We All Have Superpowers

Ed was a retiree who lived near our family store.  One day, Ed saw me and asked me what kind of business he could get into. Ed said he could use some extra income as his pension wasn’t really enough. 

I asked Ed what he used to do.  He said his job before retirement was at a petroleum company’s main facility, doing office work.  As a hobby, he learned Taekwondo and became a black belt master.  He used to instruct one or two people a month in Taekwondo.

There you have it, I told Ed.  You’re a black belt Taekwondo master qualified to be an instructor.  You can earn some extra income teaching students in Taekwondo.  Ed nodded his head and said that’s right. 

We all have superpowers.  We just have to acknowledge them and tap them for our benefit and for the benefit of others. 

A superpower doesn’t have to be a unique kind of ability.  It can be a skill every person may have.  The idea is that whatever superpower we have, we do it well.  So well that we stand out. 

A janitor nicknamed Poning at the factory where I used to work was a very hard worker.  He cleaned the offices of the executives early in the morning every day before people would arrive for work.  Poning learned how to proficiently operate the office photocopier, the stand-by generator, and the centralised air-conditioning system.  From an everyday janitor, Poning practically transformed himself into the office’s all-around utility man.  The office staff would not let him go when his agency’s contract was up for renewal.  He stayed for many years. 

Tony used to be a construction worker.  He took it upon himself to learn about plumbing, carpentry, and welding and became pretty good in each.  He became a free-lance handyman.  With a trained pool of helpers, he was able to snare job after job with households and buildings to repair or renovate bathrooms, kitchens, and furniture.  He later set up his own private business and continues to get jobs with clients all over the city. 

A security commander at an office building learned how to fix desktop computers and laptops.  He now has a side-line repairing computers of office workers.  He also invested in an eight-seater van and during the 2020 pandemic, shuttled workers to and from their residences to the office building where his duty as security commander was.  Needless to say, he earns much more than his peers. 

We don’t need to look for some super-duper skill or invent some super-duper product or service.  We don’t need to be geniuses or Olympic-level athletes to be successful.  We just need to decide what kind of stuff we want to do and be good at it. 

All of us have superpowers.  We don’t need to find them because they are already within us.  We just have to cultivate the ones we like to do and become excellent in doing them.  We become super-people when we do. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

The True Benefits of Earth Hour

Since 2007, countries around the world have turned off lights at landmarks, homes, and offices in a united symbolic effort to fight the perils of environmental degradation. 

Every year, the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) and partners promote Earth Hour.  People around the world at 8:30pm on the last Saturday evening of March are asked to turn off lights at homes and offices to “call attention to climate change.”   

In 2022, at Manila, Philippines, where I live, Earth Hour passed with nary a notice.  Some malls had posted signs about Earth Hour but generally no one really paid much attention.  The latest deadly surge from the coronavirus pandemic had just passed two (2) months earlier and people wanted to enjoy going out to make up for lost time with families and friends.  They didn’t want to turn off lights even for one hour as they felt that they had enough inconveniences from the coronavirus in the pandemic’s two (2) years of lockdowns and restrictions. 

Earth Hour had demonstrated, however, that collective global action even via the simple turning off of lights for one hour can have significant effect.  In previous years before the pandemic, Earth Hour participation resulted in decreased energy demand, as much as 4% in a survey of ten (10) countries. 

The demand drop, however, doesn’t translate to outright energy savings.  Power plants continued to run during Earth Hour and their consumption of resources generally remained the same.  Even as Earth Hour intends to showcase the benefit of people around the world coming together to combat climate change, it remains a symbolic effort that doesn’t result in real savings in resources. 

Real savings occur when resources are significantly reduced in the delivery and consumption of a product or in the experience of a service.  Real savings happen when we make more with less or we use less to experience the benefits of products and services.  There is no savings if less usage in one resource leads to more usage in another.  

For example, an enterprise successfully reduces the number of defects of metal products it makes.  The fewer number of defects have resulted in less scrap and rejections from customers.  The enterprise has reduced the amount of money it refunds to customers not to mention the costs of logistics to retrieve and rework bad products. 

The enterprise, however, had to add steps to its production operation to reduce the defects.  The enterprise also added inspections to ensure products made were of higher quality.  The cost of adding steps and inspectors ended up almost equivalent to the savings from fewer defects.  Real savings did not end up at all that much significant. 

