SHOULD SUPPLY CHAINS BE RUN AS MULTIPLE AGILE PROJECTS?
About the Author: Sandeep is an Associate Director with Deloitte with responsibility for engagements in advisory practice. Prior to Deloitte, he has worked with KPMG, Tata Motors, Lafarge, Infosys and Oracle Consulting and his key strengths lie in the areas of supply chain management, business process reengineering, emerging countries enablement, network optimization, Emerging Technologies. He holds an MBA from Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode and a Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical), Bengal Engineering and Science University, Shibpur (formerly Bengal Engineering College).
To put it precisely, supply chain is all we do to deliver a product or a service to a customer. Though it logically starts with Tier3 suppliers and culminates in after sales services, it actually starts with the customer and all the activities are interconnected with multi-directional flow of information, material/service and money. The importance of supply chain has risen to unprecedented levels during the pandemic where demand-supply match was the critical metric to save lives in all walks of life. While all these years supply chains have been wrongly identified with purchasing or logistics, this function is of paramount importance these days primarily due to the drastic reduction in customer tolerance times. Today’s supply chains are both efficient and resilient, profit-centres and are increasingly agile.
With rapid strides in technology and need of the hour, today’s supply chains are designed against the backdrop of multiple what-if-scenarios and are 24 x 7 ON Networks. But there is a myth that supply chains are planned overnight and it is all about just in time. It is important to understand that to arrive at a schedule at a minute by minute level, there is a methodical long-term planning, medium term planning and a short-term planning.
This brings us to the interesting discussion on whether agile project management principles can be used to run the modern supply chains. To put it precisely, agile project management delves on the principles of an iterative approach where large projects are broken down into multiple manageable tasks which have a completion in short iterations. Modern day supply chains work on similar ideologies where complex processes are broken down into multiple manageable inter-connected tasks to deliver a product or a service to a customer. Since supply chains are non-linear and multi-directionally connected, an ever-increasing group of tasks are completed in short iterations to minimize the classic bull-whip effect. The key components of agile project management namely user stories, sprints, agile board, stand-up meetings and backlog also have an avatar in supply chains. The user stories are equivalent to the functional task descriptions , sprints are completion of a certain group of tasks within a certain time period (with necessary feedback loop), agile board is the modern-day control tower, stand-up meetings are collaboration across functions and backlog is identifying the red zone in the supply chain. But the similarity ends here. A project has a definite start date and an end date while supply chains are eternal. A project works on an identified need and has a definite charter, metrics and goals while supply chains are going concerns, are extra-ordinarily dynamic and the goals and metrics do not follow the one-size fits all. Modern day supply chains thrive in a better customer experience at each moment and operate in highly unambiguous conditions.
To summarize, some of the principles of agile project management can be readily used to support the modern-day adaptive supply chains.