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A Better Way to Put Out Supply Chain Fires

Feb. 3, 2020
Follow these steps to transform your indirect supply chain through a solutions mindset.

Your business card probably doesn’t say “firefighter.” But you may feel like most of your time is spent fighting fires—responding to crises, implementing the latest corporate initiative, or fixing a problem before it turns into a full-fledged disaster

Getting through your daily to-do list in those circumstances is hard enough. Doing the most important parts of your job—increasing quality and efficiency, reducing costs and strengthening profitability—may seem impossible.

The most successful managers I’ve worked with, though, have been able to focus on those key priorities by embracing a solutions mindset to every aspect of their businesses and jobs, including their maintenance repair and operations (MRO) supply chains.

Every manufacturing facility faces problems, of course. A solutions mindset doesn’t magically eliminate that. But it does help you approach problems differently. Rather than asking, “How do we fix this problem now?” a solutions mindset asks, “How can we fix this problem permanently and ensure it never happens again?”

This way of thinking can transform your daily routine. As problems are prevented, you’ll have more time to think creatively and strategically about the performance goals for which you’re responsible.

A fully implemented solutions approach for your indirect supply chain can lead to cost reductions of 15%, sometimes more. While tackling problems one-by-one may produce some savings, you won’t get the cost reductions that a comprehensive solutions approach brings.

A solutions mindset for your supply chain also will lead to improvements in inventory optimization, order visibility and labor efficiency. It’s not just cheaper; it’s better.

As you start down that solutions road, however, you’ll need to discipline yourself to step away from the barrage of calls, texts and e-mails for a bit and think carefully and strategically about your role, your manufacturing facility and your company. This can be intimidating at first, but it’s worth the effort.

Ready? Here are the five steps to adopting a solutions mindset:

1. Analyze where your time goes. Reviewing your calendar and analyzing how you spend your time is a good first step in identifying potential improvements. Whether you’re calling suppliers, placing orders, expediting emergency shipments, reconciling invoices, or managing lead times, you’ll probably spot opportunities to be more efficient. Anything you touch more than once or delegate (even if it’s just sometimes) is something that probably could be automated or handled more efficiently.

2. Consider how your end-to-end supply chain affects upstream and downstream functions. When something happens in your supply chain—an order is initiated, materials move, inventory is stored, a part is used, etc.—find out what led to that action, and what will happen next. Are these processes efficient and automated where possible? Every inefficiency creates opportunities for errors and higher costs.

3. Set goals to address what you’ve identified. Now that you know how you and your facility could be performing better, you can set goals to increase efficiencies and improve processes. Doing this before consulting with external partners ensures that any solution will be tightly focused on your company’s priorities.

4. Identify service partners who can provide comprehensive solutions. Now’s the time to start talking with potential service partners. These aren’t just companies that can sell you a product. These are companies that wrap competitively priced products in value-added services provided by knowledgeable, responsive professionals and backed up with smart technology.

5. Get site and company buy-in. Finally, do the required work to get buy-in and approvals from decision makers and key stakeholders. A solutions-focused service provider will offer new ways to order, store and manage your indirect inventory. Your leadership must understand how the company will get cost savings, productivity improvements and other improvements in return.

A solutions mindset will do more than just make your supply chain more efficient and your facility more productive. It also will get you out of firefighting mode, as shortages, crises and inefficient tasks drop away.

Your workdays will be more pleasant, of course. And you’ll find yourself with more time to think strategically and creatively—and implement new solutions—as you figure out the next improvement you can tackle.

Darr Greenhalgh is senior manager of customer solutions at MSC Industrial Supply Co., an industrial equipment supplier. He has more than 25 years of experience in procurement, project management, lean supply chain management and manufacturing in a range of industries.

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