Supply chain disruptions and how to avoid them

supply chain disruptions

Executive Summary
A well-oiled supply chain is the source of sustainable competitive advantage, but even the most resilient supply chains can fall prey to unexpected disruption. Be it too much or too little inventory, inaccurate demand forecasting or natural disasters, supply chains are easily destabilised by a myriad of factors. The result is a significant impact on cost, cash and service. Following is a synopsis of a presentation delivered by Global Supply Chain Improvement Strategist and former Procter & Gamble supply chain leader, Jeanne Reisinger, at a TRACC Shanghai Summit.


Mitigating risk is an imperative for most organisations, but how can you successfully minimise, and even avoid, supply chain disruption? The answer lies in the creation of an integrated demand-driven value chain executed with excellence, through collaborative horizontal processes, with cross- functionally aligned goals and measures. This integrated approach to the value chain will make you a preferred supplier and customer, and enable you to win in the market.

In my 32 years as a supply chain strategist at Procter & Gamble, I experienced the gamut of supply chain disruptions. An emphasis on collaborative planning and forecasting replenishment made P&G a leader in supply chain innovation, and many of our key customers have benefited from our expertise.

To move your supply chain in the right direction — that is, from a state of constant fire-fighting to a culture of sustainable continuous improvement — you need a clear vision and an understanding of the five steps of supply chain transformation:

Step 1
Step 2
Step 3
Step 4
Step 5
Understand customer segments and their needs Create a business strategy to win with customers Align supply chain strategy to the business strategy Execute with excellence Prepare for the worst/Be agile

Step 1: Understand customer segments and their needs
The first, and most critical, element of understanding your customer segments is knowing your customer, which means, quite simply, talking to your customer. Many organisations follow the ‘bowtie model’ when engaging with customers — the buyer interacts almost exclusively with the salesperson, and, more often than not, the conversation revolves around unit price. Of course, your customers’ needs are not limited to unit price; there is a spectrum of customer requirements that you need to explore and understand. To effectively gauge your customer’s unique needs, other members of the organisation must engage with your customer, that’s why P&G reconceptualised the bowtie model, to ensure that sales, logistics, marketing and finance representatives from both organisations lined up, respectively.

The first, and most critical, element of understanding your customer segments is knowing your customer.

Another key aspect of understanding your customers’ needs is segmenting them by their service differences. Initially, we segmented our customers geographically, but when we took a closer look at their service needs, we realised that they differed by channel. Different customers required different packaging options and product quantities. Grocery stores, for example, are able to carry the full line-up of our products, while pharmacy retailers have smaller shelves and aren’t equipped to carry the full line-up. Learning what the customer’s needs are, and then segmenting them, is a fundamental requirement for supply chain alignment.

Step 2: Create a business strategy to win with customers
supply chain disruptionsCreating a business strategy is the next step; and this process is unique to each company. At P&G, we used a two-pronged process to develop our business strategy. With this approach, we devised two parallel strategies which helped us determine where we wanted to play, and how we were going to win in the market.

The combined strategy provided the framework for a company-wide, multifunctional focus on the consumer — we wanted everyone in the company to understand that the ‘consumer is boss’.

To do that, we had to win at the first and second moments of truth. The first moment of truth occurs when the shopper is choosing a product at the shelf. To win with the shopper at this critical juncture you need to, firstly, be on the shelf, and secondly, you have to have a clean enough shelf presence that helps the consumer understand the difference between your various offerings. Focusing on the first moment of truth enabled us to galvanise the whole supply chain to deliver on our promise to our consumers.

The second moment of truth occurs when the consumer has bought the product and starts using it. If the consumer is satisfied with the product, we can begin to build a relationship with them. Other elements of our strategy included delivering best-in-class cost, cash and productivity, and leveraging organisational and operational excellence. Once we’d refined our business strategy, the next step was to align it to our supply chain strategy.

Step 3: Align supply chain strategy to the business strategy
John Gattorna’s Dynamic Supply Chain Alignment model posits that different buying behaviours call for different supply chain solutions. For example, the lower left quadrant of the model, ‘Continuous Replenishment’, points to a collaborative customer buying behaviour that engenders a supply chain focused on continuous replenishment. This is in sharp contrast to the lower right quadrant, ‘Agile’, where customer behaviour is erratic and unpredictable, and agility is required to satisfy customer needs.

supply chain disruptions_graph


We applied this model to our customer segments, and found that our mass merchandise customers, for example, fit into the lower left quadrant, because they wanted to be collaborative and were willing to give us a forecast. Continuous replenishment and vendor managed inventory worked particularly well for these customers. In contrast, some of our convenience store customers weren’t as collaborative or as willing to share information, so we had to be more agile to meet some of their needs.

