As you may remember, a number of week’s ago I wrote a piece on “What is Supply Chain Best Practice?” that asked if the concept was truly useful. That original piece featured thoughts from Ralph Drayer, former Chief Logistics Officer at Procter & Gamble (who said there most definitely is best practice), and supply chain guru Gene Tyndall, who questioned the value of the concept in many cases.
So finally (we’ve been backed-up) I get to do one of my favorite types of columns, where our readers do most of the work. We received a lot of feedback on this topic, as expected, and summarize the highlights this week.
You have to like the response from Dave Blanchard, Editor-in-Chief of IndustryWeek magazine, who wrote, “Considering that I just wrote a book with the title, “Supply Chain Management Best Practices,” I guess I'd be among the group that says there most definitely are best practices for SCM (there are also worst practices, which I also mention in the book).”
He was kind enough to send a copy, which we’ll review on these pages shortly. He added, “I think what some people object to is the idea that by calling something a "best practice," it implies there is only one right way to do it. That's certainly not the case, but what a best practice does, ideally, is illustrate that some companies and organizations are achieving "best in class" results by doing a certain process a certain way, and that other companies would do well to emulate that best practice as appropriate.”
On the other hand, Rick Blasgen, president and CEO of CSCMP, commented that “I think Best Practice may be a term that has outlived its relevancy. Given the dynamics of an ever-changing customer expectation list, the global nature of complex supply chains, and rapid technology developments would seem to indicate that as soon as one becomes "best", the environment in which they operate changes, requiring additional capabilities or better execution.”
But, he added that “I think for the supply chain pro, it's always a plus to talk with those in other industries as you can pick up on a thought or process that could be employed in your operation.”
Don Feickert of grocer Raley’s observes that “Best Practice is a discipline. Although there may not be astandard best way of performing a specific process, the very recognition that it might exist is the point. It is the pursuit of “best practice” that accomplishes its intent, which is to improve and “perfect”. By systematically reviewing and evaluating a process, we are able to determine if change is necessary.”
A number of readers, such as our friend Dr. John Langley at Georgia Tech, noted that the dynamic change in supply chain thinking makes any current “best practice” a temporary phenomenon: “Professionally speaking, we have talked ourselves into the sanctity of “best practice,” when the notion of best practice is temporal at best. Whatever may be considered best practice at any point in time, it will surely be improved upon at some point in the future.”
Neysha Arcelay of Alcoa notes that one problem with the concept of best practice is that every company’s situation is unique. “Is there really a best practice? The best of the best that you can be? I think that is something achievable but it doesn't come in a can,” Arcelay wrote. “What works for me will most probably won't work for you.”
Several readers commented on the overlap between the concept of “best practice” and “benchmarking.” Dr. Karl Manrodt of Georgia Southern wrote that “Regarding benchmarking: I personally think that it is great. But, like everything else in life, it can be abused. A benchmark is a number - a point on a continuum. Too often people think of them as the goal, and don't try to understand why or how to get there.”
Steve Blair of Intel noted that striving for “perfection” may not be right or possible, and liked our initial recommendation to first focus on eliminating “bad practices” before getting to hung up on best ones: “From an operations science point of view, including linear programming, optimal is not always the best. If you try to optimize every process, the end-to-end process for the enterprise will not be optimal. So you need to sub optimize each process to have an optimal process for the enterprise. That is why I like the find Good Practices and eliminate Bad Practices,” he wrote.
Some excellent comments. We publish the full letters nearby under the Feedback section, more next week. The other good news is that we’re out of space, and I’ll have to hold my perspective, which has changed a bit from all this feedback, for a future column.
Any reaction to our reader feedback? Do you think Supply Chain Best Practice is a concept that is useful – and worth pursuing? Or is there a better way to think about this?