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ASCM Insights

Stop Pedaling and Start Navigating


When was the last time you sat down with your team to thoroughly review your supply chain organization’s progress and future direction? These days, some professionals are so busy that they fail to notice when they’re running to stand still. If most of the work you do involves decisions and activities that affect the next 30 days, then being reactive is your norm. Furthermore, you probably want to do everything yourself because trust is lacking, which may cause high levels of employee turnover.

The first step to being proactive and learning to let go and trust your team is plotting a longer-term course. Organizations that can balance short- and long-term demands conduct regular strategic sessions, meet frequently with their customers, visit other industries to learn best practices and invest in their employees. This requires thoughtful planning, market research, competitor analysis, forecasting, process improvement, business development, delegating and leading.

However, the most fundamental activity is articulating a vision. Vision is what future success looks like. It should be grand in scope — not next quarter or next year, but five or 10 years out. Generate a vision by having all stakeholders get together in a room and complete the sentence, “Our vision for XYZ Company is ________________,” by writing just one word on a sticky note. Then, collect the responses and group them into their natural categories. The power of the group generally captures the most relevant themes.

Once you’ve articulated your vision, try the approaches outlined in Figure 1. The lower levels are fundamental and easier to conduct. The higher levels are strategic and require more effort and discipline. You may complete some in tandem, but regardless of how you proceed, they are best performed in a team setting.

Start-stop-continue is a simple framework of what to start doing (because it will lead to improvements), what to stop doing (because it isn’t helping) and what to continue doing (because it’s working). To identify these items, have team members write down at least one response for each category on a sticky note, then, once again group them to detect consistent patterns.

Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats (SWOT) analysis is a strategic planning technique for business competition or project planning. To perform a SWOT analysis, break up your team into four groups. Ask each the following questions:

  • Strengths: What do we do better than the competition?
  • Weaknesses: What do we need to improve upon?
  • Opportunities: What external factors can we capitalize on or use to our advantage?
  • Threats: What external factors could jeopardize our success?

Give each group 15 minutes to list responses. Then, add each group’s responses to the four quadrants on a large flip chart, as in Figure 2.

Current state versus future state uses several attributes to describe how an organization is currently operating versus how it might operate in the future. This tactic requires considerable knowledge about the company and is best performed with a cross-functional group consisting of marketing, sales, engineering, production, supply chain, customer support, finance, human resources and information technology. An outside facilitator is often useful to keep participants focused and to avoid bias as participants discuss

  • your products and services
  • focus, core expertise and comparative advantage
  • revenues, gross profits and net profits
  • customers, in terms of industry, revenue, number of employees, and whether the business is public or private and domestic or international
  • the geographies and markets in which your company operates
  • customer expectations
  • organizational structure
  • the extent to which processes are documented, followed and maintained
  • the extent to which data is captured, stored, reported and analyzed
  • company culture.

Business alignment starts with defining the organization’s goals. Goals are the key phases required to reach a vision, like the rungs on a ladder. They should be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely). Next, design the appropriate strategies to realize those goals. Examples include product or service innovation, supply chain optimization, operational excellence, and customer retention. At this point, the team selects high potential areas on which to apply the strategies. The process ends with identifying the specific projects within those high potential areas. The beauty of the business alignment framework is that it pulls the right projects such that they align with the goals instead of pushing projects through the organization.


It’s time to stop pedaling and start navigating. Don’t delay — take the first step today toward achieving that critical, yet so often elusive, balance between short- and longterm demands. The strategies presented here are a proven place to start.

About the Author

Peter J. Sherman, CSCP Managing Partner, Riverside Associates

Peter J. Sherman, CSCP, is managing partner at Riverwoods Associates, a process improvement training and consulting firm based in Atlanta. He is a certified Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt and previously served as lead instructor of Emory University's Six Sigma Certificate program. Sherman may be contacted at