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  First Thoughts

    Dan Gilmore


    Supply Chain Digest

June 16, 2023

Stapling Yourself to an Order 2023

Looking back at One of the Best Supply Chain Articles in History

Have you ever "stapled yourself to an order?"

That was what a trio of academic recommended in a famous Harvard Business Review article published all the way back in 1992 and republished I think two times thereafter as an “HBR Classic.”


Gilmore Says....

While I love the article title and concept about stapling yourself to an order, I think it’s relevance has waned significantly since 1992

What do you say?

Click here to send us your comments

“Stapling Yourself to an Order” was written by Benson Shapiro, Kasturi Rangan, and John Svioloka (Shapiro being the most well-known of the trio.)

I am looking at it here because I believe it is timely, and because here in the 20th anniversary year of 2023 for SCDigest I am going to review a number of the most famous and influential supply chain articles in history, and may even compile a top 10.

Here’s what Shapiro, Kasturi, and Rangan had to say about the matter, including this great line: “Every time the order is being handled, the customer is being handled at the same time.”

They added that “The truth is that every customer’s experience is determined by a company’s “order management cycle” - the ten steps, from planning to post sales service, that define a company’s business system,” the article says early on.

What are those 10 order management steps? They are listed below (obviously not all apply to every business):

Order Planning: Design of the order management process

Order Generation: How and where orders will be solicited and acquired

Cost Estimation & Pricing: Providing quote or price to customers

Order Receipt & Entry: Capturing a new order and starting the workflow (manual or automated)

Order Selection & Prioritization: What orders are most important, and how will they be handled sequentially?

Scheduling: Moving the order into a production or fulfillment plan

Fulfillment: Delivery to the customer


Billing: Customer invoice process

Returns & Claims: Handling any returns or complaints about damage or other product issues

Post Sales Service: Service and support activities (warranties, replacement parts, etc.)

As the title of the article makes clear, the recommendation was that company executives should walk with an order over days or weeks or even months, early on, from as many of the 10 steps that make sense to learn how it really works and look for opportunities to improve cost, speed or customer service/satisfaction.

Now does that 10-step framework and recommendation to follow the process, proposed more than 30 years ago by our authors, still make sense in a ecommerce world with ERP and much more powerful order management software and increased “digitization” of business processes?
I am not sure. Clearly the original article was tilted towards discreet manufacturers, and arguably specifically to make-to-order business.

But back then, for those types of companies, I have no doubt much insight could be gained from stapling yourself to an order. I’ll note 1992 would have been maybe a decade before the start of the big company focus on “business process re-engineering.” That wave found things like steps in a process taking days to move through, even though the actual work once say an order made it to the top of the queue took perhaps 15 minutes.

But even today, does any one person in a large company with multiple order processing steps have a full grasp of the end-to-end order management cycle? Certainly, more do so today than in 1992, for at least major parts of the OMC. Many companies have well-defined and streamlined “order to cash” processes, as the most obvious example.

The tremendous growth in outsourcing and offshoring since 1992 has also caused changes to this concept, as supply is now often part of a much longer and sometimes more complicated supply chain – but maybe simplifying domestic order management that now relies on stock items made overseas.


So in the end, while I love the article title and concept about stapling yourself to an order, I think it’s relevance has waned significantly since 1992 – but that there are still probably plenty of companies where such a order tour would pay benefits.

I would love your thoughts on this.

Is stapling yourself to an order still a relevant concept? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback button below.

Your Comments/Feedback




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