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SCDigest Expert Insight: Supply Chain by Design

About the Author

Dr. Michael Watson, one of the industry’s foremost experts on supply chain network design and advanced analytics, is a columnist and subject matter expert (SME) for Supply Chain Digest.

Dr. Watson, of Northwestern University, was the lead author of the just released book Supply Chain Network Design, co-authored with Sara Lewis, Peter Cacioppi, and Jay Jayaraman, all of IBM. (See Supply Chain Network Design – the Book.)

Prior to his current role at Northwestern, Watson was a key manager in IBM's network optimization group. In addition to his roles at IBM and now at Northwestern, Watson is director of The Optimization and Analytics Group.

By Dr. Michael Watson

March 26, 2013


Supply Chain Models Can Go Wrong- A Different Perspective

Michael Schrage’s book, Serious Play, offers us Insight into Thinking about our Supply Chain Models.


Dr. Watson Says:

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…modeling isn’t some magic activity that is done by technical folks in the corner or that you completely outsource to consultants.
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In a previous post, I talked about ways a model can go wrong.  In this post, I wanted to give you a different perspective. 

Models can go wrong if you don’t think about them in the right way.  That is, modeling isn’t some magic activity that is done by technical folks in the corner or that you completely outsource to consultants.  To get the most of out of modeling, you should think of it as a chance to learn about your business.

Michael Schrage, in his book, Serious Play:  How The World’s Best Companies Simulate to Innovate to Win, says it much better than I could.  (This book is worth a read for the general business reader.) 

The book is about the prototypes an organization builds to help make decisions.  And, a network design model is a prototype of the supply chain.  So, many of the lessons apply directly to the supply chain team.  And, when you read the book, it makes you wonder why a company wouldn’t want a model of their supply chain.

One of his key insights breaks a myth that it is a good team that creates a good prototype. Instead, he argues that it is a good prototype that creates the good team and leads to discussion and insight.  He goes further to say that what is interesting about prototypes is not the model themselves, but what the models teach us about the organization.

Columns by Dr. Watson

Four Supply Chain Lessons from the Amazon book The Everything Store

Supply Chain by Design: What Toyota, Schneider National, PayPal, and Palantir Got Right

Supply Chain by Design: Service Level Measures in the Supply Chain, Part 2

Supply Chain by Design: Service Level Measures in the Supply Chain

Supply Chain by Design: Nike's Phil Knight on the Importance of Supply Chain

Supply Chain by Design: Four Lessons from Hau Lee's Green Car Story Updated for the Era of Machine Learning

Supply Chain by Design: Profitability of Your Assets Depends on how you use Them

Supply Chain by Design: The Most Overlooked and Underestimated Data in Supply Chain Design

Supply Chain by Design: Self Driving Trucks May Create New Roles and New Types of Jobs

Supply Chain by Design: Why Driverless Trucks May Create the Need for More Drivers

Supply Chain by Design: A Non Obvious Way Self Driving Trucks May Impact Your Network Design Strategy

Supply Chain by Design: How You Should be Using Multi-Echelon Inventory Tools

Supply Chain by Design: You Don't Need the Optimization in Multi-Echelon Inventory Optimization

Supply Chain by Design: On Network Modeling - Blaspheming the Baseline

Supply Chain by Design: Profit Maximization Feature and Amazon’s Focus on Lead Time to Grow Revenue

Supply Chain by Design: Using Profit Maximization to Minimize Cost

Supply Chain by Design: Two Big Reasons You Don't Want to Maximize Profit in your Supply Chain Model

Supply Chain by Design: You Can Set Inventory Levels and Other Such Myths

Supply Chain by Design: Six Organizational Issues in Tactical Inventory Planning

Supply Chain by Design: Four Things Nick Saban Can Teach us About Inventory Planning

Supply Chain by Design: Seven Ways You Can Think About Christmas Capacity to Avoid Having the Press Blame Your Supply Chain for Missed Deliveries

Supply Chain by Design: Machine Learning and High Quality Potato Chips

Supply Chain by Design: Simple Models to Solve Complex Fast Delivery Problems

Supply Chain by Design: CSCMP Report - Five Take-Aways on Natural Gas Trucks from the AB InBev and Owens Corning Talk

Supply Chain by Design: CSCMP Report - Six Insights from LLamasoft and JLL

Supply Chain by Design: CSCMP Report - Five Supply Chain Design Lessons from Benjamin Moore and How One is Used by Amazon in their 1-hour Delivery Service

Supply Chain by Design: CSCMP Report - Two Supply Chain Design Lessons from Starbucks CEO

Supply Chain by Design: Four Groups that Need to Step Up to Help Make Network Design More of a Profession

Supply Chain by Design: Top Four Best Practices for Multi-Objective Optimization

Supply Chain by Design: Caesars Entertainment's Customer Data is Worth $1B - How Much is Your Supply Chain Data Worth?

