Product managers who have been around the block understand the simple dynamics of Murphy’s Law: ‘If something can go wrong, it will.’
In business, this simple premise dictates the rule of thumb that every detail down to the smallest one can upset the apple cart.
In a supply chain, one little glitch can stop materials from reaching the right place at the right time. In that sense, a problem on the loading dock can be just as critical as a breakdown on the highway or a regulatory snafu.
Logistics is supposed to be a manageable step-by-step process in which managers solve one problem after another until the product gets to its destination. Isn’t this a fancy term for moving items from A to B? Indeed it is.
But what looks like hauling boxes to a pedestrian is a complicated business problem when work and revenue are at stake. Further, as the movement of materials or finished product is a routine event in business, it is formally known as logistics, rather than simply, “Get that stuff to Chicago by Tuesday.”
In addition, the critical word so often overlooked here is “process.” That seems so jargon – oriented it might mean nothing at all. But it is key to how business works.
If you move from New York to Milwaukee, more power to you. If you make a mistake — leaving a trunk behind or finding something has been lost en route, you can stop and solve the problem as a one-time event. But a “process” is what helps managers anticipate and deal with errors, so they don’t grow from glitches to full-grown problems.
Let’s look at it this way: In publishing, a writer hands in copy, and an editor look it over, noting errors that can be found and handed the copy back to the writer for corrections. This is a process.
Writers, no matter if they are John Updike or William Shakespeare, do not edit their own material, because they are not likely to see mistakes that they made themselves. The system banks on editors being observant and knowledgeable, but it also banks on the editors simply being someone else. You need fresh eyes to review writing. That’s how publishing relies on a process.
I recall a newspaper publisher asking me to write a story on production day, then having me look over the same story for mistakes, then having me do the final layout for the story, sending it to the press. This is a distinct lack of a process. You would think I would be honored to be trusted to edit my own work, but my reaction was completely different.
I felt he had ignored the process that creates a system of checks and balances for publishing. We got away with that one — no lawsuits that I recall. But that is not the way to run a newspaper, in my opinion.
Logistics also relies on a process. The paperwork, which may be digital these days, is absolutely critical. It is, in a sense, the artificial editor that keeps the supply system honest.
The shipping and receiving clerks are critical components — again, managers rely on them like logistics police than simply clerks. It should be impressed upon them that they are lynchpins in the logistics system. They are not just “the guy on the loading platform who checks this stuff off.”
Further, of course, any system put in place to handle logistics, if it involves business, includes the need to keep costs down without sacrificing performance.
Does it pay to operate a fleet of trucks, or use a shipping service? Which is cheaper, rail service, marine transportation, air or highway? Which system is less prone to error? Which system answers the specific needs for handling care, temperature control, protection from pests, moisture, or theft?
Managers can turn to logistics companies, which can break down services to fit the company’s needs or take over the entire logistics operations. That in itself is a process, as the company is then relying on another company with a proven track record and with process systems of their own in place.
When hiring a logistics company, shop around and compare the processes they use. Which company has the most reliable system of tracking and product protection? Don’t just look at the bottom line. Ask the right questions.
In the digital age, keeping track of products has become a staple of the logistics industry. One box can be tracked from location to location, as can routine product shipments. These improvements keep companies on their toes.
What used to be “I don’t know what happened,” has been replaced by digital tracking that allows managers to find out exactly what went wrong, when problems arise. Oh, and did I mention: Problems will invariably arise. After all, it’s Murphy’s Law. Death, taxes, and something always going wrong. We can always count on those.
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