A Simple Way to Understand Supply Chain Resiliency, Agility and Prevention: Superheroes!

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If you’re like me, you get overwhelmed by the various jargon that gets thrown around and would like an easy way to sift through the clutter. Well, today, I’m going to offer procurement and supply chain professionals a metaphor for understanding one area in the supply chain — supply chain risk.

In particular, the terms resiliency and agility are thrown around quite a bit. The same with goes with older terms such as risk prevention or mitigation. First, think about the risk mitigation framework of probability (of adverse event) and impact of that risk event. If you want, just rejigger the old Krajlic matrix and use it for risk types (see diagram below). Basically, the more moving parts in the supply chain (i.e., the higher the velocity, volatility and variability), the higher the likelihood of an adverse risk event.








Click to enlarge

Now, let’s bring in the superheroes. First, consider yourself a hapless pedestrian in a crazy busy street in, say, Mumbai. There are a lot fast-moving dangers to watch out for. You need to lower your risk, so here are the superheroes who possess the attributes I wanted to describe:

  • Spiderman is great at risk prevention because of his “spidey sense” and his ability to sense when there is pending danger (e.g., an over-caffeinated bike messenger heading your way). Superman is also great here because he has X-ray vision to see through opaque objects, like the wall between you and tier 2 suppliers. So, early visibility and reducing the threats in the first place (e.g,. don’t walk around on busy city streets) are step one.
  • Plastic Man, on the other hand, is a master of resiliency. So, if you do get hit by the proverbial bus that you could not avoid, you can absorb the blow and respond quickly.  This lessens the impact and helps you recover faster (i.e., it lowers your time to recovery).
  • The Flash, the fastest of superheroes, is the master of agility. The Flash moves so quickly that he doesn't need to see the dangers so far off, and even if he gets hit, he can quickly move away to prevent further damage.

If I had to pick from these, I think Spider Man has the best blend of super powers. He can sense danger early. He is resilient and seems good as taking blows. And he is extremely agile. Also, he is a good supply chain superhero because he can deftly spin a web that casts a proverbial large net of intelligence that senses disturbances on his behalf. So, he is great at mitigating risks by sensing them, disabling them if he can (via his sticky web shooters), getting out of their way and absorbing the blow if all else fails.

Of course, we don’t have super powers, but at least we can train and arm ourselves with good intelligence webs that improve our odds.

What do you think? Do you have a better superhero to recommend?

Voices (6)

  1. Pierre Mitchell:

    Steve,
    So true. But black swan events deserve their own villain… like… “the black swan”. Looks like a harmless anorexic ballet dancer, but when threatened, all hell breaks loose.

  2. Steve Fecho:

    And let’s not forget about the cryptonite lurking out there otherwise known as Black Swan events…

  3. Pierre Mitchell:

    Bill, very true! I snorted out loud with the Riddler one. “Riddle me this procurement bat boobs. Only when you can decipher my arcane legalise will you be allowed to create a standard clause library in your CMS”.

    I think Dr. Octopus might have a German accent rather than Mr. Freeze…. 8 tentacles: ECC, SRM, SNC, Fieldglass, Ariba apps, Ariba Network, SuccesFactors, Concur

  4. Pierre Mitchell:

    Well argued, but he needs to sense/predict the risk. He does have a strong on-premise supply control tower running in his secure data center in the bat cave though. Maybe add in Robin to send out and do supplier audits,

  5. Bill Kohnen:

    Superheros need villains as well …. Some suggestions to assign to risks:

    Mr. Freeze for Environmental
    The Riddler for Legal and Regulatory
    Doctor Octopus for Technology Risk

  6. Jason Busch:

    Batman is a better proxy … he lurks in the shadows, has no real super powers (other than working hard on self improvement), uses ingenious tools, has a vendetta sense of right vs. wrong (e.g., child labor is always wrong) and still maintains his “day job” in the business before putting on the dark suit … 🙂

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