First time I heard it, I was astonished. A friend (and an ex-client) was visiting Sydney with his wife, and we were sharing a dinner.
We had worked together more than a couple of decades ago, on some key projects, when I was still learning the art and craft of consulting. He had gone on to build a great career, culminating at the C-Level in one of the blue chip companies.
And, that is when the disaster struck, and he was made redundant during a clean sweep, that happens from time to time is such organisations.
In passing, he confided that now that he was over 50, he did not expect to find a steady job because of how the odds were stacked against it.
He was only a few years older than I was, and got me thinking. And, he was not the only one who quietly voiced this thought.
I feel the need to unpack the dynamics a bit more and see what is sitting inside.
Clearly it is illegal to discriminate on basis of age (as much as anything else). And, there are many ways to do a statistical analysis to prove such discrimination, if someone puts their mind to it.
Yet with so many people voicing similar thoughts, there might be some real underlying dynamics at play here. After all where there is smoke, there is fire.
I was trying to think of possible reasons.
Besides the inflexibility, and the unwillingness to take a step backward from lofty heights already achieved in the careers, are there any other dynamics are play?
I had to relate it back to my personal experience in order to think through the situation.
While the entire post is worth reading on its own merit, here is the most relevant extract:
Steamship Titanic sank when it hit an iceberg going full steam ahead in fog. Since that day, fog navigation is every Ship Captain’s worst nightmare. I still remember when I joined sea as a cadet, the moment the ship hit a fog bank – Captain would take over the navigation personally, station lookouts on Crows Nest, Monkey Island and many other exotic sounding places on the ship and try and listen to foghorns of other ships – all this despite the presence of 2 wholly functional radars.
Some captains were trained in the art of navigation long time ago – when radars did not exist. Many of these ‘navigate by feel commanders’ never got comfortable with radars – to their own peril and to the peril of their shipboard crew. As a result, shipping companies gradually eased these people out of command, making way for a newer generation of Masters who could make full use of available technology appropriately.
Today, an ability to learn, adopt, adapt and optimise new technology – all the while running the ship in its steady state – will become paramount.
No doubt, irrespective of their age many executives can, and will make, the transition into the brave new world. Yet the wall street is not betting on it – for an example try and decipher the chart below, and think of the underlying causes:
But that is just one of the reasons I do not bet on the wall street at the moment.
The chief mate was on the forecastle with the bosun and 3 sailors preparing to anchor the ship. Master was on the bridge of the ship with the second mate, a helmsman and a lookout.
The ship had just arrived in the pearl river delta after a long sea voyage, and this being the middle of the night there was no means of communication between the bridge and the forecastle except for flashing lights, a loud ships horn, or a loud voice though a megaphone.
We are talking about 100 years ago, the ship was relatively small and still ran on coal fired boilers. The communication between the ships bridge and the engine room was even more difficult. Coal fired steam boilers were very messy, and the steam engines were extremely noisy. Engine telegraph transmitted the bridge commands from the bridge to the engine – such as full steam ahead, or half ahead, or stop, or half astern. There being no brakes on the ship, the master was extremely good at anticipating the next movement necessary and transmit the command to the chief engineer in the engine room, as well as to the chief mate on the forecastle.
These two men had to be also extremely adept at not only understanding and following the orders from the ships bridge, but also as understanding the entire complexity of the situation in their respective stations and taking actions that would facilitate the final outcome – safely anchored ship without any damage to the ship, anchor, chain, propeller or any other ship.
For example, if the chain was running out too fast, the bosun, or chief mate would have no way to ask the master what was the depth of the water on the chart map or how high the tide was expected to be. They would have to use their own judgment to let go the anchor with sufficient force for it to hold the weight of the entire ship for several days, yet not too much force for it to take out the entire windlass with it. They were aware of other ships which accidentally let go anchor in far more depth than anticipated, and did not control the force in time so that the anchor chain just ran out and broke the windlass.
The chief engineer’s job was even more complex. He had no visibility of what was happening on the bridge, or the forecastle. Yet, he was somehow expected to anticipate the engine movement and respond in time for it to stop the ship so that the anchor can take hold and ship can swing into the tide.
The master relied on these two highly skilled operators who each has their own teams of skilled operators to help them.
