Master Supply Chain Management with These 5 Scuba Diving Techniques

June 25, 2024

High Stakes, High Risk: Master Supply Chain Management with These 5 Scuba Diving Techniques

What do scuba diving and supply chain management have in common? A lot, as I realized while on a scuba diving break from the hectic business world. It was while underwater, surrounded by calm, that I realized just how similar they are. Learning to scuba dive and mastering the complexities of supply chain management share a non-negotiable requirement: an unwavering commitment to foundational principles. Fail to grasp the basics of scuba diving, and you risk severe injury or even loss of life. In the world of SCM, the stakes are no less severe: A neglect of fundamentals could result in crippling operational setbacks and financial devastation—potentially sinking your business.

During my first dive certification course, I was hired to lead the supply chain integration of relocating a 400,000 sq. ft. manufacturing facility and consolidating two outside warehouses into one location. The marching orders given to me were to meet or beat the budget with no impact on the customer. If you have never done this before, it’s very intense. It is like holding your breath and changing a scuba air tank in 60 feet deep water in a swift current.  The same stress is valid for supply chain management.

You may have no desire to learn to scuba dive, but if you’re reading this, changes you do want to learn effective supply chain management.  I’m going to walk you through four ways that scuba diving actually clarifies the importance and best practices in supply chain management.

Let’s dive in:

Rely on trained professionals. Would you consider taking a diving course from a nonprofessional, putting your life on the line, and then jumping into the open ocean? I certainly wouldn’t.

I want to learn from an individual educated and trained by an organizational body with rigorous standards, who is focused on my safety, received consistent training standards, and has established a long-term development path in their certification body of knowledge. For years, many organizations have made this exact mistake with their supply chain management organizations. They staffed supply chain teams with nonprofessionals without understanding the potential contribution to the organization of professionals and to financial performance, or they treated supply chain managers and team members as second-class citizens, never allowing them to spread their wings to flex their true impact on the organization’s operations and financial performance.

With supply chain management responsible for greater than 50 percent of cost of goods sold (COGS), you need the “best of the best” to lead this function. And it is a profession — not unlike that of certified public accountants (CPA) and professional engineers (Peng). The top universities in the world offer a BSc, MBA, and PhD in supply chain management. Your team deserves the same level of professional individuals found in these other disciplines. And supply chain professionals must demand more professionalism from their peers — and more professionalism in interactions.

Master the fundamentals.  Whether you’re strapping on a scuba tank or taking the reins of a supply chain management operation, a rock-solid foundation is your passport to long-term success. In both domains, it’s the groundwork that defines your trajectory.

After earning my certifications, I set out to explore the undersea world. At first, I did not venture too far from home, diving in Key Largo, Florida, followed by diving at a repurposed rock quarry and the in-shore wrecks off the North Carolina coast. I was comfortable enough that I had the skill set needed to explore these locations. As the number of my dives increased, I cast my diving sights further and further out: first to the Bahamas, then as far away as Indonesia. With each new dive excursion, my skills, knowledge, and experience increased, and I built the self-confidence to move on to the next destination.

It’s the same with supply chain management: it takes years to understand and relearn the theories and be able to apply them to real-world situations. You learn a foundation of knowledge in university — and then learn how to build on it with each new job and each new company.  And the organization needs to add energy and resources to build, maintain and sustain a world-class supply chain process.

Apply quick but correct assessments. Excellent buoyancy control is what defines skilled scuba divers — they glide effortlessly, use less air and ascend, descend or hover almost as if by thought. They more easily observe aquatic life without disturbing their surroundings. Coming across some amazing turtle doesn’t make them bounce up and down and use up too much oxygen. They have mastered the weight check: not too heavy or too light.

Again — same with the supply chain. You can conduct a rapid assessment of  your operations, from procurement to distribution, to identify bottlenecks, optimize resources, and strategize effectively, all contributing to a more resilient and profitable supply chain. An improvement plan will help prevent having teams that “bounce” with no control over their processes —running all over the place, trying to put out fires, often not knowing which way is up, like a poor buoyancy problem in the water.  ’

Declutter for efficiency and performance. Picture yourself decked out in the latest scuba gear, from state-of- the-art knives to an array of safety signaling devices — mirrors, air horns, safety sausages, reels, you name it. While some of these tools are vital, being overburdened creates unnecessary drag, reducing your efficiency and expediting your air tank’s depletion. The goal of diving isn’t to carry the oceanic version of a Swiss Army knife; it’s to immerse yourself in the underwater world as efficiently and enjoyably as possible.

In a strikingly similar fashion, an overstocked inventory acts like a boat anchor to your business — weighing you down and slowing your responsiveness. The clutter of excess inventory not only curtails your operational agility but also consumes valuable resources for its maintenance. Just as a diver must carefully choose gear based on specific dive conditions, businesses must ascertain the optimal level of inventory to meet market demands without hampering performance.

Conduct a buddy check. Before diving, all divers run down a “Buddy Check” list to ensure that the air is on, the air tank is full, you know how to remove your dive buddy’s weights, and you know the location of their secondary air supply. The checklist’s design is to ensure neither of you runs out of air or enters a decompression dive, which could cause severe injury or death. With these critical checks completed, it is time for the fun to begin. Being a good dive buddy is essential to enjoying the underwater ecosystem.

These best practices translate well to businesses; it’s an excellent methodology to ensure peers learn key concepts and improve their skills. Having a buddy system helps create an environment of internally friendly competition and ensures you understand the subject matter to teach and educate others.

Scuba diving gave me a way to disconnect from the frenetic pace of manufacturing operations. But it also gave me a place to find clarity — and create better solutions. Surrounded by open water, I saw endless opportunities for establishing inventory pull processes, challenging legacy policies, and planning parameters to increase inventory velocity, customer loyalty, and profitability. As in scuba diving, the learning and improvement in supply chain management never stops.

© Art Koch

Originally posted on CEO world Magazine – 25 June 2024

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