Chess and the
supply chain

By Hugh Williams

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Supply chain Supply chain management

The queen marched on, confident of her move. The bishop stayed near her, knowing that his position was vulnerable to attack. If the enemy struck, he would be the victim. Yet it would be an honour to die protecting his queen. The moment was tense. Then, out of nowhere, came the black knight. A weakness in my strategy had left my queen exposed after all. In a flash, her majestic figure came crashing down. Her fall signalled the end of our game.

I was taught how to play chess at school. Does that make me a worthy opponent for a grand master? Of course not. Because I haven't been taught how to win. At any one time, we can see our pieces on the board. That's just like supply chain management: we move stock, produce goods, buy material.

A professional chess player will forecast up to 10 moves ahead. He will look for patterns in the game. He will have a bagful of strategies to respond to changes with a new tactic. It will never be a knee-jerk reaction. Knowing how to win the game is what supply chain planning is all about. It involves building forecasts, preparing contingency plans, challenging parameters, and agreeing compromises across departments.

A firm I visited recently had searched the market for resource planning software suppliers. It had produced a shortlist and visited more than 10 reference sites. What it had seen was good, but it also came away with a clear message. Many of the sites were still working in the same way as before. They were still focused on playing the game albeit better and with newer technology. But it appeared that few had made progress on how to win the game.

Systems are important, but they are only one of the tools in a firm's bag. Winning the game does not mean putting a system in place. It means changing the way people work and addressing cultural challenges. Above all, it means teaching people how to plan ahead.

Hugh Williams is founder of supply chain planning specialist consultancy Hughenden.

Related topics Supply Chain Services

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