And, then, the walkie-talkies were invented.
The master and chief mate are constantly talking to each other about the situation. The engine room can be reliably controlled from the navigation bridge so engineers in the engine control room stay there only for emergency coverage. Chief mate can now provide accurate information from the forecastle station, and master can issue precise instructions of what to do, and when. Chief mates, chief engineers and even masters do not need to be so highly skilled in the ‘art of anchoring’.
Reliable and constant flow of communication has made it unnecessary to anticipate and act. Co-ordination is a lot easier. Less need for contingency planning at each station.
Dropping an anchor, even in the middle of the night and/or in a busy channel with high current, wind or tide, has become a relatively far simpler exercise.
Communication technology always leads to possibilities of centralisation.
How much to centralise, and how to create a new operating system is an art.
The debate continues in every company.
How much to centralise? How to centralise? Why to centralise?
Strategic thinking is a must. No school can teach this – not even with the best case studies. Experience is the best teacher.
It appears a bit extreme now – but it was very common at time when I was a navigating cadet.
As a 17 year old cadet learning to navigate a large 28,600 metric tonnes vessel, one of first things I was asked to do was to make sure that I learnt the entire ‘International Rules of Road’ by heart. Almost all the cadets had to do this. The intention seemed to be that you must have no doubt in times of panic. At a time of impending collision there would be no room to think or maneuver – and the reaction must be automatic.
The Chief Mate (mentor for the cadets) would ask us any rule at any time, and expect the cadets to be able to recite these line, chapter and verse.
Here is short video of the perils of sea – mainly to put thing in the right context.
Most good yachtsmen and navigators would have these rules stuck in their memories no matter how much time has passed since they did their MoT (navigators’ license).
For me, after more than 30 years they are still alive, and many of them serve as good guidelines for practical decision making in strategy.
Here is an example: RULE 7 (COLREGS 72)
|NAVIGATION RULE||STRATEGY GUIDANCE|
|(a) Every vessel shall use all available means appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions to determine if risk of collision exists. If there is any doubt such risk shall be deemed to exist.||Every company should use all available means appropriate to the prevailing market conditions and competitive landscape to determine if significant risk to profitability exists. If there is any doubt such risk should be deemed to exist.|
|(b) Proper use shall be made of radar equipment if fitted and operational, including long-range scanning to obtain early warning of risk of collision and radar plotting or equivalent systematic observation of detected objects.||Judicious use should be made of diagnostic tools and methodologies that are available and appropriate, including long-range forecasting to obtain early warning of risks of significant profit drops, and benchmarking or equivalent systematic observation of risks identified.|
|(c) Assumptions shall not be made on the basis of scanty information, especially scanty radar information.||Assumptions shall not be made on the basis of scanty information, especially poor diagnostic information.|
|(d) In determining if risk of collision exists the following considerations shall be among those taken into account: (i) such risk shall be deemed to exist if the compass bearing of an approaching vessel does not appreciably change; (ii) such risk may sometimes exist even when an appreciable bearing change is evident, particularly when approaching a very large vessel or a tow or when approaching a vessel at close range||In determining if risk of significant profit drop exists the following considerations shall be among those taken into account: (i) such risk shall be deemed to exist if the performance of an appropriate benchmark does not appreciably change; (ii) such risk may sometimes exist even when an appreciable performance change is evident, particularly when approaching a turbulent market condition, or when benchmark itself has become irrelevant.|
When I am doing difficult mathematical problems with my son, if he does not yet know the right answer (or the method to solve the problem), generally he will give several answers in the hope that at least one of them might click. I am trying to train him up to be a good thinker, besides being a good mathematician.
So, I encourage precision and brevity. The art of hitting the nail on the head really separates the good carpenters from the bad ones, and good mathematicians, and good product designers from the not-so-great ones.
When I was reading the book “Good Strategy, Bad Strategy” by Richard Rumelt, I was struck with the realisation that the bad strategists do exactly that same thing. If they are not sure of which two or three (or four) things will make all the difference in a situation, in general they will recommend a number of solutions (sometimes as many as 20-30) in the hope that at least some of them might click.
