Can you really “roadmap” at the consumption end of the supply chain?

It’s human nature that we want to know as much about what the future holds as we can, it helps us in making decisions as well as giving us a context to work in. However there are times when the statement “We need a roadmap” isn’t really going to give us something that actually proves helpful.

Some may argue that whatever we do, it is within our gift to define what the future will be, but really it’s the level of detail that we can assign to that future state & the steps we can take to get there that varies. If you are in the business of supplying something that you actually control the making of, say a car or maybe a software application, then you can supply a plan for your future with a high level of detail.

Of course, plans can change and frequently do but the core of the plan shouldn’t change very much (maybe the in car radio isn’t what was planned, or a planned feature cannot be in the software release) and what I said and communicated was going to happen should happen on cue.

Take one step down the supply chain, and then your level of detail diminishes as you are now in the hands of your upstream supplier. The further down the supply chain you move, then the less detail you can supply and the more changes that can be applied upstream that in turn have an impact where you are trying to plan from.

In our brave new world of increasingly outsourced supply then the chances are that we are more of a consumer than previously, so this world of detailed planning is looking less detailed than ever before

That’s not to say we can’t plan, indeed the further down the supply chain you go I’d argue the more you need plan around scenarios & then work backwards. This means that your As-Is position isn’t really worth documenting until it needs to be, then you can plan around how you move from where you find yourself to where you want to go strategically, keeping in mind the implications of whatever happens to the parts of your plan that can be affected by external events.

Some may say that this sort of planning is an attempt to dodge the real efforts of defining a strategic roadmap, but I’d argue that working on detail that gets thrown away is a waste of a good resource. An army commander doesn’t plan every detail of a specific battle before he goes into theatre; instead the planning starts pretty high level & the detail is added as the events get closer. You certainly wouldn’t expect a commander to turn up at a specific time with set weaponry if the previous events had unfolded differently & he was now facing certain defeat?

As we go forward into the ever connected, faster moving world where the supply chain is getting increasingly fragmented we need to start thinking more in scenario terms and about how we make the decisions that were formerly made in our detailed roadmaps nearer to the required decision point. This in turn needs a new form of communication, as everyone needs to understand how the “scenario roadmap” model works, and they need that information as quickly as possible.

To be honest I’m not sure what the answer is yet. Next month I finally return to being a student again (for the 3rd time) and hopefully will get to look at some of these issues as part of the course. If I get answers, then I’ll let you know!

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