May 10, 2018
Column | big picture

Winston Churchill: Supply chain genius?

He probably wasn't thinking about warehouses when he urged strategists to "occasionally look at the results" of their plans. But The British Bulldog's advice nonetheless applies to supply chain management.

By David Maloney

One of my favorite figures from history is Winston Churchill. You could say that I'm a bit of a fan. I have experienced the bookends of his life, having stood in the room where he was born and visited his final resting place. Churchill was a no-nonsense kind of guy who was a master of the written and spoken word—a skill that I as a writer greatly admire. He had a knack for using language to get to the heart of a matter.

He once said, "However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results."

Churchill may not have realized it at the time (he was probably busy saving the world for democracy), but he was actually outlining a blueprint for supply chain success. While distribution managers can lay out the best of plans for a warehouse operation, the plan won't produce lasting results if it lacks a mechanism for determining true outcomes. That's where metrics come in.

Each year in the May issue of DC Velocity, we report on the results of our annual research on DC metrics. This report is created in conjunction with the Warehousing Education and Research Council (WERC) and Georgia College & State University. You can see a snapshot of this year's study here. The survey results were also presented at WERC's annual conference earlier this month. The full report is available through WERC.

Why do metrics matter? As Churchill rightly pointed out, results reveal how successful a plan and its implementation have been. And the best way to determine those results is to measure performance.

In a DC, performance can be measured in many ways—on-time shipping rates, order picking accuracy, overtime hours required, and order fill rates, to name just a few. Data for such measurements can be harvested from the sophisticated tools found in today's facilities, such as warehouse management and labor management software, picking technologies, and automated systems.

The good news is that research shows that the gap between best-in-class performers and those lagging behind is narrowing every year, meaning that companies are acting on what they learn from measuring their operations. And performance measurement should only get better in years to come, as more companies move from paper to automation.

Winston Churchill said a lot of things that were noteworthy. Another quote of his addresses the need to be willing to adjust plans and processes once the results have been measured and assessed: "To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often."

Well said, Sir Winston.

About the Author

David Maloney
Editorial Director
David Maloney has been a journalist for more than 35 years and is currently the editorial director for DC Velocity and Supply Chain Quarterly magazines. In this role, he is responsible for the editorial content of both brands of Agile Business Media. Dave joined DC Velocity in April of 2004. Prior to that, he was a senior editor for Modern Materials Handling magazine. Dave also has extensive experience as a broadcast journalist. Before writing for supply chain publications, he was a journalist, television producer and director in Pittsburgh. Dave combines a background of reporting on logistics with his video production experience to bring new opportunities to DC Velocity readers, including web videos highlighting top distribution and logistics facilities, webcasts and other cross-media projects. He continues to live and work in the Pittsburgh area.

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