Oct 17, 2023
Guest Blog: How a purposeful team structure creates a successful Supply Chain strategy
As a Supply Chain manager or Operations manager and leader, the supply chain management challenges you are consistently navigating through are plentiful and tricky. We’re often reacting in supply chain, and solving problems on the fly, you might call it firefighting (most of the supply chain professionals I work with refer to it as exactly that).
So, to really progress amidst these ever-present supply chain management challenges, we really need a clear vision for your team to inform a successful supply chain strategy. Furthermore, and something not discussed as much, it’s imperative to ensure there is an enabling team structure to support that successful supply chain strategy.
In this blog I will walk through these 3 elements – vision, strategy, and structure, that will give you practical ways you can implement this idea into your own team.
What’s your Supply Chain vision?
Before we can get into the supply chain strategy, we must first define a vision for our team. As supply chain professionals, we can get a little sniffy when words like “vision” are bandied about. “Isn’t that for Marketing!?” But it’s absolutely not! It's more than a fuzzy statement- it's the beacon that shines out and makes sure that team decisions, processes and operations are heading in the right direction.
To create a meaningful supply chain vision you need to have the whole team involved and ask yourselves questions such as ;
- Where would we like to be in a year's time?
- How do we want other teams to describe us?
- How do we want customers to think of us?
- What brilliant things do we want our customers to say about us?
An example for a supply chain team in a health and beauty business could be something like:
Elevating Beauty Through Precision and Care: Ensuring every product arrives on time, in perfect condition, through a supply chain where efficiency and exceptional service are our guiding stars.
When done well, a vision makes sure your supply chain team are coherent and focused on the overarching goal/s amidst all the firefighting and supply chain management challenges. It’s a framework for impactful decision-making. And every day as you work your team can think “If it’s not taking us towards the vision – why are we doing it?”
2. A successful Supply Chain strategy
So how does that translate into a successful supply chain strategy?
Well, the strategy should be actionable, day-to-day operations within the supply chain that get you there. This is where we break it down into smaller objectives, key results, and pragmatic steps.
Examples could be choosing between suppliers to advance towards the vision (new transport providers for example to improve service rate), deciding on logistics partnerships, or prioritising between conflicting operational needs. Perhaps it’s improving forecasting by working more closely with data or our commercial teams.
A successful supply chain strategy should not only anchor these decisions within the vision, but also provide a roadmap for consistent execution, so things happen even when supply chain management challenges drive us into fire-fighting mode meaning that we have a clear path to follow to continue to make progress on the bigger vision.
A supply chain strategy should include non-negotiable accountability check-ins, or break down the projects sharing actions across the team according to each person’s skills.
3. Supply Chain team structure
Now! For a supply chain strategy to be a successful supply chain strategy, the team structure should reflect the vision and strategy. It should inherently support and facilitate strategic objectives, ensuring that the vision is not just a thing you do once at the beginning of the year and forget about – it should resonate in the day-to-day actions and decisions of the team.
What could that look like?
Staying close to the skills needed to execute the vision and strategy is key. Here are some examples and my thoughts on some key skills that will likely be necessary in a supply chain team regardless of your vision;
- Analytical skills: Using data is becoming more and more important in supply chain. It’s critical within the forecasting process, stock control and lots more. Depending on your team’s specific priorities - it might make sense to think about having a data specialist or data analyst within the team with great data and analytical skills.
- Collaboration and communication skills: If a key objective is to work more closely with the commercial team as an example - you could align the accounts (customers) each of the team manage with those of the commercial team - a team member's ability to understand and translate the needs of different departments ensures that the supply chain is always working in tandem with your customers.
- Problem-solving and adaptability: Team members need to be BRILLIANT problem solvers, given the supply chain management challenges consistently faced. The ability to quickly pivot, especially during a crisis, and find alternative routes or solutions, while keeping the overall vision in sight, is crucial.
- Customer-centric approach: If customer satisfaction is a pillar of the vision (e.g. ensuring every product arrives on time in perfect condition), having individuals with a customer-centric mindset and experience in customer service can be invaluable.
- Tech-savvy: Given the rise of digital transformation in supply chains, team members who are adept with technology or specialise in IT could pave the way for more efficient operations. They could introduce and manage digital tools that streamline supply chain processes and data management.
- Negotiation skills: Not just for sales teams! Individuals who can negotiate are instrumental when dealing with suppliers and logistics partners. This ensures the business secures favourable terms and builds beneficial partnerships, all while keeping in line with the strategy and vision.
4. For Supply Chain leaders
For leaders in supply chain management, embedding clarity, and aligning vision, strategy, and structure requires great communication, consistent reinforcement, and ongoing feedback and adjustments – leaders need to do more of what’s working and less of what isn’t.
A cohesively aligned vision, strategy and structure will mean that despite the constant firefighting disruptions, you're still heading towards the predefined, considered destination, and not just leaving things to chance.
About our Guest Author – Litsa Smith is the founder of Unscramble me and is an ex-supply chain leader with over 20 years’ experience leading fast-paced teams.
Litsa helps Supply Chain and Operations teams (supplier or retail side), to be more motivated, autonomous, and effective, so they succeed and be recognized for doing so. She also consults to ultimately help Supply Chain managers make the often-tricky transition to leaders.
Litsa has produced a short guide providing proven, easy-to-implement ideas for managers of busy operational teams who want to balance shifting priorities with nurturing a confident, thriving team.