That is the reason whenever I see an article with a title saying 7,8 or 9 reasons…(also called listicles) – I know it will just be a laundry list of things of marginal importance. Watch out for strategists who offer a laundry list of unrelated solutions – in most cases they have not really diagnosed the problem adequately, and try and tackle the symptoms rather than the root causes.
This is how Richard Rumelt describes the difference between good strategy and bad strategy:
“The most basic idea of strategy is the application of strength against weakness. Or, if you prefer, strength applied to the most promising opportunity. The standard modern treatment of strategy has expanded this idea into a rich discussion of potential strengths, today called “advantages.” There are advantages due to being a first mover: scale, scope, network effects, reputation, patents, brands, and hundreds more. None of these are logically wrong, and each can be important. Yet this whole midlevel framework misses two huge incredibly important sources of natural strength: Having a coherent strategy—one that coordinates policies and actions. A good strategy doesn’t just draw on existing strength; it creates strength through the coherence of its design. Most organizations of any size don’t do this. Rather, they pursue multiple objectives that are unconnected with one another or, worse, that conflict with one another. The creation of new strengths through subtle shifts in viewpoint. An insightful reframing of a competitive situation can create whole new patterns of advantage and weakness. The most powerful strategies arise from such game-changing insights.
It is a great book, and I thoroughly recommend it. In it Richard talks about his meeting with Steve Jobs and his discussion about Apple’s strategy. He was struck by how unique that strategy was especially when compared with all the other tech CEOs that Richard interviewed.
That brings up to the difficult topic of Apple Watch which was launched today.
Being a bit of tech buff I spent several hours trying to understand exactly what does the watch do and looking for those two or three essential things that would make me buy it.
Yet, I could not find anything that will make me keep all my other watches away. When Apple launched printers – they were clear about two or three things these printers did which no other printer did as well. Steve Jobs explains this in one of his videos very well:
Itunes allowed people to rip CDs, store music and buy single tracks better than any other product. Ipods allowed listeners the most convenient way of storing a large selection of music. Iphones allowed the best user interface among smart phones (I used to own the best smart phone before Iphone came along – and it was badddd!). So, I looked and looked, trying to find those two or three things in the Apple watch that will make all the difference. I am sorry to say that I did not yet find them. If there is something in there, they have carefully hidden it so far. I will take another look when the Apple watch comes out in the market. What does it have to do with Apple strategy overall? Well, if Apple does not ‘innovate’ another killer product like those earlier ones, very soon it will lose its shine!
“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.”
Business Networks are important to accelerate and sustain success for any individual or organization. It is imperative to learn from the evolution and success of business networks. Business structures have evolved radically to such a degree that nowadays, most businesses have no option but to create business networks.
Naturally your business infrastructure is fixed, rigid and cost accruing. Your business networks, on the other hand, are evolutionary, flexible and revenue accruing.
Those businesses which had the most responsive and resilient business networks were the ones to recover from any downfall the quickest. See who survived the global economic downturn during 2008 – 2009.
Data is visibly conclusive that in times of cash crisis, the quality of their business networks saves companies. Those with more robust business networks have far more superior cash conversion cycles, nearly 6 times better. In fact, as pointed out by Aberdeen Group, business network masters improve their cash to cash cycle leading up to the Global Financial Crisis while the rest of the industry went backwards.
Even relatively smaller businesses can achieve remarkable results quickly based on the responsiveness of their business networks. In economic booms, whether accompanied by economic volatility, or economic stability, business networks allow you to realize higher profits, quickly. The potential of your company’s capabilities are multiplied many times over, by the leverage effect provided by your business network. This is only possible through extensive utilization of business networks that the company has built, nurtured and managed effectively. Most executives grossly under-estimate the value and efficacy of business networks in ramping up capacity rapidly in boom times.
Especially during times of extreme volatility, we see airlines and shipping companies forming global service alliances to ride out the season and economic peaks and troughs. In such volatile business environments, budgeting and planning can become a nerve-racking exercise for all companies except those which use their business networks to cushion the lean periods with long term contracts and find scarce capacity during boom periods. Supply chain is unique to every company and industry, formulated over a number of decades in many cases, and is worth several trillions of dollars in value.
