Sunday 21st Oct 2018 - Logistics Manager Magazine

Supply chain management – art or science

Exactly what is the skills-set required to be a leader in supply chain management? Is good SCM an art or a science?

In order to understand the skills-set needed, it’s first necessary to consider the primary functions of the supply chain, and these are commonly broken down into Plan, Source, Make, Deliver and Return. Meticulous attention to detail and an analytical aptitude may well be a pre-requisite to sound planning, but a creative streak is surely necessary when the broad strategy is being considered. This too stretches into sourcing, as here creative thinking is as much a part of the sourcing process as attention to cost and service.

Across manufacturing and physical distribution, the rigorous discipline of close attention to business metrics is considered essential, but then thinking ‘outside the box’ can deliver significant savings or service advantages to the customer. The art of good communications with say, marketing or sales functions, may well come into play.

So, is supply chain management more art than science? Well, in my view, a leader in SCM will have the core attributes of sound analytical skills and problem solving capabilities, but beyond these essentials, a creative spark to deliver ground breaking and competition beating strategy. Science may be the bedrock, but art plays the greater part in delivering competitive strategy.

On a purely functional level, IT tools can be deployed to automate processes and a watchful eye on performance data can ensure a smooth running supply chain. To a greater degree, a scientific approach delivers the best results. But when problems occur, due to unforeseen circumstances, the art of good SCM depends on innovative thinking, quick reactions (which may preclude lengthy analysis) and confidence that can only come with experience.

In truth, a well run supply chain needs a dedicated team composed of individuals with complementary skills, applied across the varied functions of what is a multi-faceted management discipline. The team leader must have a combination of skills, but perhaps above all else an ability to engage the team, deliver a creative strategy and communicate – now that’s an art, isn’t it?