Houston, We Have a Supply Chain Problem

Most people have heard the acronym “VUCA” as used to describe changing and sometimes dangerous situations. The military used this acronym to describe extreme conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

VUCA stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. When I think of VUCA, I want to change it to “VACUUM” as it applies to my supply chain, because a missed delivery or a loss of a reliable source can leave me hanging out there in empty space.

I submit to you the acronym VACUUM. It stands for, Volatility, Ambiguity, Complexity, Uncertainty, Unreliability, and Malpractice.

That last one sounds like I am accusing someone of doing bad things to my orders on purpose. I think that is exactly the case when I receive fake, remarked, or used parts sold as the genuine articles. Buyers have to be aware of the massive influx of counterfeit parts now circulating through the supply chain. I hear statistics such as every 15 seconds another counterfeit part is discovered. So “Malpractices” are practices that are MAL-icious, and now I have to watch for these bogus parts the same way I have to keep an eye out for Malware trying to hack or invade my computer.

New Supply-Chain Challenge

Supply chain errors can create a VACUUM for procurement professionals, because a missed delivery or a loss of a reliable source can leave people hanging out there in empty space.

Supply chain errors can create a VACUUM for procurement professionals, because a missed delivery or a loss of a reliable source can leave people hanging out there in empty space.

Character flaws
I also added “Unreliability.” Though it has an element of uncertainty to it, when I use the term, I am thinking of laggards who don't use best-practices for parts ordering, handling, or shipping. This is not just a procedural flaw; it is also a company employee character flaw.

Recently, I ordered critical parts for a board assembly operation, and I was told by the distributor that all parts I had ordered were on their way. Not true. After the parts were due, I had discovered that the person who took my order and made the promise to deliver, had a “bad day” (her own words) and made several errors when entering my requirements into her computer. She had delayed entering the order in the timeliest manner, which would have secured my parts in the order management system, and she neglected to verify the costs and availability she had quoted. Now you see why I use the term, “Unreliable” instead of “Uncertain.” My parts were not “on their way.” They were not even ordered.

If you are wondering where the other letters in VACUUM went, let me assure you that I became a Volatile customer and in no Ambiguous terms, I curtailed doing additional business with her company. She made a simple order so Complex that she gave me a “complex” that borders on paranoia about the reliability of order takers in general. It took days to figure out where in the ordering process the ball had been dropped.

Now, I have inside sales people repeat back everything I order, including part number, price, quantity, shipping methods, and delivery time estimates. I also insist on an immediate email copy of the order acknowledgement. I also check every line item on the acknowledgement before I am satisfied that the purchasing requirement has been met.

I like the term VUCA as it applies to the supply chain in general. Risk management has to take into consideration all of the potentialities. But I like VACUUM even better because if I don't consider all of the other possibilities inherent in character flaws, I could get sucked into situations that would make me look like a “space cadet” to my superiors.

4 comments on “Houston, We Have a Supply Chain Problem

  1. _hm
    March 11, 2013

    @Douglas: If you have approved vendor supplier list for specific parts, why do you need to follow this strange procedure of immediate Order Acknowledgement and like?


  2. dalexander
    March 11, 2013

    _hm, the example I gave was the result of human error and not supplier overall integrity. One employee having a bad day can give the entire company a bad name. I ask for email confirmations to catch a human error problem before it lands on my desk.

    March 13, 2013

    I like this term VUCA.  I had not heard of it before but it perfectly describes my experience of raising 3 teenage kids 😉

  4. kilamna
    March 13, 2013

    In this day of instantaniety (new word) order acks should be immediate.  We did that 10 years ago with all semicondutor orders (as a supplier), and I expect it today from Amazon and even the smallest online bakery box suppliers. If the system is not such that you will get an automated response, then the least one should do is to have the order echo'd back verbally …. the basic tenet of good communications.



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