In principle nothing is wrong with most businesses' obsession with supply chain best practice. People want to know what other companies are doing well in order to copy them. But I think many are falling into a trap.
We have all been to exhibitions and shows where you fill a bag full of flyers and brochures. They all initially seem interesting, but you never get round to looking at them again. The same fate awaits us in our quest for supply chain best practice. By taking the qualifier 'best' at face value, businesses can focus on what the practice is instead of why or how it works so well in certain cases.
Understanding why something is considered best practice gives you the key to implementing it. A best practice process can never be applied exactly as you first discovered it. You need time to understand its intrinsic logic, relating it to your own needs, strengths and shortcomings. This will allow you to construct a version that works for you.
Practices are only 'best' for specific businesses and situations. Even within a single group of companies, applying best practice requires science and flexibility. One company I know thoroughly documented what it considered to be a range of best practices used at some of its sites so it could normalise these practices across all divisions. It soon realised one site's way of managing order books, for instance, should be an inspiration and a framework for other sites, not a rigid template! Exploring the 'why' and 'how' as well as the 'what' encouraged teams to challenge and improve practices continuously, instead of casting them in stone.
A new process imposed by head office is never welcome. But involve people in developing a workable solution for them and you will yield much better results.
Picking up brochures detailing others' best practices is only a start. Otherwise, it's no more than industrial tourism.
Hugh Williams is founder of supply chain planning specialist Hughenden.