How to Build the Perfect Supply Chain Team

Perfect Supply Chain Teams Might Be One Person or Hundreds of Them

Supply Chain Team

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Your supply chain team might have team members that will handle one or more ranging from purchasing and production planning to contract management and customer service.

At some small companies, there might be one person who handles all of those functions under the broad umbrella of supply chain management. 

At larger companies, meanwhile, there might be teams of people who handle just one—or a subset of one—of those functional areas. For example, a strategic sourcing group at a multi-billion-dollar biotech company can include several hundred sourcing professionals. Each sourcing pro is responsible for sourcing a specific category of spend. 

Those sourcing pros don't handle any other function in the supply chain—i.e. no purchasing, inventory control or customer service. That's the polar opposite of the small business with a single person who manages sourcing, purchasing, inventory, and so on. 

The first thing you'll need to consider when building your perfect supply chain team is its size. The number of people on your team is typically driven by budget. 

Are you a single person supply chain management team or hundreds upon hundreds of supply chain pro's? Or (probably more likely), somewhere in between. 

Supply Chain Functions

To build the perfect supply chain team, each team member needs to know its roles and responsibilities. And to get started in assigning those roles and responsibilities, you need to lay them out somewhat sequentially:

  1. Sourcing
  2. Contract management
  3. Supplier management
  4. Purchasing
  5. Freight coordination
  6. Warehouse management
  7. Item master control
  8. Inventory control
  9. Production planning
  10. Customer service

That's pretty close, but there's no real precise sequence or flow. The reason that the above layout has been described as "somewhat" sequential is that every supply chain is different and some of those functions overlap or take place throughout any supply chain process (item master control is an ongoing requirement, for example).

Again, the requirements of every supply chain is unique and, depending on what your company does, some of these supply chain functions might be more aligned than others.

Supply Chain Functional Alignment

If, for example, your company sells a limited number of stock keeping units (or discrete items, sometimes abbreviated as SKUs, ), then it may make sense to have the same person manage:

  • Warehouse management
  • Item master control
  • Inventory control

Or, if your company only sources from a limited number of suppliers, especially new suppliers or suppliers in other countries, it might make sense to align supply chain responsibilities for:

  • Sourcing
  • Supplier management
  • Purchasing

But functional alignment isn't the only way to develop roles and responsibilities for your supply chain team.

Customer or Product Alignment

Some business units find it advantageous to align supply chain responsibilities with a discrete product or customers. This might make sense, for example, if you have a product that you sell to only one—or just a handful of—customers. 

Let's say your company sells Product A to Customer X and sells Product B to Customer Y. And your company sources Product A from Supply 1 and Product B from Supplier 2.

That might create two discrete—cradle-to-grave—supply chain flows in which you can assign Supply Chain Pro Jill to Product A and Supply Chain Pro Jack to Product B. In this case, Jill and Jack could potentially manage:

  • Sourcing
  • Supplier management
  • Purchasing
  • Customer service

Others in your supply chain team can manage the functions shared by Product A and Product B (i.e. freight, inventory, warehousing, production planning, and item master). 

How You Probably Shouldn't Build Your Team, But How Everyone Does

Let's say you're not starting from scratch and you have a core team of people already working on the supply chain. Your goal might be to optimize the personnel you have available with the supply chain work that needs to be done.

The path of least resistance is to look at your team members and assess their individual strengths and weaknesses—and then say, "I know Jack does this job right now but he'd really be more suited to that job."

Using personality characteristics to assign roles and responsibilities might be a good short-term fix, but when your current employees invariably move on, their replacements will likely be different people.

That's the caveat—you shouldn't set your team members' roles and responsibilities because of their individual strengths, but here we go:

The Workhorse

If you've ever played a pickup sport at the Y (basketball being the example that comes to mind), you've noticed there's typically that one person who isn't the most talented, but always seems to come up with the loose ball, makes the stop, or gets in the grill of the other team. 

This person is someone you hate to play against but you love having on your team. "Scrappy" is sometimes used to describe this person. 

This person should be your sourcing, supplier manager, purchasing and contract management leader. These terriers tend to drive costs down and are relentless when dealing with supplier performance.

The Pacifier

Let's say it's Thanksgiving and you're at the table with your family and extended family. Conflict—especially unspoken, subtle conflict—has probably got everyone smiling through gritted teeth. But there's that one cousin or sibling that manages to keep the peace. 

That person makes sure everyone's needs are met without having the whole dinner blow up. 

The pacifier should be running your supply chain's interface with customers and your internal production planning and customer fulfillment team. The pacifier is an expert at the soft skills (getting others to do what needs to be done, without the others realizing that they're being managed) and can help integrate the complexities of your internal supply chain with customer demand.

The Analyst/Bookkeeper

This is an absolute necessity—and some companies have roles called Supply Chain Financial Analysts. Those who fill this role have a preternatural knack for keeping track of numbers and units and dollars. Find the analysts/bookkeepers in your organization and put them in charge of your item masters, inventory control, and warehouses. 

Optimize your supply chain team by putting the right people in the right function—but be aware that when those folks turn over, it might be time to align those roles and responsibilities.