Some executives would express frustration at the lack of significant real savings from projects. 

But they shouldn’t.  At least not by first checking all the benefits of any endeavour they initiated. 

Again, from our example above, fewer defects resulting from added production steps and inspections may not provide much of real savings but it would propel the enterprise’s product quality reputation.  Customers would see better quality as an attraction to buy more from the enterprise versus its competitors.  This would lead to higher sales that might be even better than what was expected from just real savings. 

Real savings is not easy to realise as trade-offs are likely whenever we try to change our operations.  But it shouldn’t be our one and only yardstick of measure of performance. 

Critics say that real savings from Earth Hour is negligible and it is nothing more than a “feel good event.”  As much as Earth Hour really hasn’t contributed to better energy savings, it has helped raise funds for environmental projects that have resulted in nature conservation benefits.  

Real savings is nice to shoot for but we shouldn’t take our eyes off the big picture of what we are really pursuing. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Visioning: The Last Thing an Enterprise Needs When Starting Up

A husband-and-wife couple approaches and asks a consultant for help in their business.

The husband-and-wife couple just started a business selling electrical devices such as relays and circuit breakers.  Demand was strong at the onset and the couple has found themselves working around the clock serving customer orders.  Maybe the consultant can contribute some ideas?

The consultant immediately advises the couple to set aside a few days to do a Vision, Mission, Objectives, and Strategy (VMOS) exercise with their staff.  The aim of the exercise is for the couple to set goals by establishing a common vision for their business.  The consultant would facilitate the VMOS exercise, of course. 

The couple agreed and after a few days, the couple’s enterprise had written a VMOS.  When the consultant collected his fee and left, the couple realised they still didn’t have any ideas on how to serve their customers better. 

A VMOS is the last thing an enterprise needs when it’s starting up.  This is because when an enterprise is just starting, it already has a VMOS.  It can be summarised in one word:  survival.  

The couple started their electrical device business precisely because they saw there was demand.  They just didn’t realise that there was a lot of demand.  They and their staff became overwhelmed.  They had trouble catching up with orders.  Customers were complaining and the husband-and-wife couple feared they were going to lose customers. 

The couple were concerned about their enterprise’s survival.  They needed solutions to address the higher-than-expected demand.  The last thing they needed was an elaborate VMOS. 

Many consultants (and bloggers) promote VMOS for businesses.  A VMOS can be good but by experience, it’s only useful long after an enterprise has started up and stabilised.  It might be a good idea for an enterprise to do a VMOS when it is at a crossroads, such as when its owners and management are debating strategies for new ideas or products. 

For a new business that is just getting off the ground, however, a VMOS is the last thing an enterprise needs. 

When the husband-and-wife couple went to another consultant.  They found a more down-to-earth consultant who advised them to review their product lines and focus producing those items that are selling briskly.  The consultant also advised the couple to prioritise selling to customers who were willing to pay cash; this would help in turning over capital which the couple could use to invest in increasing capacity to serve growing demand. 

A VMOS exercise is nice for enterprises that are stable but are doing some soul-searching for their future. 

A VMOS exercise, however, is not what an enterprise needs when it’s starting up and its immediate preoccupation is survival. 

Enterprise executives should also be careful in engaging consultants, especially ones whose agenda prioritise themselves and their profits over the benefits for clients. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

The People First Proposal

I would like to propose organisations put people first when it comes to their priorities. 

Organisations may say they already do but based on my observations, they aren’t. 

Two (2) banks asked me one day to update my business’s account information.  They gave me a pile of forms for my business accounts’ signatories to fill up.  On top of that they required board resolutions and corporate secretary certificates that formally authorise the signatories as representatives of the business. 

I told the two banks that I submitted forms with the same information when we first opened the accounts few years before.  I also said there were no changes in the board resolutions and corporate secretary certificates from ones we gave already.  I complained that filling up the numerous forms and having them signed by the account-holders would be a time-consuming inconvenience.

The staff from each of the two banks shrugged off my arguments and said it was bank policy; my complaints meant nothing.

Both banks had mission statements that placed high importance on their customers.  But after going through the tedious experience of filling up forms with information that didn’t need updating, it seems that the banks don’t really practice what they preach.  People aren’t first; policy is. 

It’s not only banks.  Government agencies and private enterprises seem to have relegated people to a lower category of importance. 

We don’t have to look far for examples. 

