Hanging around operations professors for a few months has made me realize I think entirely too little about the small wonders in my everyday life. In short, I’m starting to feel like I should take a moment of awed silence with my iPod Nano before I shuffle to my running mix and hustle down the street. The supply chain for even the simplest product out there (a bottle of water, for one) is really anything but. On a global scale, it’s a tightrope walk of symphonic precision with a healthy dose of interpersonal diplomacy for good measure.
It’s that diplomacy that slowly took center stage at the latest supply chain forum hosted by Fisher’s Center for Operational Excellence and featuring Prof. Edward Anderson of the University of Texas. On the surface, Anderson’s presentation to dozens of COE members on campus and streaming live was about the potential potholes that form in distributed product development (COE members can view the webcast here). As he illuminated ways for determining the best strategy to avoid potentially costly problems, a prominent theme emerged: This globe-spanning process doesn’t come down to widgets and machines. It comes down to living, breathing human beings.
And we’re a complicated and costly bunch, Anderson told the crowd.
“People are the glue,” he said. “The problem is, we’re expensive glue.”
Central to Anderson’s presentation was the idea that with the right people in place to manage risks from one boundary to another in product development, the lower the risk of lost money, drained value and public embarrassment. And these crucial patches aren’t grand gestures – sometimes they’re as simple as hiring someone who knows how to tactfully ensure a supplier’s “i”s are dotted and “t”s are crossed.
A favorite example of mine: If only the titular rockers in the cult mockumentary This is Spinal Tap (pictured above) hired a designer who knew their Stonehenge replica should be 18 feet…not 18 inches.
How has your company used its work force to break down barriers in a supply chain? Have a “Stonehenge moment” you’d like to share?