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In an attempt to help you keep your supply chain organisation from analysis paralysis, metric manipulation, or measurement misnomers, I decided to use this post to share nine important guidelines, or golden rules, for benchmarking your business and monitoring performance using meaningful supply chain KPIs.

Golden rule #1: meaningful KPIs require a meaningful strategy

I’ve written many posts on this blog about the importance of having a supply chain strategy that’s aligned with the overall business plan, and why it is a mistake to have misaligned strategies. I’ve also described some of the issues that can arise from such an error. However, it’s a topic worth touching on again, as an unclear or misaligned supply chain strategy will make it difficult for you to develop meaningful KPIs.

Your supply chain strategy should be the basis for your KPIs, but for that to be possible, the strategy must be clear, understandable, and aligned with the business plan.

With these conditions assured, you should be able to identify (broadly) the areas of measurement that will help steer your organisation towards its objectives.

Golden rule #2: don’t meddle or manipulate

If you want meaningful supply chain KPIs, you need to live with the numbers they reveal. I’ve seen more than one management team create or exploit process loopholes to arrive at better KPI results. It’s a folly to do so, and it doesn’t do the managers or the company any favours.

A prime example of this kind of manipulation (and really, it is manipulation), is when performance issues arise which results in shipments being delayed.

Instead of concentrating on resolving the issues at hand, the management team starts contacting customers and asking if they will accept a later delivery date or time. If the customers agree, the management team dispatches the shipments and records them as delivered on time.

Of course, contacting the customers is the right thing to do, but when it is the shipper, and not the customer, who initiates a change in the delivery schedule, there is no way it should be recorded as “on-time delivery”. Late is late, even when it is with a customer’s permission.

Golden rule #3: put yourself on the outside, looking in

You can come up with a list of service metrics and call them KPIs, but that doesn’t automatically make them meaningful supply chain KPIs. For them to be useful, your service KPIs should reflect how your customers are likely to perceive performance.

For example, if you offer a three-hour delivery time window, you might feel you are providing excellent service even if most of your deliveries arrive 15 minutes before the time window ends.

Ask yourself this though: Do you think your customers enjoy clock-watching for more than two-and-a-half hours while wondering if their delivery is going to turn up?

A more meaningful KPI would be to measure how many deliveries take place during the first hour of the time window.

Golden rule #4: choose quality over quantity

Sometimes, even if you choose and use meaningful supply chain KPIs, you still struggle to identify and address the priority performance issues. Very often, this is the result of having too many KPIs—so many that you can’t see the wood for the trees.

It’s a good idea when first establishing supply chain KPIs, to apply the rule of three. That means picking just three measurements to use as KPIs within each supply chain function or component.

Another alternative is to restrict your entire KPI suite to around ten metrics, a practice that will save you and your colleagues from analysis paralysis. Once you are familiar with your KPIs and everyone is comfortable with them, you can always add some more if it makes sense.

Golden Rule #5: use the right language for stakeholders

Another point that I’ve made in other posts, is that you while you will have a single, and hopefully a simple set of high-level KPIs, you will also need to break those down into smaller components to cascade them to lower levels in your organisation.

Cascading KPIs is essential because your high-level metrics will only be meaningful to stakeholders in the top tier of your company. They won’t be of much use in performance management without support from lower-level KPIs comprehensible to middle managers, supervisors, and functional teams.

Therefore, you should develop these supporting KPIs with an appropriate degree of granularity for each tier of stakeholders in your supply chain organization. Furthermore, you should present them in the right language for each stakeholder group and using the most appropriate instrument.

Golden rule #6: choose the right method of presentation

Further to the points made in Rule #5, it’s important to understand that for KPIs to meaningful to everybody in your organisation, it not only matters how KPIs look and read to individual stakeholder groups, but also how you present the numbers.

For example, a lengthy printed or emailed KPI reports is hard enough even for executives to engage with, let alone for operational teams that spend most of their time focused on delivering the results.

Try to find presentation methods that make your KPIs easy to access, visualise, and assimilate. You could try using digital dashboards customized for each type of audience, wall-mounted, scrolling LED displays, or a more interactive method such as short KPI briefings that allow team members to ask questions and make suggestions to improve the numbers.

Golden rule #7: the most meaningful KPIs are rarely off-the-shelf

Don’t get me wrong here; off-the-shelf KPIs can serve a useful purpose, for example, when used for external benchmarking exercises. They can give you an accurate portrayal of how your supply chain compares with competitors or with peers in your industry. They can also be an excellent source of guidance to get started with meaningful KPI measurement.

However, when it comes to implementing the KPIs you will use to measure your operation, it may not be wise to take the path of least resistance and select from a range of standard measurements used in the industry. After all, it is unlikely that the components of your supply chain work in the same way as those in another enterprise.

Of course, some “standard” KPIs might fit perfectly, but others will need some tweaking for them to be representative of your organisation’s performance, and you may even need a unique KPI or two if you are to drive behaviours that help you meet your company’s goals.

Golden rule #8: a meaningful KPI has an owner

In Rule # 5, I mentioned the need to tailor KPIs to specific stakeholder groups. However, no group is likely to benefit from access to performance measurements without an owner.

Group ownership is not a workable option since if you have more than one person responsible for a KPI, the reality is that nobody is responsible.

If your KPIs are to be meaningful, and hence successful, you need to assign responsibility at each level to the one person best placed to interpret them, make decisions based on what he or she finds, and take any action necessary to drive improvement.

That said, there is a certain sense in which a KPI (or set of KPIs) can have two owners, because the person assigned to monitor them, may not be the same person responsible for collecting the data. While automated KPI data capture is increasingly common, you might still require some human intervention. Here too, it is essential to determine whose will own the task.

 Golden rule #9: a KPI may not be meaningful forever

In supply chain management, change is the only constant. Over time, your business and supply chain strategies will change, and when that happens, some of your KPIs may need to change too.

Even seemingly subtle changes in your supply chain and logistics processes may make a difference to the relevance and accuracy of your measurements, making it necessary to conduct reviews every so often to make sure that all your KPIs are still meaningful. A metric that might have been perfectly fit for the purpose last year, may have degraded in value to the point of being mere noise today.

Ideally, you should revisit your measurements at least once per year or, if changes in your operation tend to be frequent, perhaps even every six months. Aside from these regular reviews, you should also take a fresh look at your KPIs in the immediate aftermath of any significant change project or event.

In summary

That’s it … nine important things to remember which really will make a difference between metrics masquerading as indicators of performance and the real McCoy—meaningful supply chain KPIs. To summarise them briefly:

  • Don’t play around to make the numbers fit
  • Use service metrics that reflect how your customers would see your performance
  • Don’t try to do too much, with too many KPIs, too soon
  • Make sure your KPIs support your supply chain strategy and objectives
  • Be sure you implement KPIs that are easy to understand at all levels in your organisation
  • Take care to present KPIs in a way that engages stakeholders
  • Before using off-the-shelf KPIs, evaluate whether they are a fit for your operation
  • Assign individuals as KPI owners
  • Review metrics regularly to check if they remain an appropriate reflection of performance

If you’ve had any remarkable experiences developing KPIs for your own supply chain organization, or you have some tips you would like to share for meaningful KPIs, please don’t hold back. Feel free to contribute in the comments section below. Your feedback and comments are always very welcome here at Logistics Bureau.

Rob O’Byrne is a supply chain consultant, coach and author with 40+ years experience in Supply Chain management. He is the expert making the blog called Logistics Bureau.

Photo: tyseo.net/ FlickR

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