Employees of businesses complain they have to fall in line and wait for hours when they need to transact with government agencies.  Sometimes the agencies would turn away people who had already been waiting for half a day, citing excuses such as computer glitches or CoVID-19 limits. 

Staff of these agencies would tell complaining people that it’s government rules.  Rules, in other words, are more important than people who had invested time to wait only to be turned away. 

When I complained to an internet service provider (ISP) that my internet reception was spotty, the ISP sent a technician to check.  After inspecting my modem, the technician told me that the cause of the problem was a cable box outside of my residence but that another contractor would have to fix it as he wasn’t authorised to do so. 

When I followed up with the ISP, the agent replied that my “account and job order were escalated and already included/linked to plant isolation which [the agent] can’t commit any ETR (estimated time of restoration).”  Whatever that means. 

The agent continued saying he “will now close this conversation since your current concern has been noted, explained, and escalated to the pertinent group.”

I received no more news and the internet never got better.  Apparently, the ISP put their procedures first before people.  I plan to change to another ISP once the contract with the current one expires. 

I propose organisations put People First in their policies & procedures, and show it.     

Banks shouldn’t burden customers with unnecessary forms and requirements that in the first place don’t need to be filled up and submitted. 

Government agencies shouldn’t make people wait for hours only to turn them away. 

ISPs should fix problems and feed back to customers, not leave them hanging. 

It doesn’t need much in terms of resources or staff training to put People First.  Much can be done by making it part of common-sense management. 

First of all, it doesn’t take much for staff to be polite and to listen to their customers.  Listening does take effort but it isn’t rocket science.  One just has to take time to hear what the person is saying. 

Second, organisations should study the impact of their policies & procedures.  What are they putting first? 

Bank staff would cite periodic audits as the reason for clients having to fill up forms.  The staff fear audits because any detected deviation would be a bad mark on their performance.  The fear of negative audit reports has made it a priority for bank staff to follow policies & procedures and ignore the complaints of clients.  People don’t matter to bank staff because their attention is in their preserving their so-called good performance via compliance. 

Executives can re-orient their policies & procedures and put People First.  It starts with executives re-writing policies & procedures that consider clients’ needs and how performances of employees are measured and managed. 

Why not, for instance, banks consider waiving the updating a client’s account information if the client can simply sign a statement that there is no change? 

Why not include auditing the feedback of clients on how they feel about the bank on top of looking for errors or oversights in the execution of procedures?  Why not praise staff for very good positive feedback rather than punishment for performance no one can perfectly do? 

Why not ISPs set up a system to check the completion of jobs for clients?  And have a small team be accountable for the completion?  But consider every completion that receives positive client feedback as a basis of praise for the team? 

Why not government agency heads just have a front-liner who’d monitor the queues of people waiting to be served?  And communicate at the earliest about how long the wait would be rather than turning people away at the last minute?  The same front-liner can also feedback to agency heads how many people wait every day and find ways to reduce the queues.  And why not agency heads praise staff who succeed in reducing the queues? 

Such sample steps would go a long way in shifting attention for the sake of people than for the sake of procedures and rules. 

Putting People First is not just a slogan meant to be seen in a mission statement poster.  It is a principle meant to be ingrained in all who work in an organisation. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

The Chore of Buying A Smartphone

My OnePlus 6 smartphone is overheating and automatically turning itself off.  And it’s annoying. 

I bought my OnePlus 6 phone in mid-2018 at quite a high price.  Reviews then touted the OnePlus 6 as the best Android phone in the market.  I liked its features and its chipset, a Qualcomm SnapDragon 845.  Because OnePIus promised continuous updates to the Android software, I believed the phone would last for at least five (5) years.  I was wrong. 

Three and a half years later and the phone dies on me two or three times a day.  It takes about an hour or so before I could turn it on again as I have to wait for the phone to cool off.  Having my own phone unavailable for me to use has become a major inconvenience.

I decided therefore to buy a new smartphone.  And as much as I wanted to think it would be simple, it wasn’t.

There are many smartphone models in the market.  And from what I’ve read and observed, there are three (3) categories:  high-end, mid-range, and budget.

High-end phones like Apple’s iPhone 13 and Samsung’s S22 are loaded with features from network capabilities (e.g. 5G) to multi-faceted high-performing cameras.  High-end phones are supposedly built well but they’re expensive.  Many customers buy high-end phones for the status symbol as much as for what they offer.    

