6 process tips for Supply Chain Managers

We believe Supply Chain Managers need to be Process Managers. They direct their supply chain with clear and aligned ways of working, reducing error, happier teams and better-served customers. Here are 6 steps to get there!

  1. Get the AS IS right 
    This is where it starts. So make sure you get it right. Before addressing change, you need to understand the current situation. How do we do things?
    Typically, you’ll notice there is no such thing as a standard process that will fit each and every situation. But that’s okay, the general idea at this stage, is to pull in the experts from different teams and come to a general consensus of how you run your shop most of the time. So yes, to understand the ins and outs of your process, you may need to go broad in the organization.

    A good tip we’ve found, that applies in most situations, is to use swimlane diagrams in this stage. Swimlanes cleary address WHO does WHAT. Grey process steps will surface. Discussions will start and people will feel involved. And remember: involvement is the key dynamic at this stage of the game. After all, you’ll need your people to put the process into action, so you better get them aboard (and yes, swimlanes are a good tool for that purpose).
     
  2. What do we change? What not?
    Now that you have your current state process mapped and you have engaged people to get to this point, ask the team what key-findings they see. Ask them what process steps they feel most impact of overall performance of your organization. If your corporate vision is all about customer experience and being customer centric, then focus on customer-facing (parts of) processes. Next, identify any broken parts of your process. For example: can you find steps which are not clearly owned by anyone? Or which are duplicates? Or not providing added-value? Now is a good time to think about the 7 wastes in lean process design. List all imperfections, and prioritize those needing to be addressed first. Rome wasn’t built in a day either. The same principle applies to process engineering.
     
  3. Keep it simple
    So now’s the time to make your new process. Don’t be shy, think broad, but do watch out for 1 big pitfall, monster diagrams! Everyone has seen them: diagrams with an overload of boxes and arrows, trying to reflect any possible thing that may happen. You can take our word on it: this kind of Corporate Spaghetti will scare away people (usually back to their old habits).

    Complex diagrams will confuse and demotivate your teams. They'll kill your initiative before it ever got started. Process maps should be easy to understand. Stick to a few rules of thumb. For example: go for swimlane diagrams (make it clear WHO does WHAT), that have a maximum of 15 steps. If you need more than 15 boxes, realize that you may be mixing up different processes or that you’re adding exceptions that don’t belong in diagrams, but need to be covered in work instructions or software manuals. Make sure you are specific, but avoid complex technical terms. So make your process maps as simple and clear as possible. That’s the whole purpose of Process Diagrams: these are a communication tool. So communicate clearly!
     
  4. Boardroom meets Operations​
    While visions may come from a corporate meeting room, the best practical way to make a business process work in real life, typically boils up from the shopfloor. Developing best-in-class processes is a team effort. So make sure you bring together strategic thinking and operational know-how. The best ideas come from the people who know the ins and outs of the processes they work in. Also, be sure to involve the entire organization, instead of limiting the process map to the departments that carry out the main activities. In the end, if you want to be a process-driven organization, you’ll need everybody’s support. Not just during a process design workshop, but for years to come. Everybody needs to feel ownership and embrace it.
     
  5. Don’t try to map the ‘perfect’ process, as business is not a static thing
    You can try to include as many details as possible by considering exceptions on the usual process. But be cautious not to lose the scope of the process map. Map the process to the level of detail that you require to identify opportunities for improvement and don’t get bogged down chasing perfection. Also, understand that business is a living thing. Meaning, it will evolve. And so will (and should) your processes. Today’s perfection will trigger tomorrow’s improvement.
     
  6. Use and honor the standards
    Process mapping should not be an exercise in documenting everything in your business and putting those documents away in a binder, which will never be opened again. Make sure that there’s a clear purpose to the process maps. Use them in operations meetings. Continuously evaluate and improve them. Make your team accountable for updating them to reflect process changes over time and honor the mapping notation standards (e.g. BPMN). Again, process flows are a communication tool. So agreeing on the communications standards is a must to keep getting the benefits from being a process-driven organization.
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Supply chain leaders have embraced process management as the core competence for improving logistics, planning, production and even purchasing. But to get the most out of it, here are great tips to beat commonly made mistakes: Understand your customer ​Simply put: the number 1 objective of any supply chain is to serve the customer… So the customer’s perspective should be the DNA
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