by Kirk White, Yusen Logistics (Americas) Inc.
Global logistics is a lot like jazz music. Just as a band can never soar higher than its least talented player, a supply chain will never be more effective than its weakest link.
German car behemoth, BMW, realized the truth of this when they experienced, in quick succession, two separate service failures due to a critical suppliers not being able to provide key components for BMW's just-in-time manufacturing needs. Assembly lines in China and South Africa were stalled when a major supplier was unable to deliver steering gears "just-in-time" for production; the delay was actually attributable to the supplier's SUPPLIER, who was delayed in producing cases for the gears. All of this fell closely on the heels of another identical service failure to a German BMW plant that halted production for days. The supplier is working on aggressively fixing the link in their own supply chain as well as compensating BMW for its loss of production, but none of that will matter to the customers at the end of BMW's proverbial road, who will now experience delays in receiving their cars. The butterfly effect is in full swing here – one tiny component issue has caused ripple effects across oceans of commerce.
Many retailers can relate to BMW, even those that do not manufacture just-in-time. A vendor runs late in production and advertised summer leisure merchandise suddenly becomes critical as all involved hustle to expeditiously and (more importantly) economically rush the goods overseas.
From mile markers to Miles Davis, we can look to the world of jazz not just for commiseration, but also inspiration. There's a famous maxim for jazz cats, "serve the music, not yourself" and the greatest of the greats, Davis, Coltrane, Kenny G, are lauded for what they bring to the total ensemble as much as monstrous individual skill on their instruments. A truly great musician has the ability – by having a grand scope of knowledge and knowing history and theory, by being flexible and present in the moment, by forgoing ego and the desire to play the best individual solo and instead focus on the song as a total, by having complete entity – to bring lesser players up. By focusing on the SONG itself and not on any one component, one goes from good to great….and more importantly, makes great music.
The same philosophy is true for supply chain logistics; the truly great providers never lose sight of the end goal – to DELIVER (in every sense of that word). All the bells and whistles, pretty reports, and dazzling new technological innovations don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world of logistics if there isn't first a fundamental heart of true collaboration in the mix. The desire to make music; to move things…
So choose your band members wisely. Be wary if you find a supplier's first reaction in times of crisis is to go back through all pertinent communication in order to prove they are not at fault…especially if this takes precedence over solving the ever-escalating issue at hand!
There's a great Japanese term used at Yusen, Hansei. It literally means "reflection" but for purposes of quality, it denotes that in times of crisis, one should first take a quick (REALLY quick) moment of repose to assure that the failure is not a personal indictment and then jump in with both feet and, full on Apollo 13 style, WORK THE PROBLEM. There should be no moment during a crisis where anyone is concerned with "blame-storming" over problem solving.
Great providers should practice a lean approach to quality and service (Hansei/Reflection, 5 Why's, PDCA, etc.) with the goal of identifying and resolving potential issues either before they occur (through fluidity, knowledge and resourcefulness), or in time to avoid any serious consequences (through robust fully developed systems and processes, dependable networks, and a deft team empowered and encouraged to do whatever it takes).
Or, to quote another figure of note in logistics, "none of us is as good as all of us."
…and the band played on.
Kirk White has worked in every division of Yusen Logistics. After a brief stint in Transportation, he transferred to Corporate, where he coordinated Yusen's Employee Empowered Kaizen system and served as a Specialist for the Business Process Re-engineering group, after which he moved to the Warehouse division to serve as the East Coast Quality Manger before ultimately joining the International division, where he hopes to use his Quality knowledge base to prove an asset to OCM.
CLICK HERE to return to the JUNE 2017 RVCF LINK