Gaining a Supply Chain Edge

Going for the Supply Chain Gold Medal: Inspiration from the Summer Olympics

The spectacular 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London are over. Although the excitement is dying down, it’s great to reflect back on the US taking home the most gold medals. Watching performances by athletes at the top of their fields from all over the world is inspiring, as we reach for excellence in what we do every day.

While it would be easy to compare some of what we do in business to the more visible Olympic sports – hurdling over obstacles, diving into change management, running marathons every day for our clients – what about some of the lesser known (and often satirized) Olympic sports?

How are the mechanics of these lesser known Olympic events similar to supply chain operations, or business strategy?

  • Synchronized swimming –If you saw the drama of this event, it might have made an impression on you. So many skills are at work here: Swimming, dance, gymnastics, ballet, as well as exceptional grace with exact timing to a rhythm that matches your teammates. One thing I noticed was that even out of the water, the teams in this sport often move as one, while walking out to the pool or after getting a score. Business leaders could definitely learn a few things about focus and precision in supply chain strategy from these multi-talented athletes.
  • Badminton –Using a racquet to bat around a lightweight plastic birdie (don’t laugh, it’s harder than it looks), players serve and swing back at their opponents much like in tennis, over a net. The little birdie can be hit far up into the air – or into the ground with incredible speed. As the birdie soars across the court, it often comes extremely close to hitting the net. Other times, players hit the birdie to the far side of the court, leaving their opponents scrambling to catch it. Much like a demand-driven supply chain, players are constantly trying to both predict and meet the demands of the game and understand immediately where the birdie is going next. Both supply chain demand planning and badminton are tough games, but if you are able to move fast enough, you can win.
  • Sailing –Battling the elements, as well as your competitors, is key to winning in this sport. It also requires the proper use of the “technology” at hand – the sails, the keel, the rigging, and so on. In fact, technology used in competitive sailing is regulated by specifications and boat types are typically classified by their manufacturers. In the same way, we use supply chain technology for better efficiency and cost-effectiveness to win against competitors – from selecting the right technology to implementing it.

So, although the Olympics are over for now, there is a lot we can emulate from these amazing athletes. Much like them, let’s all go, go, go for the gold!


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