Many of the news stories about the Chilean Mine rescue stress the unprecedented collaboration between people all across the globe who focused on and solved one of the most technically difficult rescue operations ever attempted. The stories emphasize the speed with which companies executed each task. UPS, for example, touts how it delivered a 50,000 pound drill within 48 hours; an Austrian company designed the rescue capsule in record time; a drilling team from Canada appeared on the scene within a day of being asked to; and so on.
All complex operations are divided into planning and execution phases. The reality is that the total time to accomplish a task also includes the time for planning the execution. The facts are that the Chilean Mine collapsed on August 5. It took almost 12 days before the miners were discovered to be alive. Actual drilling did not start until 9 days thereafter. The drilling for "Plan B" which was the one finally able to reach the miners did not start until 14 days after the miners were discovered alive.
In total, it took 14 days to plan the rescue (Plan B) and 41 days to create the rescue shaft. Another way of looking at it is that counting from the time that the mine collapsed, it took 31 days to figure out what to do, and another 41 days to do it.
In supply chain management, too, we often focus on the execution part. We use "lean" principles and other techniques to shorten execution, but don't always focus on how quickly we modify and rework plans in response to changes in supply and demand conditions. In fact many companies are still locked into the monthly planning paradigm. At the end of the day, shortening the planning cycle is as valuable as shortening the execution time, and often much cheaper.
This is all well and good, but how do you in fact increase agility? In our experience, there are three key factors:
1. Visibility and information. This means that you need to have the infrastructure to monitor conditions continuously. In the case of the Chilean Mine, having information about the last known position of each miner could have reduced the time for discovery. In the supply chain, continuous access to demand, supply, and inventory is crucial.
2. Scenario planning. Of course not everything can be predicted. But if you are excavating half a mile underground in a known unstable geology, it might be judicious to allow for a mine collapse, especially since eight workers had died at the mine in the last 12 years. No supply chain plan is perfect. Rather than chase the "optimal" plan, companies are better served if they also consider the robustness of the plan.
3. Knowing when to react. Changes happen continuously and it is often difficult to distinguish between a crisis and a normal perturbation. At the Chilean mine, more than a week was wasted in trying to rescue the workers through the existing mine opening because the full extent of the collapse was not recognized. In the supply chain too there is a need to measure changes and filter out minor perturbations because reacting to everything is often as bad as reacting to nothing.
Source: Supply Chain Consultants
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