Mid-range phones sell for about 30% lower than the high-end models.  I notice reviewers from North America and Europe put Samsung and OnePlus models as the best mid-range phone brands to buy.  Other Chinese models like Oppo and Vivo do get some good comments but not much, which I think is a bit unfair as the phones look good and many people buy them.  Mid-range phones look quite as good as the high-end ones.  They may not have the same network capabilities but their features are similar or not at par with high-end models. 

Budget phones offer themselves as cheap but still capable of providing the basic features if not more.  When I held some budget phones, they were light but they had the same responsiveness, if not better, than my OnePlus 6.  Reviewers, however, seem to shun them, especially the Chinese models.  Some reviewers even lambast some models as junk.   

I decided to set criteria for the phone I would buy.  It has to have network capabilities such as 5G (preferably not 5G with limited bandwidths).  It has to have decent memory storage (e.g. 128 gB) and a good CPU (e.g. octa-core at about 2.0 GHz).  And it has to last for at least five (5) years; the phone shouldn’t die on me like my OnePlus 6 is doing to me now. 

Most high-end, mid-range, and even budget phones met my criteria.  Except one:  the five (5) year life-time.  No smartphone brand would guarantee a five (5) year life cycle for their models.  No reviewer could argue for any model that would last for five (5) years.  I’d be lucky if a phone I buy will last up to four (4) years. 

Reading between the lines:  smartphone manufacturers build their models for a life cycle of up to three (3) years.  They count on users to switch phones every two (2) years as they tempt consumers with newer models with new features every six (6) months. 

The marketing focuses on the features rather than on the life of the product.  Hence, smartphones may look good with nice cameras, fast responsiveness, and a good-looking body but they’re not meant to last for the long-term. 

No smartphone model therefore met my criterion for a five (5) year lifetime.  I would have to choose a phone then based on how much I’d be paying year on year for the price I’d be paying for.  An iPhone 13 at $999, for example, would come out to USD $250 annually if it would last four (4) years.  A Vivo budget phone priced at USD $200 would cost me $USD100 a year if it lasts two (2) years.  Mid-range phones priced at $USD 499 would come out costing me USD $167 per year for a three (3) year estimated lifetime. 

Choosing a smartphone is a chore that requires one to set criteria but at the same time one has to be flexible to the realities of what are available in the market. 

I find it annoying that I have to buy a new phone because my OnePlus 6 is a perfectly good phone if it weren’t for the overheating and shutdowns. 

For the money we invest into our smartphones, we don’t get the value we want from what we pay for.  Instead, we gamble that the smartphones would last and perform longer than expected.

About Overtimers Anonymous

Three (3) Questions Supply Chain Managers Always Need to Answer

When it comes right down to it, supply chain managers have three (3) questions to answer:

  1. How do we get what we need when we need it?
  2. How do we make available what whoever needs them at when they need them?
  3. How do we deliver to whomever wants them when they need them?

When supply chain managers answer these three (3) questions, their responses must be relevant to their mission, which is:  Fulfil Demand. 

And when we say Fulfil Demand, it must meet the following criteria:

  1. It must be productive, i.e., at lowest cost to maximise profit margins and at minimal capital investment;
  2. It must result in competitive advantage, that is, the enterprise should come out better than that of its rivals;
  3. It must meet expectations not only of customers (i.e. quality, complete & on-time deliveries) but also stakeholders (e.g. shipment volume targets) and the communities they work in (e.g. compliance to laws, environmental sustainability)
  4. It must result in stronger relationships with customers, vendors, stakeholders. 

When supply chain managers answer the aforementioned three (3) questions to the satisfaction of the criteria mentioned, they would be deemed on their way to success. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Allocating an Hour a Day For Oneself is a Fantasy

There are those who recommend we set an hour a day to step back from our busy schedules.

I would really wish that could be true.  We all could use an hour a day to reflect on what we’ve achieved, organise our thoughts, develop ideas, and plan. 

Experience, however, shows it can’t happen for most of us. Many who commute to work already spend so much time going to and from their jobs.  If so-called time management experts suggest that the time while commuting is an opportunity for reflection, it is likely they haven’t undergone the daily hustle of riding public transport or the necessity of attention while driving through traffic.  

We wake to immediately get ready for our day and we sleep at the latest hour possible so we can maximise time with our families or to do that very last task we want to finish.

