One of the principles of graphic design is that good design is invisible. That is, the viewer is drawn into what he or she sees without being consciously aware that an individual artist assembled the elements that make the design appealing.
Good writing is like that, too. We often talk about the work that goes into producing prose that seems effortless to the reader. By that I mean striving for clarity, accuracy, good organization, and so on. Good writing is particularly essential when the ideas in the narrative are complex and difficult.
The art and science of logistics has much in common with good design and good writing. The goal is to move goods from origin to destination in a way that is transparent to the receiver. When logistics becomes visible, it is almost always as a result of something gone awry. When a supply chain works the way it's supposed to work, raw materials, intermediate goods, and finished products flow seamlessly from one stage to the next—intact, complete, and on schedule at a reasonable cost.
Over the years, we've applied to logistics management approaches initially developed for manufacturing—such as Lean or Six Sigma—to eliminate waste and errors. Software developers, transportation service providers, and material handling equipment suppliers have all made efforts to speed up processes, improve reliability, and increase productivity, often with marked success.
You don't have to spend much time in and around logistics operations to understand that it takes an extraordinarily well-orchestrated combination of talent, knowledge, effort, and information along with reliable hardware and software tools to make that happen over and over again. Furthermore, logistics professionals' very success in designing and operating distribution networks over the past couple of decades has led business leaders to keep ratcheting up their demands. Execute successfully with a particular level of inventory across a specific geography, and you'll be asked to do it again—only this time, with leaner stocks over a more complex and distant supply chain. And, in a time of recession, you'll likely have to do so with a smaller team.
We often hear, and often write about, how supply chain professionals can get the attention of senior management: talk the same language, understand their corporate goals, educate yourself about finance and the supply chain's role in it. All laudable initiatives. At the same time, the goal is to ensure that logistics operates as transparently as possible, to invest intelligent effort to assure customers—internal or external—don't have to think about logistics at all.