Estimates range into trillions of dollars, and yet may be underestimating the full extent and power of these hidden business resources. The magic of business networks has made it possible to design, build, launch and sell revolutionary products in less than one-third time of the industry. If you cannot make your business networks more visible and manage them more proactively, you may be silently yielding the competitive advantage to others who can. It is, after all, the obtainable magic.
Want to start now? Create your own 5-Star Business Network today.
Extract from the book “The 5-Star Business Network”, written by Vivek Sood In 2012, when Facebook’s IPO was being discussed in the media, a range of valuations was put forward by the experts between approximately $50 and more than $100 Billion. Most people in traditional businesses were stunned and asked how could a company with no products, no factories, no customers and no suppliers, be valued more than Siemens, Nokia, US Steel, or even a combination of these traditional, well respected companies. The pundits declared the basis of valuation as the Network Effect and left it at that – leaving people to decipher what exactly the Network Effect is and exactly how does it lead to a valuation of tens of billions of dollars. Networks, of course, can be homogeneous groups of similar people, such as net-savvy, with spare time and willingness to share their lives’ details with others on Facebook (or similar social websites), or they can be heterogeneous networks of a multitude of suppliers around the world that provide a vast range of components and parts, such as those that go into manufacturing the Airbus A380. Networks can even be a combination of homogeneous entities and heterogeneous groups, or vice versa. This point should emphasise in the readers’ minds that there is not one single kind of network, and hence the characteristics will vary accordingly.
Needless to say, there is no point spending time on a social network website if you are the only person who ever visits it. In fact, if most of your friends are members of a rival social networking site, you would eventually find yourself there, or find yourself a web outcast. This leads to a catch-22. Most nightclub and restaurant owners are long familiar with the predicament – the more popular your establishment becomes, the more people want to get into it. However, the key predicament is always – how to start off the process. An excellent book “The Tipping Point”, by Malcolm Gladwell, discusses this phenomenon in great detail and attributes it to the three rules – getting the first movers (law of the few – the mavens, the connectors and the salesmen), the stickiness factor (simple ways to make things memorable) and the power of context (small factors in the environment and the relationships that create and sustain impetus). If you have not yet read the book , I highly recommend it. It is neither advisable, nor possible, to paraphrase the excellent content, and Gladwell’s writing style is extraordinarily eloquent. So, with every new addition to a network, it becomes a little bit more valuable. This continues to happen until the network reaches a tipping point, a point at which it suddenly becomes a lot more valuable. After this point, the network will generally race past all its rivals and become a de facto standard in its realm. Whether it is a question of which social network website to frequent, or which type of keyboard to use as a standard (the more popular QWERTY or the more efficient Dvorak style), or which type of cooling systems to use in the nuclear power plants (light water, heavy water or gas cooled) – the decision almost always rests on the network effect.
Networks thrive on trust: they succeed where trust building mechanisms are strong and well adhered to. Well functioning business networks incorporate a secret source – the power that goes beyond the synergy, the multiplier effect, into the realms of synchronicity. Besides, business networks allow businesses to be simultaneously strong in their core strengths and live with their own weaknesses – the other members of their business networks make up for their weaknesses. As businesses move from traditional structure to business networks, the essential co-operation building mechanism moves from control to co-ordinate to co-create.Continue reading
In the previous blog entry of this series, I have outlined a customer centric business model, which is also captured in my book The 5-Star Business Network. Now let us delve into the evolution of supply chain models, or how Supply Chain 3.0 came about.
The customer centric model mentioned in the previous post is still a model of last decade and later in this piece we will see the reasons for this assertion. First, let us examine the impact of this model in practice of the commerce as conducted by many companies today. Due to persistence of traditional supplier-buyer relationships, when this model is applied across multiple organisations it morphs into an unworkable hierarchical structure shown in Figure 1 below.
Imagine if 5 of more organisations are linked in a multi-layer structure shown above. Unfortunately, that happens to be the case with many large organisations that compete with Apple in the market-place today. While such a structure minimises cost and responds predictably to all external stimuli, it is not suitable for the world of rapid change we live in today.
