Applying Sun Tzu to Supply Chain Strategy

I have been reading Sun Tzu over the holiday weekend.  Very interesting reading.  It’s the type of reading where you cover a few lines and then take an hour to reflect on what it means to your business.

One passage stuck me:

“Therefore, determine the enemy’s plans and you will know which strategy will be successful and which will not.”

I often find myself in conversations with senior executives debating the merits of expanding their vendor collaboration program.  Typically they already have a program in place but I am advocating an expansion of that program and the application of new technology.  In these conversations there is tremendous inertia to maintain the status quo.  After all, why fix a program that’s not broken.  At their level in the organization they don’t hear the day to day challenges of the EDI manager who is fielding vendor support calls. In fact most of the time they hear just the opposite from the middle level manager, “oh everything is fine Mr. Executive, no need to come and visit me just keep on moving.”

But if one critically evaluates where the most successful retailers (e.g. enemies) are making investments one cannot espace the conclusion they are moving to more and more sophisticated vendor collaboration programs.  They are making investments before a problem occurs because they want to enjoy the corresponding lift of competitive advantage.

So here is what I encourage all executives to do:  create two columns on a piece of paper and write your top five competitors down the left column.  Then on the other side for each competitor write down everything you know about their supply chain initiatives at this moment.  If you are coming up blank that is your first clue there is a problem.  Now consider what your organization is doing.  What threats or opportunities are evident?  Every time I have gone through this exercise with an executive we have both been surprised at the results.

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