Supply Chain Management

scm 1The ever changing competitive landscape within which today’s organizations need to compete has been further complicated by the complexity within, where a typical CAS behavior presents anything but a linear form of interactions. The indispensible and inevitable involvement of most of the functions within the company produces agents with schemata (individuals as well as groups with personal/group agendas, multi perspectives, as well responses and (expressed verbally and/or non-verbally) negative and/or positive feedbacks. self-organizing network beyond the official hierarchies and boundaries (Stacey, 2011; Anderson, 1999; Simon, 1962; Grant, 2003; Bovaird, 2008).

The embedded complexity of supply chain management has continued to push us further closer the edge of chaos with its accompanying elements of unpredictability, indetermination. And, this leads the urgent need to better manage both co-evolutionary (horizontal and vertical) dynamics both within and between functions and departments to produce order, and to allow for the emergence of patterns of reasons, communications, and effective response processes  (McKelvey, 2002; Volderba and Lewin, 2003)

The purpose of this review of the relevant literature is to look deeper into what is already known about the topic, to critically examine them in the light of my first-hand experience, and to finally establish if my practices can further inform theories and vice versa if I were to continue to research into the issue.scm 2

Supply chain management is one of the most important issues facing today’s organization.  I schemed through the articles and purposely looked for the ones that offer more than just technological solutions (IT solutions mostly) to the problem and I found some very useful articles which I use as the basis of this article.  I know there are numerous (and some are very useful) IT solutions for SCM but as experience showed the problem is not simply about the tools but more importantly it is about the people behind the tools and those impacted by what the naturally imperfect nature of those tools in perfectly matching demands and supply in a complex adaptive world.

–       For me Lambert and Cooper (2000) and Gang Li et al (2010) provided the clearest background on the issue. I am in agreement with them that” supply chain management (SCM) is a new way of managing the (complexity) of business and relationships” (Lambert and Cooper, p 66, the emphasis is mine). In place of the old paradigm that business is simply about companies, brands, products, channels, promotions competing with one another, a more enlightened view now see business management as inter and inner networks competitions. Indeed, during the last decade we have seen how the Japanese management system with its famous ‘just in time’ system of supply networks (Drucker,  and Nakauchi 1997), Porter’s approach to competitive analysis (Hax and Majluf, 1984) and/or Collin’s (2001) ‘hedgehog concept’ have helped identified the product-market-supply structure complexity, technological complexity and organizational interactions complexity “as the predominant internal factors that influence the evolution of CASN (complex adaptive supply network) (Gang li et al, 2010). The financial impact or the role of SCM as value creator in FMCG firms is well displayed by Brandenburg and Seuring (2011) studies of various multinationals FMCG.scm 3

–       The supply chain management of today is about multiple relationships, values, interactions and endless balancing of needs of individuals, groups, functions, and companies. In that sense, as Lambert and Cooper (2000) argue, “SCM deals with total business process excellence”, and brought to the fore the very nature of complex adaptive system where we are witnessing the organization as a community of agents that is symbiotically mutating (McKelvey, 2002), evolving and reforming into a ‘fitness landscape’ (emergent order) based on the fitness of the ‘emergent’ strategies from the interactions between the all the agents across the boundaries and hierarchies within and without. (Stacey, 1995).

–       The lack of narrative (and the strong leaning towards systematic approaches and conclusion) makes these articles much less interesting to read for a practitioner like myself.   In my opinion they are placed concretely within the positivist tradition with emphasis on finding proves and empirical evidence on why SCM is crucially important and why and how companies are competing to find the most effective way to apply it.  Scientifically rigorous as they are, the articles are somewhat relevant to management practitioners in the sense that it provides strong evidence the dynamics of the SCM and the numerical complexities of the issue but they are not, in my view, particularly helpful in addressing the human relations, internal and external conversations and communications issue which stand at the very heart of SCM problem and complexity.  Though Gang li et al (2010) presented evidence specific to their home country: China, they fail, in my view, to adequately raise questions on the relevance (or even irrelevance) of the cultural context of their findings. Perhaps a narrative approach (with a strong story telling approach involving the experience of practitioners as well as academics) would produce what I would regard as a useful breakthrough in this field.

 

Critical Reflection

The value of co-evolutionary complex adaptive supply chain management, if supported by the appropriate form of leadership and strategizing activities (Stacey, 2011) is indeed quite tremendous. First and foremost it opens up our perspective or at least serves as a reminder that human organization and all its complexities begins, proceed and ends with conversations. The way different people from different backgrounds, cultures or under different circumstances are co-evolvingly unique. Conversation may be directive, consultative, and may carry different connotations to different people under different circumstances.  What is appropriate in my environment may prove otherwise in others.

The strategizing mechanism I have in mind is within the selection of ‘co-evolutionary generative mechanism (engines)’ identified by Volberda and Lewin (2003). The three classified adaptation-selection research that encompasses ‘theories that link organization specific capabilities with strategy to adaptation and survival’ (Volderba and Lewin, 2003; Kim and Mauborgne, 2009) and ‘theories linking firm to its macro environment’ (Volderba and Lewin) provide a platform on which the selecting of the generative – conversational based – mechanism can be applied to manage the complexity of supply chain management (Drucker and Nakauchi, 1997)competence 1

Gold, Holman and Thorpe (2011) description of management development “the closely related activities of critical thinking, critical reflection and critical discourses, and, to produce managers who will be sensitive to the roles that politics, power and emotions play in management interactions (McLaughlin and Thorpe, 1993) are super relevant to the application of a combination of ‘hierarchical selection’ with ‘managed selection’. Co-evolutionary learning process will provide the context and content for all involved to be a contributing agent for nurturing and selecting promising actions and fruitful collaborations. In time such context will in turn produce a bigger and I believe a sufficiently creative platform for ‘collective sense making’ (one that accommodates the two distinct forms of sense-making: ‘generic/collective and inter-subjective/individual relating’ – Stacey, 2011) that leads to “radical processes of system-wide change followed by incremental process of consolidation” (Volderba and Lewin, 2003).

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