Moving Supply Chain Planning Past Resiliency and into Antifragility

By Janet Suleski | September 13, 2022 | 1 Comment

Supply ChainPower of the Profession

In a recent blog post, my colleague Ingrid Gonzalez McCarthy cited a data point from the Gartner Supply Chain Disruption Management and Impact Survey that showed that the COVID-19 pandemic was the single most disruptive event that supply chain organizations had faced in the last two years. Another colleague, in a different discussion, raised the question as to whether companies could create truly antifragile supply chains that could, for example, face a stressor such as a pandemic and emerge not battered yet still intact, but in fact stronger than before the pandemic.

This led me to ponder the question of how well-positioned supply chain planning’s people, process and technology triumvirate are to support an antifragile supply chain strategy. Antifragility is a concept developed and explored by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book, Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder. He defines antifragility as different from the currently popular “resiliency” philosophy, stating, “Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.”

It’s Getting Better All the Time …

Here are a few of my early thoughts on moving supply chain planning past resiliency and into antifragility:

Technology

The top three goals for supply chain planning technology implementations or improvement initiatives, according to respondents to the Gartner Supply Chain Planning Business Case Study Survey, are:

  • Plan accuracy improvement
  • Asset utilization improvement
  • Better coping with uncertainty and variability

The third goal is reflective of a resiliency mindset — the ability to recover quickly from plans going awry — that supply chains are embracing. Your next thought might be, “Can digital technologies applied to planning then get us to antifragile?” As is true so often, the answer is, “It depends.” When asked to rate the significance of the challenges digital initiatives currently place, or will place, on the supply chain, 63% of respondents to the Digital Business Impact on Supply Chain Survey rated both “integrating and coordinating with supply chain” and “managing supply chain planning” as top areas digital initiatives are causing, or will cause, challenges. The hope is that the challenges posed in the short- to medium-term are overcome and lead to digital supply chain planning being a key pillar to antifragile strategies.

Process

To come out of a stressor with the greater capabilities proposed by antifragile suggests not only overcoming, but also learning from the process of overcoming, the stressor. That learning is instantiated in process to overcome the next stressor more readily, or perhaps even detect the likelihood of a stressor occurring, allowing the company to sidestep an event or cut it short right from the outset. The good news is that this is possible to a degree without technology. New product launch pre-mortems and product generational transition pre-mortems are two planning processes I’ve seen companies build that instantiates learnings from prior failures, allows the earlier detection of risks and sets the stage for cutting NPI or discontinuation stressors off early or avoiding them altogether. Technologies such as probability- and scenario-based planning are gaining traction as strategic levers for scaling more manual processes to enterprise-level planning strengths.

People

Antifragile planning needs to leave room for people to make mistakes, learn from them and then come back stronger. In a bimodal planning environment, Mode 1 conditions and solutions are predicated on experience, prior knowledge and a pre-agreed approach, and Mode 2 solutions are more explorative or experimental in nature. Companies with more advanced levels of planning maturity are more likely to encounter challenges related to the lack of, or inadequacy of, suitable skill sets among planning staff. For companies considering an antifragile strategy for high value or highly strategic product lines, what are your plans to upskill your planners’ capabilities? How might you need to adjust process, metrics and technologies to enable your planners to operate in Mode 2 antifragile environments? Now may be the best time to begin building the framework to move past resiliency in planning and into the next frontier.

Is antifragile “better” for supply chains? Like advanced levels of planning and other supply chain functional disciplines, it will be most applicable to high-value or highly strategic product categories such as lifesaving vaccines and other forms of breakthrough technologies. As companies seek to get more comfortable in operating in uncertain environments, antifragile offers a post-resiliency philosophy for supply chain leaders to consider.

Janet Suleski
Director Analyst
Gartner Supply Chain
Janet.Suleski@gartner.com

 

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1 Comment

  • lds says:

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