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

What is a Supply Chain, Really?

The first time I heard about supply chains was when I was working as a production planner at P&G Philippines in 1989.  P&G’s top management had just reorganised the multinational consumer goods corporation’s operations worldwide, integrating manufacturing, purchasing, and logistics under one group: the Product Supply Organisation or PSO, for short. 

The aim of the PSO was to streamline the flow of materials and products from vendors to customers.  Executive leadership emphasised customer service, lower costs, and reductions in working capital, especially inventories. 

Top management at P&G Philippines pushed a comprehensive information technology project as the centrepiece to integrate the various functions, with focus on MRP 2, or Manufacturing Resource Planning, the precursor to Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP).

When P&G moved me to manage the shipping department at the company’s Tondo Plant in 1990, I arrived just in time for the implementation of the newly installed MRP-2 software.

It didn’t start well.

The software couldn’t keep up with the pace of orders coming in and the loading and dispatch of trucks.  The system would hang often or users from other departments weren’t updating inventories to allow us to pick items for shipping.  We ended up overriding the system which earned me the ire of the IT project leader.   Marketing brand managers and field sales came after my department as pending orders piled up and the General Manager even had me sat down in a whole day meeting to explain the snafus in the system.    

The shipping and IT department people worked nights, holidays, and weekends to get the system to work and ship orders.  We finally were able to deliver and the company saw its sales hit record highs. 

A lesson learned from the experience was this: 

Managing a supply chain doesn’t start with reorganisations or putting in a fancy computer system.  Managing a supply chain starts with establishing relationships between the people who’d be running it.  

The supply chain is a representation of operations and their relationships not only within the organisation of an enterprise but also with other organisations of other enterprises, especially the ones the enterprise does business with, such as customers, vendors, and 3rd party providers. 

A supply chain isn’t an organisation nor is it a system of operations.  It isn’t a flowing stream and it is not an ecosystem.  (Ecosystems are communities of biological organisms that eat each other). 

The supply chain is a model, a paradigm that shifts us from seeing work not as the jobs we do on our own at a work-station, cubicle, or vehicle, but as jobs that connect us with others in getting what we need, producing what are needed, moving to where they’re needed, and delivering to who needs them.    

A more-to-the-point definition for supply chains would be:  supply chains are operational relationships that make available products and services. 

Supply chain management is the management of those operational relationships

It’s not a system.  It’s not an organisation.  Supply chains are about relationships―relationships consisting of people working together to deliver products and services. 

About Overtimers Anonymous