Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Seeing things differently...

For a long time now, I have been involved with materials planning with SAP in so many industries. We've all been trying so many functions and features available in SAP and in a long time... not much has changed with the basic view we have of how it's working.

In the beginning there was MRP, where diligent planners were exploding Bills of Material and handily figuring out ordering quantities and dates for purchased parts. This was pre-60's and nothing has basically changed since. yes, MRP II was coming to introduce capacity leveling as an additional step and doing it with computers. Then ERP integrated Materials Planning with HR, Sales, Finance and much more. eventually the new big thing of Advanced Planning Systems was trying to automate everything without human intervention. Supply Chain Management, Big Data, In Memory Computing, Cloud Computing, Mobility... (somebody stop me...) all promising a better world and none of it ever delivering any improvement on the problem at hand: optimizing the ordring process to hold perfect inventories for good availability and service levels.

Do we need another point of view? Aristotle, a long time ago, was talking about the use of simile and metaphor, and the underlying capacity to see similarity in dissimilars - as genius. David Katz M.D., Director at the Yale Prevention Center then picks up on an interesting idea in his article about 'The Obesity Fix'. What if we look at the problem in a different way and consider Health like Wealth and see obesity like drowning? All of a sudden mental models shift and break apart. If health is like wealth it becomes something we invest in and live for... Dr. Katz: "We care about it both for our own sake, and the sake of those we love. We recognize most get-rich-quick proposals as scams; we are sensible about money. We don't spend everything we have today; we think about the future, and save for it. We get financial guidance from genuine experts, not just anybody who had a piggy bank once."

And Dr. Katz continues about seeing obesity like drowning: "If instead, we treated obesity more like drowning, we would tell the truth about food. We would not market multicolored marshmallows to children as part of a complete breakfast. We would not willfully mislead about the perilous currents in the modern food supply. We would not look on passively as an entire population of non-swimmers started wading in over their heads." 

Seeing things differently is not a new concept, it's just an underwhelmingly utilized skill... Man Ray did it all the time...

...so did William Wegman with his Weimaraners Man Ray and Fay Ray
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I love metaphors and looking at things differently. It gives us a desperately needed new point of view. So what about materials planning? how can we get to a better place?  what is the metaphor or simile? 

Maybe we should use the perspective of System Thinking. Looking at things more holistically and considering feedback, interaction and behavior a bit more and not being so fixated on  individual process and transactions. With it causal loop diagram provide us with a new way to 'see' whereas stock and flow charts provide a useful metaphor to interpret the behavior of agents and describe the system's structure for better interpretation and decision making.

I have been looking into the world of Thinking in Systems for a while now and am still looking for good applications in the SAP supply chain. There are some very promising features and opportunities turning up. I'd appreciate any interactions with colleagues interested in the same subject...