Supply Chain by Design: Using Transactional Data to Estimate Truckload Market Conditions in Near-Real-Time

Supply Chain by Design: Routing Optimization is Hard: Lessons from UPS

Supply Chain by Design: Eli Goldratt's Book "The Goal" is on Jeff Bezos (Amazon) Reading List

Supply Chain by Design: Top Five Rules for Cleaning Data for a Strategic Analysis

Supply Chain by Design: Network Design and Accounting Data

Supply Chain by Design: Sears Case Study - Same Day Delivery

Supply Chain by Design: Three Ways UPS and FedEx Handled Christmas 2014

Supply Chain by Design: Deepen Your Optimization Knowledge Over the Holidays with Free E-book

Supply Chain by Design: Calculating Supplier Lead-Time Variability - Not as Easy as It Seems

Supply Chain by Design: The Myth of the Market Rate and Network Design Projects

Supply Chain by Design: Three Ways the Supply Chain Wastes Big Data

Supply Chain by Design: Three Supply Chain Lessons from the book Scaling Up Excellence

Supply Chain by Design: What to Do About the Rise in Costs Because of the Trucker Shortage

Supply Chain by Design: Modeling Your Competitors

Supply Chain By Design: Just Because the Feature Exists, Doesn’t Mean You Should Use It

Supply Chain by Design: Just Because People are Talking about Big Data Doesn’t Mean it is Clean Data

Supply Chain By Design: Can Western Manufacturing Be Saved: What Does it Mean to Your Firm?

Supply Chain By Design: Optimized Baseline and the "Perfect" Network Design

Supply Chain By Design: Become more Analytics-Driven to Recruit Talent

Supply Chain By Design: Step Up Your Preventative Maintenance with Predictive Analytics

Supply Chain By Design: Demystifying Stochastic Optimization

Supply Chain By Design: More on Big Data in the Supply Chain

Supply Chain by Design: Should You Extend Your Network Design Capability with a Map Portal?

Supply Chain by Design: A New Trend in Network Design: Flow Path Modeling

Supply Chain By Design: Top 5 Skills You Need in a Supply Chain Modeler

Supply Chain By Design: Comment on Biggest Supply Chain Planning Technology Challenges

Supply Chain by Design: Beyond the Square Root of N Rule

Supply Chain by Design: UPS's Christmas Problem Explained in One Graph

Supply Chain By Design: Your One Network Design New Year's Resolution

Supply Chain By Design: 80/20 Rule for Supply Chain Design

Supply Chain By Design: What Makes a Good Inventory Buffer

Supply Chain by Design: Some Things Do Not Change: Cost and Service Trade-Offs with Air Shipments

Supply Chain By Design: The Impact of Natural Gas Trucks On Your Supply Chain Design and Capabilities

Supply Chain By Design: Controlling Inbound Transportation with Inventory

Supply Chain by Design: Three Types of Supply Chain Buffers

Supply Chain by Design: Systems Thinking and the "Limits" of Optimization

Supply Chain By Design: 3D Printing and Robotics - Disrupting the Dominant Supply Chain Model

Supply Chain by Design: Future Supply Chain- Airships and the Physical Internet

Supply Chain By Design: Avoiding Capital Investments - A Hidden Benefit of Network Design

Supply Chain by Design: Three More Reasons the Impact of the New Hours of Service Rules May Not Be So Drastic

Supply Chain By Design: Three Ways to Handle the Lag Time from Modeling to Implementation

Supply Chain By Design: Three Quick Steps for Analyzing Big Data

Supply Chain by Design: What is Big Data?

Supply Chain By Design: Using Optimization to Compare Facilities or Internal Benchmarking

Supply Chain By Design: Four Steps for Thinking About An Optimization Problem

Supply Chain By Design: Don't Let the Term "Optimization" Become a Buzzword

Supply Chain By Design: Supply Chain Models Can Go Wrong - A Different Perspective

Supply Chain By The Numbers: Top Three Ways Supply Chain Models Can Go Wrong

Supply Chain By Design: Supply- and Demand-Centered Modeling: A Follow Up to 2013 Priorities

Supply Chain By Design: Three SCDigest Predictions You Should Be Modeling

Supply Chain by Design: Cost to Serve Modeling

Supply Chain By Design: Top Five Models You Should Build in 2013

Supply Chain By Design: Should You Source from China or the US? Why Not Both?

Supply Chain By Design: Same Day Delivery and Network Design

Supply Chain By Design: Political Supply Chain and Network Design

Advanced Analytics in Supply Chain - What is it and is it better than Non-Advanced Analytics?

Using a network design model as an example, he would ask questions like who gets to build the model, who gets to see the model, who gets to make suggestions, when do people get to see the model, do customers get to see the model, or do suppliers?  All these are good questions for a team building a supply chain model.

The book is full of different ideas you can apply to your modeling efforts.  Here are a few I pulled out:

“Waste as Thrift” (pg 100-101).  Once you have a model in place, it is relatively inexpensive to test ideas.  If you don’t “waste” scenarios, you are really risking wasting real money when you implement an idea without testing it.

“Bigger Isn’t Better” (pg 131-137).  The object of the prototype or model isn’t to be as complex as reality.  Instead, the model needs to be understood by those who need to make decisions.

“The act of designing the model…is essential to understanding their use” (pg 168).  He argues that there is value in putting the model together.  We see this as well and think it is well worth your time to understand some of the underlying math.

It is important to create “conflict” with the model (pg 173).  The “conflict” is to set up the model to expose important trade-offs like cost versus service.  In network design, multi-objective optimization is great at bringing out those trade-offs.

“A prototype should be an invitation to play” (pg 208).  A great way to get value from a model is to play with it try new things and see if you can come with some counter-intuitive solutions that change everyone’s thinking.

Final Thoughts

When doing modeling, you should think about the value you get by going through the modeling exercise, not just the final answer.

(This post is modified version of a book review I did of Serious Play.)


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