There is really not much we could allocate in terms of time to retreat and regroup. 

If we want to get a handle on things, a daily allocation of an hour for ourselves is not the answer.  It is right we should assess and plan our tasks but we need not a continuous full hour to do it.  Instead, we should dynamically assess and plan in short intervals throughout our day. 

We won’t need more than five (5) minutes when we wake up at the start of our day to see what we will do in the next one hour or so.  One to two hours later, we would have another five to maybe at most ten (10) minutes to see what comes next for our day.  We can arrive at our workplace at the start of our daily work shift and do a quick mental review of the one or two tasks we will do.  

We should only look at most three (3) tasks at a time.  Not more.  Else we overwhelm ourselves. 

We can do these 5- to-10-minute intervals of planning every two to three hours during the day. 

We should be ready for interruptions and disruptions.  Interruptions are those things that vie for our attention.  It’s the bosses asking (which is really telling) us to do another task they deem urgent.  It’s our spouses who call us and ask us to pass by the supermarket after work to buy a dozen eggs.  It’s the friends who text asking us to chat with them for a few minutes online. 

Interruptions may deserve an initial response:  No.  But it’s nice to include a reason.

No, boss, but I’m finishing the other tasks you assigned me the other day

No, dearest spouse, but you can make a full list of grocery items so that I can schedule going to the supermarket later in the week and buy all what we need in one go. 

No, friend, I’m not available for an online chat today, how about we text and meet next weekend? 

Unfortunately, many who interrupt us won’t take No for an answer.  When this happens, we may cede but we can still work our schedule to minimise the interruption. 

Okay, boss, I’ll get on your request right away.  But in reality, I’ll do it later. 

Yes, dear, I’ll pass by the supermarket after work.  But I’ll pass by the convenience store instead which is on the way and get in and out fast.   

Okay, pal, let’s talk now online if it’s really urgent.  But I’ll end the conversation after 15 minutes.

Disruptions are those things that force us to stop what we’re doing and demand our attention before we can resume what we were doing. 

We either challenge the source of a disruption or sidestep it.  In most cases it is wise to do the latter as disruptions can be just too difficult to overcome (e.g., natural disasters, traffic, angry boss). 

We end up not doing as we planned when we encounter disruption and the best way to get back on track is to re-evaluate and re-schedule what we couldn’t finish.  It would be best to take a short break to collect our thoughts and plan what we’re going to do for the rest of the day.  

Disruptions are products of adversities.  And because adversities are hard to anticipate, the disruptions they bring are practically unavoidable.  We get hit, we roll with the punches, we pick ourselves up, and we get back on track. 

We can never get the hour we want in a day because we will get our share of  interruptions and disruptions.  We can say No to interruptions or negotiate with the ones who are doing the interrupting.  Disruptions, however, are unavoidable and they wreck our schedules.  The bright side to any setback from interruptions or disruptions is we can always bounce back.

When we set our minds to what we want to do, we can get it done whatever life throws at us. 

“It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.”

– Vince Lombardi

About Overtimers Anonymous

Two Tactics That are Better than “No”

Most managers (and white-collar workers) face barrages of requests, if not directives, just about every day. 

Executives and peers ask managers to do many things such as write reports, attend meetings, do feasibility studies, pay suppliers, or test new products. 

Many managers would find themselves busy responding to these requests.  So much so that they’d not have any time left in a day to do what they should be doing, which is, managing. 

So-called time management experts would tell managers to just say no to requests that aren’t relevant to their jobs.  Saying no would demonstrate proactivity, the power to choose from one’s own perspective of priorities.

Unfortunately, saying no doesn’t work outright in the real world.

When I was a manager of a shipping department, I and my team were asked to work through a holiday weekend.  I and several of my subordinates had plans to for that weekend, but executives “asked” us to shelve those plans and work because the they wanted us to deliver pending orders to meet the company’s monthly sales target.  Executives wouldn’t accept a “no” and didn’t want to listen to our reasons (which generally was to take a break from work).  We ended up working through the weekend, met the monthly sales target, but didn’t get any praise or reward (except for some free pizza which the executives sent while we worked over the weekend). 

Executives don’t like no’s especially from subordinates.  This is because executives perceive any “no” as an affront to their agenda.  Executives see “no” as defiance and therefore will not take “no” for an answer. 

