Some of the best lessons are a combination of textbook theory and real-world experience. Watching the students at the University of Maryland build a supply chain strategy to compete with nearly a dozen similar teams worldwide offered some good examples of how cultural bias and life experience contribute to strategy and tactics and ultimately influence results. (See "What If Game on a Global Scale," Logistics Today, April 2007, pg. 22.)
One common denominator for the students was classroom exposure to logistics and supply chain management concepts. In many companies (and their supply chains), the gap created by culture and experience is widened by a lack of this shared core knowledge of logistics principles.
I found a good example of how this works closer to home as I watched a different set of logistics teams face the challenge of traveling over 4,000 miles to a family wedding. Even though most of the wedding party and guests wouldn't have recognized it as such, they all formed distinct logistics strategies for the event. Some strategies were successful, some had glitches, and others failed—almost disastrously.
The bride and groom used a combination of local sourcing and long-haul transportation to ensure everything arrived on time and intact. They reduced the number of items at risk in the long-haul pipeline by locating and contracting with sources at destination to provide some necessary goods and services. Execution was flawless.
Unable to outsource many of our own needs, my team established a "forward stocking location" by expediting a shipment to destination and used the same long-haul combination carrier (airline) to move us and the remainder of our goods. With some safety stock at destination and a little recovery time built in, a small delivery delay was easily overcome.
Others were less fortunate, and when one group encountered a significant delay resulting from a carrier failure (equipment breakdown), the moment was nearly lost for lack of an alternate carrier and insufficient recovery time.
One of the groomsmen trusted his entire "shipment" to an interline move that missed a critical hand off. Again, lack of recovery time and with no "inventory buffer" or local source to replace the missing goods, he was only a couple of hours away from the wedding when the re-routed shipment arrived.
Like many logistics professionals addressing functional managers in their own organization, I tried in advance to explain the need for a strategy, offered some elements of a plan and outlined the responsibilities of each party. After making little progress with a group that lacked an appreciation for the basic principles of logistics, I simply concentrated on my own "supply chain."
For a groomsman who stands with the wedding party in his jeans and t-shirt, poor logistics planning is embarrassing. For a company that disappoints a major customer or shuts down a production line, there are major economic consequences.
It's tough enough gaining consensus when everyone has some knowledgeof logistics principles. If you're not in a "logistics organization" that has institutionalized this knowledge, you can spend much of your time as teacher and counselor.
Experience is often the best teacher, if the consequences of the lessons aren't too grave.