The destination, they say, is not important. It’s the journey that counts.
Well, if ever I needed proof, I certainly got it when I trekked the Southeast Ridge recently to the Everest Base Camp – a 10 day, 17,000+ft expedition. It’s a tough but incredibly rewarding journey, just to reach that point. But seeing the parties of climbers preparing for the final ascent of Everest itself makes you realise just what an extraordinary effort it takes.
On the way home, I couldn’t resist drawing some analogies with my work in supply chain transformation. After all, no business challenge is complete without a mountaineering metaphor.
So here are my “Five ways Supply Chain Transformation is like an Everest ascent”:
1] Setting objectives – aside from just ‘getting to the top’ you need to define your goals very clearly at the start. Mountaineers pick and choose their routes based on all sorts of criteria. How you decide to structure your supply chain depends on a similar range of requirements, from a Tax Efficient Accounting strategy to the idiosyncrasies of specific sectors.
2] Break the journey into steps – Like some of today’s more demanding adventure tourists, businesses need their supply chain transformation fast these days. But be sure to set out some clear earlier milestones to success. If you’re able to build momentum internally, it’s much easier to manage expectations and demonstrate value. Key milestones can be things like the creation of a global process model for the transformation, or setting up a pilot for a particular geography or product line.
3] Plan for setbacks – any ambitious ascent will have its unexpected challenges. Mountaineers manage a complex mix of dependencies and I find that having a plan B (at least!) is crucial in supply chain transformation too. For example, the transformation of business processes may be progressing well, but a delay in technology implementation can throw things off course. How flexible is your process model to allow you to get things back on track?
4] A new generation of Sherpa – this is my favourite because it’s a real live issue. The Supply Chain landscape is changing fast and organisations need access to people with a new mix of competencies in the latest technology and analytics, as well as business processes. Just as mountaineers depend on the ever impressive Sherpa in Nepal, supply chain transformation programmes need support from a new generation of expert guides.
5] Don’t forget to enjoy the view from the top – with the right metrics and reporting in place, you should be able to track and celebrate the results of all that hard work! Most mountaineers make sure they get the photo on the summit, after all.
Transforming the world’s supply chains – why do we do it?
Perhaps the most interesting parallel for me is about motivation. The early mountaineers were repeatedly asked what drove them on to conquer the world’s highest peaks. George Mallory famously replied of Everest, “Because it’s there”.
I love to see the same pioneering spirit in the new generation of Supply Chain professionals. In many ways, we’re really pushing the boundaries too. Our research tells us that demand is fluctuating more rapidly than ever and consumer behaviours are changing fundamentally. There are so many industries that simply can’t continue with the status quo and have to adapt to this new environment fast.
We need to attract new skills and top talent into our field, so we really should remind everyone what a fascinating and rewarding area this is to work in today. When you are a Supply Chain Sherpa, you are helping the modern world go round – and the sense of achievement at the summit is worth it!