When a boss makes a request to a manager, it’s really a command done politely.  A request from a boss can be translated as “I’m asking you nicely to respond but if you don’t, I’ll tell you to do it.”   Executives don’t allow much room for compromise when it comes to their directions, everyone in the supply chain must march to the same beat. 

The impracticality to say “No”, however, isn’t the end to a manager’s hopes.    Managers still have two (2) ways to push back.  They can procrastinate and negotiate

Procrastinate

In the various management positions I held, I always had plenty of work to do.  Memo requests I received were often marked urgent or rush and whoever wrote them asked for immediate responses.

When I received such requests, I would categorise either as Will do or Will Not DoWill Do requests were those I’d be willing to do because I judged them as consistent with the needs of the workplace I was managing.  Will Not Do requests were judged the opposite, as in not helpful or relevant to my job description.  I’d place the memos on their respective piles but I didn’t throw them away.  (This was in the 1980’s so there weren’t any e-mails or chat groups yet.  But I do the same categorisation today via my computer and devices). 

I wouldn’t tell the sources of the Will Not Do tasks that I won’t be doing what they asked me to do.  I’d wait to see if they would follow up.  If they didn’t, I’d just leave the request sitting in that pile of Will Not Do.  If they did follow up, I’d still not do the task.  I would procrastinate. If the source comes back and follows up repeatedly and frequently, only then would I consider moving the task to the Will Do group, otherwise it stays in the Will Not Do pile.  I figure a request would be important only when the source spends significant time asking (or telling) me to respond.   

Negotiate

But even if I consider converting a Will Not Do to a Will Do, I would still push back.  I would ask the source why the request is important and why I should do it.  Maybe the source can delegate the request to someone else?  Or the source can review whether the request is worth the work?  I’d negotiate.  I would finally agree to responding to a request after I’d be satisfied with the argument of the sources and their justification. 

Or I’d finally agree to respond if the source is a superior who stops asking and starts commanding me to do it.   And even if it comes down to a command, I’d still ask the superior source politely to put it in writing. 

I learned not to commit immediately to requests.  I’d acknowledge them but I wouldn’t make promises.  I would if the sources press me to but only after I’d do some procrastinating and negotiating. 

By experience, I have found both tactics to be simple but effective means to filter the urgent and important from those that aren’t.  Many requests have turned out to be trash or withdrawn after procrastination and negotiation.  And it has saved me time. 

For managers, doing these two tactics can make a difference in how their time are spent and getting to meet goals that they fully feel are more important. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

The Many Questions Supply Chain Managers Are Asked to Answer

The following are questions customers typically ask supply chain managers:

  • “Why is it taking you so long to deliver my order?”
  • “When will you deliver?”
  • “How many of the items we ordered will you deliver today?”
  • “How much of an item do you have available?”
  • “Your items didn’t meet our specs; when will you replace them with the right ones?”

Executives also ask supply chain managers the following:

  • “How much did we ship today?”
  • “How much did we ship so far this month?”
  • “How many orders did we receive from Sales today?”
  • “How many pending orders do we have?”
  • “Why do we have so many pending orders?”
  • “When will you deliver the pending orders?”
  • “When will the items be produced?”
  • “How many of the items will we make?”
  • “Why does it take so long to produce?”
  • “When are the materials for production arriving?”
  • “How much will we pay for materials this month?” 
  • “Why are we getting customer complaints?” 
  • “How are you responding to the customer complaints?”
  • “Our costs are too high; how can we reduce costs?”
  • “What’s your plan to comply with government rules on sustainability?”
  • “How safe is our product?”
  • “What’s your plan to stop pilferage of our products?”
  • “Why are we wasting materials?”
  • “How can we reduce inventories?”

Vendors and 3rd party service providers also ask questions:

  • “How much of this material are you buying?”
  • “When are you ordering?”
  • “When do you need the materials that you’re ordering?”
  • “What are the specifications of the materials that you want to buy?”
  • “When will you pay me?”
  • “How much will you pay me today?”
  • “What is your company’s response to my bid?”
  • “How many trucks do you need tomorrow?”
  • “How long do my trucks have to wait before they get loaded at your warehouse?”
  • “Your bid is too low; can you pay me more?”

Supply chain managers encounter questions like these all the time.  Most who ask want answers immediately and supply chain managers feel the pressure to respond. 

