The phrase ‘Best Practices’ is a great phrase for organizations and especially consultants because it implies high quality, industry expertise and the phrase cannot be nailed down!   However, when you think about the implications of Best Practices, along with the current highly visible focus on defining and implementing best practices, I have identified two key challenges to the operation;


  1. If everyone utilized the same best practices and everyone implemented the same best practices, then it goes to follow that they would no long be best practices.  After all how can they be ‘best practices’ if everyone is doing them? In this case that would become minimum operating practices!
  2. Every operation and Supply Chain must be specialized and configured to meet the individual organizations and partners involved in their Supply Chain.  In a way each organization builds and implements a Supply Chain with different features and requirements, very few supply chains are identical.  So, you must think of best practices and more like optimum guidelines that will be configured or customized to fit the specific Supply Chain requirements.


You should never look at this exercise as a ‘once and done’ initiative.  Everyone wants to be following ‘Best Practices’ and based on the challenges I’ve identified above I suggest a more appropriate, realistic and value added approach to these challenges is to view this initiative as a continuous improvement program to utilize ‘Best Guidelines’ as a means to identify and deliver the most valuable improvements in your Supply Chain.  This continuous improvement program would follow a DMAIC process (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) to continuously measure the results of the improvements and revise and drive new improvements into the program.  This program must take into account the culture and the individual challenges and objectives for each supply chain.


Just as these improvements must take into account the culture and the individual challenges and objectives of each supply chain, the measurements must take into account not only the individual processes and procedures, they must include the impacts and results on the entire supply chain.  You must remember that the changes and improvements you implement in one process can have a positive or negative impact on the upstream and downstream processes in the Supply Chain!


In addition to planning for the measurements you must also clearly define the service levels and key performance indicators you will utilize in your measurements.  In order to effectively measure the improvements your measurements must be consistent!  Your improvements should be defined and delivered in such a manner as to allow effective measurement, contain the improvement delivery in a controlled manner, and contain the size and extent of the improvement in a way that will control the problems in a worst case scenario.


This ‘Best Guidelines’ continuous improvement program can bring an added value to the Supply Chain through the definition and documentation requirements of the business processes and the definition of the service levels and the key performance indicators.  This baseline of information will be extremely valuable to the Supply Chain in providing a means to clearly communicate and measure performance of all the partners.  In addition, this provides a comprehensive base for developing training and new partner on-boarding procedures and programs. 


I recently completed an internal operational business process mapping exercise for a major direct-to-consumer retailer.  The exercise provided a ‘journey of discovery and understanding’ for the organization and expanded into some additional areas.  This was an iterative exercise that involved the front-line associates to the senior level management team.  The result of this exercise provides a continuous valuable tool in operational discussions, improvement programs and new associate on-boarding and cross training.  The value of this tool, and the exercise to develop the tool provided an order of magnitude level of added value in addition to the base objective of providing a baseline for improvement definition!


Now for the audience participation portion of this program……


What is your experience with the benefits, risks and costs of ‘Best Practice’ implementations?


Have you seen a progression or maturity growth in your procedures? 


Have you recently completed an evaluation and validation of your service levels and key performance indicators? 


What hurdles and challenges have you encountered in implementing a continuous improvement program?