While this model can guide your efforts to create and sustain multiple supply chains, remember that customers don’t always fit neatly into specific quadrants. To truly succeed in satisfying your customer, you need to focus your thinking on what your customer needs and on how you can create a supply chain that meets those needs, day in and day out.

Once we’d applied the model to our customer segments, the next step was to apply the model to our brands. Our hair care brands, for example, fit in the bottom left quadrant — demand for these products is predictable and customers are willing to collaborate. Demand for other brands, such as Duracell batteries — which fall into the ‘Agile’ quadrant — tends to be steady, but if there’s a natural disaster and ensuing power failures, demand will spike and you have to have the capacity to respond to that.

Balancing customer segments with the demand for specific brands can be challenging, that’s why we created a three-tier velocity model to help us categorise the buying characteristics of our customers.

High-velocity customers require continuous replenishment — full pallets and full truckloads are shipped directly to these customers from the plant. Medium-velocity customers prefer full truckloads of mixed brands, which don’t come directly from the plant. Low-velocity customers fall into the less-than-truckload (LTL) category; these customers order their products as required.

To truly succeed in satisfying your customer, you need to focus your thinking on what your customer needs, and on how you can create a supply chain that meets those needs.

Before the inception of the alignment model, we had a ‘one-size fits all’ policy, which meant that all our customers had to buy directly from the plant. Our low-velocity customers were, as a consequence, buried in excess inventory, because their product requirements fluctuated. When we made a concerted effort to listen to these customers’ needs, we were able to create a supply chain that satisfied their requirements and helped us win with this group.

The lesson we learnt from this is that satisfying your customers’ needs is a multidimensional process: you need to take into account customer service, customer segment difference, the different natures of your brands, and the customer segments that buy one way for a certain brand and in another tier for another brand. It’s imperative that you become acquainted with your customer service requirements so that your supply chain can effectively deliver to those requirements.

Step 4: Execute with excellence
The fourth, and potentially most difficult, step is executing with excellence. There are four key components of this step:

  1. Horizontal process management
  2. Common goals and measures
  3. Culture of sustainable continuous improvement
  4. Cross-functional training

Horizontal management is a way of operating an enterprise as an integrated set of processes and systems enabled by an aligned organisation designed to best serve the needs of its customers. The focus is on achieving common objectives across the entire organisation rather than within individual silos. Horizontal management is organised around a horizontal flow of work that spans the total system; processes are led by senior line management and teams are enabled to deliver the work.

supply chain disruptionsA good example of a horizontal process is when an organisation creates a new product — R&D needs to involve Manufacturing, Engineering and Procurement from the very beginning if they’re going to design a product that can be easily sourced and manufactured. Procurement is another example — before making a purchase, the total cost of ownership should be considered. This means involving Supply Chain and Finance to analyse the end-to-end service, cost and cash impact of a purchase.

Horizontal process management allows work processes to be integrated across an entire business and fosters reapplication and standardisation. It allows people ‘in the system’ to work ‘on the system’ rather than relying on outsiders who may not know how to create a good demand forecast, for example. This approach will benefit your organisation enormously in the long run.

One of the reasons I like TRACC is because it places the emphasis on common goals and measures through the creation of a balanced scorecard which is enabled by horizontal process management. Creating a culture of sustainable continuous improvement is a challenge, and while P&G had a similar programme to TRACC on the manufacturing side — TRACC benchmarked back and forth with P&G — we never had anything as robust and beneficial as TRACC on the supply chain side.

Training is the final aspect of executing with excellence; when people change roles or move to different regions, or when new employees join an organisation, training ensures a seamless continuation of the work.

Step 5: Prepare for the worst/Be Agile
Supply chain risk is a fact of life in today’s uncertain world, and natural disasters are, for the most part, inevitable. To survive the tumult that natural disasters bring, your organisation must have contingency plans for the following:

  • Single source suppliers
  • Single source manufacturing
  • Long lead time materials/products
  • All systems
  • All operations that could be impacted by natural disasters

When the tsunami hit Japan in 2011, we found that a single source of supply forced some manufacturers to go out of business temporarily. You need to design a supply chain that is flexible enough to withstand these kinds of catastrophic disruptions.

By following these five steps, you can ensure that disruptions will be kept to a minimum and that your supply chain will be safeguarded from adversity, even in times of turmoil.

This resource has been prepared for general guidance on matters of interest only, and does not constitute professional advice. You should not act upon the information contained herein without obtaining specific professional advice. Competitive Capabilities International (CCI) does not accept or assume any liability, responsibility or duty of care for any consequences of you or anyone else acting, or refraining to act, in reliance on the information contained in this resource or for any decision based on it.

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