand out and help your business grow, you will need to develop mechanisms that enable you to act faster.
- May 13, 2016 at 8:31am
Glad you enjoyed it Ted! I completely agree--sometimes you do need to take a minute to reflect.

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