The Supply Chain Identity

Is "The Martian" Matt Damon's best supply chain movie?

Secret Supply Chain
Secret Supply Chain. Getty Images

Kudos to Matt Damon for making what looks to be a thrill-ride of a supply chain movie.  But then, what other kind of movie would a supply chain movie be

The Martian appears to capture the very essence of the day-to-day challenges of supply chain management – not enough inventory (how much food does our hero astronaut need?), lead-time constraints (how long before NASA can save him?) and impossible customer demand (blow it and your only customer dies).

  I can only assume that part of the Mars mission training was a Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals webinar.   

But the supply chain heroism of The Martian isn’t the first reason I think of Matt Damon when I think about supply chain.  No, optimizing supply chain is easy to talk about – and easier to blog about – but implementing optimized supply chain requires vision, decisiveness and execution.   I’ll get back to all that in a moment – but first, let me tell a story.  It’s a fact-based tale.  And a parable, all at the same time.

A few years ago, my wife, two children and I went out for breakfast a local Los Angeles eatery.  Not a fancy place.  Not a hipster place.  A place a family of four can walk to, sit in the Southern California sunshine and enjoy a slightly overpriced (you’re paying for that sunshine) meal. 

From my vantage point, I could see other patrons walk into the restaurant – where they waited at a counter to order their meal.

  My wife sat across from me, with our daughter (who was a about a year and a half old at the time) next to her.  My son (four and a half, but not really apropos to this parable) sat next to me.  Between a bite of my slightly overpriced waffle and a sip of coffee, I spotted someone I recognized but couldn’t place right away.

  In Los Angeles, spotting someone you recognize but can’t place right away can mean you’ve just seen: 1) a friend of a friend, 2) someone who works at your company, but more a person you pass in the hall and don’t know by name, or 3) a celebrity.  In this case, it was 3).  And once I process whom I’ve seen, I blurt, “Hey, Matt Damon just went in.” 

My wife swiveled her head, spotted the future Martian and (in a move so fast that it would have made Jason Bourne’s jaw drop) snatched my daughter from her high chair.  Before I could process what was happening, my wife and daughter were inside the restaurant.  My son and I sat there, unsure of what we should do.  Since my wife left her purse at the table (and because that coffee was pretty darn good), I decided to keep my son focused on his blueberry pancakes.  So we waited for the ladies in our life to return.  And we waited some more. 

After a refill of gourmet joe, my wife and daughter finally emerged from the restaurant.  From the smile on my wife’s face, you’d have thought she had just achieved 100% on-time delivery, 100% inventory accuracy and 30% cost of good reduction.  What she had just done, however, was to stand next Matt Damon and his wife (pregnant, by the way) and engage in a conversation.

  Apparently, he starting things off by calling my daughter “gorgeous” and my wife learned his wife was due in four months. 

What does this have to do with supply chain?  Well, I said that implementing optimized supply chain requires vision, decisiveness and execution.  And you know what else requires vision, decisiveness and execution?  Exactly what my wife did that morning. 

She had envisioned chatting with Matt Damon.  Her vision was detailed enough to understand that she needed a conversation starter (i.e. our daughter) and also needed to be the next person inside the building, so that no one could get between her and the erstwhile Will Hunting.  In optimized supply chain, your design should include the same details.  Are you keeping all your current suppliers?  What will define whether a supplier remains onboard – is it quality, cost, customer service, innovation, etc.?

  Are your lead times in need of reduction?  What is your current inventory accuracy and on-time delivery?  What are your targets?  What are the hidden costs in your supply chain

Next, my wife acted with decisiveness.  She was empowered and took action.  She swooped up our daughter and was standing next to Matt Damon without having to clear it with corporate or getting the right signature authority.  In the same way, the team optimizing your supply chain needs to be able to act on the decisions they make. 

And, finally, execution.  Let’s just say that if your supply chain optimization project is as successfully executed as my wife’s dash inside the restaurant, you’ll have no trouble with the supply chain challenges facing The Martian