Playing The Motherhood Card

On Time Delivery, Customer Satisfaction. Thanks, Mom

Acing Motherhood. Getty Images

In supply chain optimization, we talk a lot about supplying our customers what they want, when they want it - and getting that done by spending as little money as possible.  Okay, maybe "we" don't talk about that a lot.  Maybe it's just me talking about it.  Maybe that's just my way of making sense out of a complex and under appreciated endeavor that requires daily Herculean effort.

Yes, that is supply chain.

 Complex.  Under appreciated.  Ruled by demigods.  

And what other endeavor might defined by a similar description?  

Okay, if you read the title you know where I'm going with this.  That's right - good ol' Mom.

If there's a person who understands supplying their customers what they want, when they want it - and getting that done by spending as little money as possible - it's your mother.  She's your demigod - and while her deltoids may not be as broad as Hercules', her shoulders are always there to cry against.

But let's break down just how successful our moms have been at supply chain.


In the world of supply chain optimization, we spend so much of our time trying to get our customers what they want.  But somehow your mother knows how to do this instinctively. 

And while I, personally, am not a mother - I both have a mother and am also married to a mother.  (Herculean references aside, this is not Greek mythology.

Those are two different women that I'm referring to.)  Ergo, I have lived a majority of my life under the same roof as a mother.  Does this qualify me to write about mothers?  100% of the mothers I surveyed told me NO. 

That being said, I am writing about mothers.  (I mean, I'm only somewhat qualified to write about supply chain and yet I persist.)  By the way, the phrase "that being said" is a great example of how a mother can deliver a customer what that customer wants, whether the customer knows it or not.

  For example, consider this exchange between a mother and her 12-year-old son, "I know, I know, honey, you're exhausted and you don't feel like putting your laundry away.  That being said, if your laundry isn't off this floor and in the drawers where it belongs in five minutes, you can enjoy watching your sister eat that slice of pie." 

See there, "that being said" is the perfect tool for pivoting off what your customer wanted to hear to what your customer needed to hear. 

In the laundry/pie example above, the mother (who happens to be the mother I live with) delivered perfect customer service.  Not only did her customer get what he wanted (our son rose to the occasion and earned that slide of pie), he realized that he did, indeed, have clean underwear for school on Monday.  


What good does it do if you supply your customer what your customer wants, but you don't get it there when your customer wants it?  If you end up delivering a container load of star spangled T-shirts to your clothing retailer customer on July 5, well, that's just horrible.  And not very patriotic.  And the pie charts depicting you on your customer's supplier scorecard are all going to be red (and not with white and blue).

In supply chain, this is the first metric that everyone analyzes.  On Time Delivery.  Consultants have made their millions from explaining to the rest of us just how to do On Time Delivery.  Software developers have built their programs to the sky to help us accomplish it.  

But moms... moms know.  They don't need ERP, MRP or Mr. T helping them out.  When my daughter tells my wife that she doesn't need her Brownie vest because her Brownie troop meets after school, like, every other Friday - but my wife puts said Brownie vest into the precocious one's backpack anyway... well that's because moms know. Mom knows that because Memorial Day is coming, the Brownies re-worked their schedule and there's a meeting today, even though it's an off week.  Mom knows her customer needs better than her customer.

And in supply chain, your robust demand planning includes studying market trends, competitive landscape, sales history and, if you have to, the elementary school calendar to understand your customer needs better than your customers.  


In supply chain optimization, our ongoing Sisyphean struggle remains the rolling of our company's cost-of-goods-reduction boulder up the mountain - only to have that cost reduction boulder roll down the expedite-fee-overnight-ship-rate-unexpected-price-increase side of the mountain.  

That is to say, we work really hard to save our company's money.  And when we do, some issue invariably pops up that tries to drive costs up again.  Cost reduction is a way of life, not a one-time project.  And in order to keep on top of your company's cost reduction initiatives, a seasoned supply chain pro needs to master that last tenet of my supply chain optimization greeting card summary.  

Tenet one - get your customers what they want.  Tenet two - when they want it.  The last tenet - spend as little money as possible getting that done.  

Negotiating costs down has always been the hallmark of a supply chain pro - and where did we learn how to do this?  Well, when I was a boy, my own mom was known to employ hard-nosed negotiating with everyone, from the used Chevy salesman to her own kids.  Was she good at it?  I'll answer that with her own words:

We were living in Korea (I'm an army brat) and were shopping at one of the ubiquitous street bazaars.  A T-shirt vendor in an open air stall displayed T-shirts that my mom's three sons (me, included) were very interested in.  And the negotiations began.  My mom and the T-shirt vendor battled and clawed and were finally within 10 won (about 8 cents at the time) of a final price.  But my mom wouldn't budge.  Her price was her price.  The T-shirt vendor coughed in frustration (loosely translated, the exchange was spoken in Korean): "Ugh, you argue over 8 cents and you dress like that!"  (In fairness, my mom was dressed fashionably, but not like a "Dynasty" cast member.)  My mom's retort, "I can dress like this because I argue over 8 cents!"  

And she walked away.  We didn't get our T-shirts.  But the T-shirt vendor didn't get his price.  Wait, I'm not sure this qualifies as a negotiation success story.  Just something that clearly still jars me awake in the middle of the night.  Maybe it's why I'm constantly buying my own kids T-shirts.  Why oh why, Mommy, didn't you get us those T-shirts?  "I can dress like this because I argue over 8 cents!"?  8 cents?

Or maybe this painful memory does qualify as a supply chain success story.  Could "I can dress like this because I argue over 8 cents" be the supply chain equivalent of "My company achieves its financial goals because I argue over cost of goods reductions." 

I'm going with that.


I'll let you decide.  Let's say you're interviewing candidates for a supply chain management job.  The first candidate is a guy who has never been in supply chain, per se, but seemingly has all kinds of experience and success in a wide array of businesses - real estate, gaming, airline and hospitality industries, to name a few.  The second candidate is a mom. 

What do we know about candidate two - the mom?  We know she can multitask.  Whether she was the first lady in her house or making sure everyone she cared for had health care or being a secretary in some department, she focused on getting her customers what they wanted, when they wanted it - while being fiscally responsible.  Candidate two knows how to manage multiple, often conflicting demands, while making sure the broader organization's goals are met.  Because that's what moms do.

Candidate one talks a big game.  But leading organizations by using nearly dictatorial, authoritarian rule does not qualify a candidate to manage complex, cross functional teams.  True, not all supply chain managers are the nicest guys in the room, but a successful supply chain pro knows how to forge win-win relationships.  Sorry, candidate one, you're, uh, not hired. 

And, sure, in today's world a mom is much more than a caregiver, moral compass, task master, family icon, calendar keeper, CEO, supply chain director, ponytail fixer, homework checker and everyone's-go-to-for-everything, she's, well, wait - what was my point?  Oh, yeah, if you're ever not sure which way to go - throw your all your chips into the ante, call home... and ask your own personal supply chain champ to play her motherhood card.  You'll both win.