Today, businesses collaborate in a robust network
Success of Apple has shown that in the next decade this model needs to be supplemented by an even more evolved model which we have called Efficient Global Leadership model (EGL model for short). In this model we recognise that no single organisation by itself is in a position to service all the needs of a customer relating to even a single product. The fact is that two or more, in general three organisations come together as a supply chain, work together collaboratively, to fulfil the customer’s need.
As shown in Figure 2, each one of these organisations work in close harmony with each other, where the research & development teams of each organisation work together as do marketing teams and even sales teams of these organisations.
To create products, and then to manufacture those products, the production teams and the procurement teams work together to put those products in customer’s hands. In such a model, close collaboration is required among the supply chain partners to create market and sell the products.
Similarly, close cooperation is also required to produce the products, move the products and store the products in such a way that highly innovative products are produced in shortest period of time at a fraction of the cost of traditional products and put in customers’ hands extremely quickly.
Needless to say, when Apple manages to put out one innovative product after another in the market place, it is not only its own innovation but also an innovation of all its partners, which is at play here. Only when companies work together in such an efficient leadership model, do they achieve the level of success which Apple has achieved over the last 5 to 10 years. Figure 3 reminds one of the team huddles as shown below:
When an individual works on his own he is neither very efficient, nor very effective. That is the key reason, from early civilisations, humans have created organisations that give them the benefit of either effectiveness, or efficiency, or a bit of both. Figure 4, on the other hand reminds one of camel trains or dog sleds – where one animal is closely following another as shown in the picture below. Now imagine what would happen to the whole camel train, if the first beast lost its way!
Naturally, the question is why is this important? Think about it for a minute. In fact, stop reading and just reflect on the metaphors. A camel train was a great technology – but is now largely redundant. Moreover, with a limited room to collaborate, it is essentially a command and control organisation. In periods of rapid development, if such organisations stick to the tried and tested, they get left behind by their more innovative peers.
If you would like to see how Supply Chain 3.0 differ vastly from its predecessors, please read the next blog entry of this series.
When General Motors filed for Chapter XI protection in 2008, it also marked the closing of a type of business models in modern commerce.
General Motors was seen as the paragon of modern American management theory as popularized by Peter Drucker in the middle of the twentieth century.
It was at this venerable company that Peter Drucker formed his early thoughts about management as a profession, separation of the ownership from management of enterprise, the key functions of management, division of labour, theory of leadership of enterprise, indeed the very concept of the corporation.
His writings were the need of the time, and were picked up by ivy league business schools and corporations alike and formed the basic foundation of management profession.
Indeed there was a time when General Motors and the US commerce were thought of as interchangeable entities with popular aphorism that “what is good for GM is good for America and vice versa.”
Some people still think this is the case.
They see the decline of General Motors as symptomatic of a wider malaise in the US economy.
Others think that General Motors will rise like a phoenix again to become an industrial powerhouse.
While we do not know what will eventually happen to General Motors, we know that new models of commerce, new industries, new technologies and new ways of solving old problems will be required to build a stronger economy on a global level.
All of these will not necessarily come out of one country, one continent or even one region.
Drucker foresaw some of these changes in his writings on the information age, post-capitalist society and post-industrial man.
Prescient as he was, he did not yet fully see majority of the changes that have happened in the last 6 years since his death.
The rise of China and India, the global financial crisis, the zombification of the western economies as a result on intense focus on the rapid gains from FIRE (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate) industries, hollowing out of real capabilities are nowhere to be seen in his writings.
However, this is not just true of Drucker, most of the management thinkers, writers, academics and authors can be painted with the same brush.
It is not a surprise that the established thinkers find it difficult to think outside the box.
Since the times of Aristotle, Socrates and perhaps even before that (for the history of mankind maybe older than that), new thinking must come from new places – from outside the established order of thinking.
No wonder then that the most innovative companies in the US still choose to locate on the west coast, many of the most successful corporations were formed by the college drop outs and the most successful business models do not even have a name yet.
— Excerpted from the introduction of THE 5-STAR BUSINESS NETWORK
To read a synopsis of the book, please click here
To buy the book, please go here
In case you are wondering why I am focusing on the second biggest mistake rather than the biggest one – it is because I have already written a blog post on that topic last week. Here is the link to it.
But the second biggest mistake is even more common and well known.
