When many of my friends were busy learning options pricing theory or how to model total supply chain costs in grad school, I was digging into the past, earning what became -- at least for now -- a terminal masters degree in history. So you can imagine why I'm all ears when anyone wants to draw a history analogy in a modern business context -- especially one involving Spend Management. So my hat goes off to Supply and Demand Chain Executive for publishing a short piece that argues that we all have much to learn from Winston Churchill's aircraft production experience in WWII.
In the guest column, Mark Kozak-Holland, a senior business architect with HP, introduces us to the aircraft crisis the British faced in 1940. Literally "with their back against the wall," Churchill and his team had to find a solution to increase production capacity and productivity for fighter aircraft, lest the Germans overrun English airspace, gaining superiority in the skies once and for all. To get as many planes into the skies as possible, the British relied on "standardization, simplification, modularity and integration to improve the efficiency of the supply chain." Kozak-Holland suggests that the British were able to increase agility and speed up delivery and production by reducing the number of production fighter aircraft from "five to two proven types, the Hurricane and Spitfire, which were already in quantity production."
In addition, "Fighter production was simplified by reducing the number of small and disparate components by concentrating on completed subassemblies (fuselage frames, undercarriages, instrument panels, engines) shipped straight from suppliers. This reduced complexity from business process execution." Kozak-Holland suggests that the Brits even focused on the asset recovery side of the business, salvaging their own downed fighters -- and even crashed German planes -- for spare parts and metal scrap.
In today's post Cold War world, I wonder if our current military could learn much about efficiency and savings from an island country which was in a far more dire circumstance. I doubt that if our back was truly up against the wall today in world affairs if the US could afford no-bid contracts or dozens of different air platforms for our navy, air force, and marine service wings. Granted, the Joint Strike Fighter is a step in the right direction, but I doubt if Churchill would have tolerated such cost overruns, not to mention the bureaucratic infighting between special interests and Pentagon territory wonks that care more about defending their own lot than saving taxpayers precious dollars. Don't get me wrong. I’m all for a strong military, lest crazies from places like Venezeula and North Korea run rough-shot all over what free trading, democratic societies stand for. But I don’t want to see special interests confused with national ones.