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.