Yet it is so common that it worth spending half an hour writing a blog post about it. Even if 10 business transformations are put back on track after reading this blogpost – it would have done its job. After all each derailed business transformation is a huge waste of human effort and ingenuity.
So, what are the cliches that are used to describe this second mistake. I am sure everyone is familiar with these:
Putting the Horse Before the Cart.
Confusing the Cause with Effect.
Post Hoc Fallacy
A theoretical discussion of human fallacies is out of scope of this blogpost. You can read more about these here.
In many cases these IT upgrades take a life of their own and business objectives of the transformation projects start taking a back seat to these technological considerations.
In my book UNCHAIN YOUR CORPORATIONS I have given more than 20 examples of this phenomenon, in various contexts. Below I quote from the book:
Modern supply chains collect information at each node of the network. This rich data is methodically analyzed to optimize demand, supply, inventory, costs and service levels to create the best profit results. Not many people know this art – while there might be many pretenders.
The next component in business transformations is the informational part of the business network, which is strongly bounded by its IT systems. A word of caution, though, IT should always be viewed as a means to an end rather than the end in itself. In other words, systems are implemented to facilitate information exchange that is conducive to business transformation.
In the project we were working on, the challenge was indeed, moving the system from the regional to the global structure. Apart from having islands of data to consolidate, the company also found themselves dissatisfied with a system that met only 70% of its needs.
Even though you may be tempted by flexibility as it offers more room for maneuver in the future, every additional bit of flexibility breeds corresponding complexity.
To get a more realistic picture of the complexity, type “supply chain software” into Google and you will get more than 75 million results. How do you know which one is the right one? Though many of them will pretend that they can, there is not a single piece of software that can do everything that you require from a supply chain software solution.
Plethora of tools are available – each with its own peculiarities and limitations. Old ERP type systems can lead your operations into a big hole from which it will take years to emerge. Furthermore, each tool is most suitable for certain situations, and unsuitable for other situations. You need the ability get the right tools – just the ones that suit your situation – and combine them well.
I have dedicated a whole chapter to IT systems in my book The 5-Star Business Network and here I would like to focus only on a few key things. To get this component right, you also need to see things through the eyes of the system provider. It is a delicate dance between rigid functionality and flexible business outcome.
How do you choose the right software for, say forecasting, from among more than 2,500 such systems? How do you link this system to the other systems it needs to work closely with – say inventory management software? How do you pick the right inventory management software from among more than 2,000 systems that claim to do more or less the same thing? Do you go for a single solution that is about 50%-60% right, at best – or do you go for a best-of-breed solution that can cover more than 85% of your need, if you do it properly? All these are very complex questions to answer.
Figure below, taken from my book The 5-Star Business Network, illustrates just some of the ways a business can falter along their road to using IT for business transformation.
FIGURE: PROBLEMS WITH USING INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY FOR BUSINESS TRANSFORMATIONS
Then you configure the pieces to form an integrated system, that meets your rapidly changing needs in a business transformation.
We need to revisit the strategic component, to examine the level of disconnect between the corporate strategy and the IT capabilities and carefully find tools that fill that gap.
In the past, it might have been the case that corporate strategies were made up in the air, then supply chain strategies were formed by people down in the warehouses based on their own assumptions about what the business wanted to achieve, and the IT staff work in their own cubicles to provide systems based on poorly articulated needs.
If the above example of three isolated types of strategies resonates with your personal experience, you would also concur that despite numerous vocal calls for enterprise-wide collaboration, people still continue to work in silos. This is equal to saying many companies are still staying at Supply Chain 0.0 while others are moving towards 1.0 or 2.0 or, even mastering Supply Chain 3.0.
Figure – The process and service component
As you can see from Figure above, which shows typical processes in a supply chain 1.0, there are four levels that need to be weaved into a cohesive whole. Typically, there can be missing links between processes – vertically, or even horizontally.
Even worse, for instance, a delivery scheduler may not know how his work output related to that of his next cubicle neighbor – the customer forecast expert.
During a transformation, processes and services may get streamlined, re-aligned or even created from scratch to accommodate change. That is why it is pivotal to keep in mind how they all fit together by devising a visual presentation such as the pyramid diagram above.