The questions, however, lead to more questions.  And it leads to more searching for answers.  Supply chain managers sometimes spend the whole day (if not days) trying to answer questions than actually managing their operations.  

Supply chain managers work in a broad scope.  The questions they are asked would likely touch not only where there are assigned but also functions adjacent to theirs.  Logistics managers who are asked the status of shipments may find out there are issues with production shortfalls and materials shortages.

And because supply chains aren’t only limited to an enterprise’s internal functions of procurement, manufacturing, and logistics but also include the interactions with other enterprises upstream (vendors), downstream (customers) and branches (e.g. service providers, parts suppliers), the questions that supply chain managers are asked would also lead to issues outside the borders of the enterprises they work for. 

Supply chain managers, therefore, are in that unique and unenviable position of dealing with questions that go beyond their job descriptions. 

Supply chain managers should welcome questions, however, not dread them.  Not only they should anticipate them, they should seek them out. 

Questions like the ones above offer windows to opportunities as they indicate what executives, customers, vendors, and other stakeholders find important.

Questions are not problems.  But they together are the first step in figuring out what and which important problems need to be addressed and solved. 

Questions unravel the problems we need to solve.  Seeking them out and defining the problems behind them are proactive methods for supply chain managers to not only answer pressing questions from stakeholders but also open avenues of opportunities which lead to lasting benefits. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Solving Problems, Cultivating Ideas Together

I worked for Procter & Gamble Philippines in the late 1980’s.  I was a production manager who oversaw the food packing lines of the company.  As production manager, I was invited at times to join the food brand team meetings led by marketing managers, who were responsible for their respective products’ success. 

P&G is famous for its brand management approach.  Introduced in 1920’s by Neil McElroy, who later became P&G’s president, brand management focused on individual products rather than the overall business.   Every product would have a brand manager who would be accountable for its market share and profitability. 

The brand managers of P&G formed teams represented by different functional members from all over the company.  These included people from product design & development (PDD), finance, sales, market research, and manufacturing. 

For the two (2) food product brands, my senior manager boss of food manufacturing was the member of both brand teams but the brand team at times would invite me to join meetings in cases where they needed some technical input. 

Brand managers delegated problems with their ideas to respective team members to solve.  PDD, for example, was charged with solving product design issues.  Finance was accountable in forecasting profits and presenting costs.  Sales made sure they got customer orders and that the product was distributed in all trade segments and geographic markets. Manufacturing was expected to provide time and resources for PDD’s test runs of product prototypes and to ensure volume targets were met when the product was launched. 

Brand managers would press brand team members to solve problems especially when there were tight deadlines to meet.  The careers of P&G brand managers depended on the successes of their ideas; failure was not an option.

This caused some friction between departments in which brand managers had to work harder to get supportive commitments from team members.  Some did and became successful.  Some didn’t and they left the corporation.   

One factor to why brand managers were unsuccessful was that they overly delegated problems to team members, to the point of blaming them for failures.  These brand managers misplaced delegation with teamwork. 

As much as there may be individual inventors who bring their ideas into realities single-handedly, successful idea-creators see the need to work with problem-solvers. 

Ideas and problems are not mutually exclusive.  Neither idea nor problem is worked on separately.  Problems are not obstacles to ideas and ideas should not be seen as unpleasant disruptions that lead to problems.

We should welcome both ideas and problems.  Ideas are the “a-ha’s”, the insights that are foundations of creative concepts.  Problems are the challenges that can provide us opportunities. 

When we encounter problems while inventing from an idea, we should try to seek opportunities from them, as much as we may try to overcome them as obstacles.  Problems can lead us to better ideas, as much as ideas can lead to problems. 

Team leaders therefore should not delegate as in pass problems with accountabilities to other team members.  Telling a team member to do a job and to do it correctly or else is not delegating; it definitely isn’t teamwork. 

Delegating is about entrusting and empowering a team member to do a job rightly and excellently.  It doesn’t exclude the compelling need to work with people. 

When an idea for a new product is created, a brand team should cultivate it together.  Team leaders and product design experts should tinker with new product ideas together.  Leaders should study profitability with finance experts together.  They should plan roll-outs to the trade together with the field sales people.  And they should test products and observe production runs together with manufacturing. 

The key word is together.  Teams are there together for a common purpose and when it comes to ideas and problems, they should tinker with them together to attain success. 

About Overtimers Anonymous