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How Running A Supply Chain Is Like Running A Marathon – 4 Proven Strategies


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Whether running 26.2 miles in an actual marathon or executing a figurative one to solve global supply disruptions, the same winning strategies apply. Neither happen by chance.

Connecting The Dots…

Linking methods for success in athletics to success in business is not a new concept, especially with the recent Olympics coverage and a heightened awareness on Supply Chain. There are several professional and athletic experiences that have inspired me to gain insights in this area.

  • Athletically, I competed in the Boston Marathon 14 times, including starting with the Elite Women’s Field in 2009. In 2021, I competed in the USA Track and Field Masters Outdoor Championships and set American records in both the 10K and 5K for my age group.
  • Professionally, I led 95 warehouses in 21 countries for General Motors Global Aftersales, helping the company maintain operations and serve customers through a six-week union work stoppage and the global pandemic.

Both situations required knowledge, planning and execution. Whether prepping to run a 10K or a supply chain of any magnitude, surpassing the competition requires strategic, intentional actions.

Winning Strategies…For Business And Athletics

  1. Know Your Competition – Do your research to understand who is the best as well as what they do to be successful. Then apply what you learn. Research reports like Gartner Supply Chain Top 25 provide details on how companies such as Amazon and Cisco Systems achieve excellence in supply chain management, along with key trends for maintaining it. For running, Apps like Strava enable you to follow and gain visibility to other competitive runners’ training activities. Learning from your top competitors – and acting on those insights – are key enablers for seeing what’s possible and improving performance.
  2. Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses – Athletes and business leaders need to honestly assess their capabilities to leverage strengths and overcome or compensate for weaknesses. And to establish your target areas – don’t go it alone! Seek assistance from professional resources to help you / your organization identify the biggest opportunities. Examples: At General Motors, I engaged the Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM) to conduct a benchmarking activity (SCORMark). We uncovered a multi-million dollar inventory reduction opportunity while maintaining customer service levels. To improve in running, I worked with a coach who helped me see that my strength was in longer distances. Targeted training enabled me to further improve my times…and set a 10K American age group record!
  3. Create A Plan – Once you know your target areas, creating a roadmap is critical. Actions without a plan may have some initial, short-term gains, but in the long run will not enable you to optimize results. A well-thought-out plan is key for closing the gaps in your weaknesses and maximizing your strengths.  Covid-19 was a wake-up call for many companies, exposing weaknesses in their supply chains.  In a recent McKinsey & Company survey of senior supply chain executives, 93 percent said they plan to increase resilience across their supply chain through targeted actions such as dual sourcing of raw materials and increasing their inventories of critical products. For runners, there are numerous sites and resources like Runner’s World magazine, as well as professional coaches, to help you develop a customized plan for achieving your goals.
  4. Stick To The Plan – The world, whether business or athletics, is a complex place with many competing priorities. You can have the best plan on paper, but if you don’t have the discipline to stick to it and execute it well, you will not generate results.  A good way to avoid this is to build in a PDCA (Plan Do Check Act) cycle to ensure you are staying on track and optimizing performance along the execution journey.  Examples: When I was at GM, after multiple implementation delays we integrated digital order visibility into the Customer Experience strategic roadmap. This prevented distractions from competing priorities and enabled much needed support and traction for this critical customer initiative.  In running, it can be very tempting to deviate from the plan – especially when your training is going really well. I learned this the hard way several years ago, competing in a 5K race less than a week after running a marathon. As a result, I pulled my hamstring and set my training back several months. Since then, sticking to my training plan has been a key factor in staying injury free and qualifying for multiple Boston Marathons.

Apply these Synergies

Excelling at anything, whether in the area of Supply Chain Management or athletic performance, requires a well-thought out-and well-executed plan based on learnings about your competition and yourself / your company.

And don’t forget to celebrate along the way. Recognizing and rewarding small wins and incremental improvements will keep you and your team motivated as you work to flawlessly execute your plans and over take your competition.

Now go win your race!

Written by Lisa Veneziano.


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