I was having a conversation with one of the senior executives responsible for business transformation in a large-sized industrial company with operations and plants across the developed world. This particular person had come from one of the top tier global consulting houses and obviously was very well versed in the hypothesis-driven problem-solving approach, which both he and I had learned in our formative years in top tier consulting houses. He was adamant that this approach would be enough to carry out a large-scale supply chain transformation in his business. Hence, he was very skeptical about the supply chain methodologies that we were espousing.
In his mind, he could derive the same results from the first principles using his hypothesis-driven approach. And I was patiently explaining to him the difference between going back to the first principles to create a new approach, and deploying a tried and tested approach for supply chain transformations which had the benefit of having adapted the same hypothesis-driven approach.
So I gave him an example of the early stage motorcars where people were still using solid rubber tires and a number of fittings which were a carry-over from the days of horse buggies. Of course, if he had the luxury of time and budget to make all the mistakes there were, he could probably recreate a modern-day motorcar, going through all the stages of evolution. He was smarter than most of the population, so he could perhaps complete the task in 20% of the time that it took for the actual evolution to take place and perhaps, at 20% of the budget. Yet, if a modern-day motorcar was already developed, wouldn’t he be better off testing if it suited his purpose and adapting it for his use?
Obviously, on one hand, you can become too rigid and attached to the process itself. On the other hand, robust processes, based on experience from a number of similar business transformations in the past, are far more useful than some skeptics envisage.
After all, who would you like to be your guide for a climb – a person who can theoretically show you a path through a map of a mountain, or a person who has actually traversed that particular journey several times before, and knows all the pitfalls along the road?
Now let us talk about the “service” bit in the process and service component.
One of the hangovers from the last century industrial organizations which never ceases to surprise me in a modern-day organization, is the importance attached to a product in comparison to the importance attached to service by the company.
What do I mean by that?
The service might be just fitting the product, or providing the right information about the product, or helping customers choose the right product for their needs.
To give you an example, if you are a customer of a motorcar company like Ford or General Motors and you are looking for a particular part, you will be amazed to know how many different possibilities there are of fitting the right part for the purpose. You will then need to discuss your particular needs with someone called a Parts Interpreter in order to pick a suitable part for your motorcar. It is a very specialized job and invaluable service provided by the car industry to its customers. It is the service that makes the cost of parts more expensive than the base cost of manufacturing and selling that part.
In almost every project we have done, when we calculated the overall cost-to-serve, it is very clear that the product component of the cost was supplemented by the service component of the cost, which was quite substantial to start with, and getting higher progressively.
In other words, the overall cost-to-serve is made up of cost of product plus cost of service, each a fairly significant component of the overall cost-to-serve. Then why do companies keep ignoring the cost of service or treat it as a minor hassle, rather than manage it as an overall part of the full cost equation?
Hence, service is merely an after-thought, even though the cost of service might, in many cases, be higher than the cost of product.
That is the reason why a cost-to-serve analysis is an eye-opener for senior management teams or for boards of directors, when an overall cost breakdown is laid out, clearly showing that cost of product is far less than the cost of service. Suddenly, the entire orientation of the management changes towards managing the service component much more efficiently and effectively than they have ever done in the past.
We have noticed that tendency in airlines, in the automotive industry, the mining industry and in many other industries.
Similar to the informational component, companies are increasingly discovering their ability to cherry-pick service providers that deal with different service modules. Before this can happen, service components must be broken up into geographical, asset based and activity based components to discover and engage best service provider for each module. This is known as modularization.
Then, service modules are homogenized in order to create and manage parallel interactions with several service providers at same time. The cherry-picking or commoditization of service modules enables you to configure a best-of-breed customized business-to-business network that would be impossible to emulate for your competitors, and provide flexibility, cost advantage and risk mitigation to your company.
Sure you will need the right tools, and deploy them rightly – that is important. But much more important is why you are deploying them, and are you getting the right results from them?
It’s no surprise that customers hate companies with too much internal focus. As organizations free up their inter-departmental planning from rigidities, the communications start to bloom. Efficiency improves considerable and everybody starts running together, faster. However, a higher set of problems emerge due to lack of external focus – on suppliers, customers, and end-consumers. Many times everybody inside the organization is running together, faster, but in the wrong direction.