The Zen Art of Logistics and Party Planning

With all the recent UPS Logistics commercials, the term logistics continues to move further into the everyday lexicon and hopefully soon we will all HEART logistics!

But other than seeing all the trucks and planes, just what is logistics and what does it mean in the real world of business? And based on all this airtime, do you want or need to learn more about Logistics and Supply Chain Management?

Take it from me, there are worse fates in life as at least these skills can be applied in the real world in support of business activity execution, expense reductions and to improve customer service. And even those who are perhaps here due to a one time passing interest or operational issue will be happy to know that these skills can be equally applied to planning and executing excellent parties!

Actually, let’s use the party as an analogy for the logistics process as it is something many can relate to, and believe it or not shares a number of common methods and challenges. Logistics is as much an art as it is a science and there is a certain holistic completeness, or Zen art to the efficient and well executed supply chain, and of course also to throwing the ultimate party! Anyone can buy and set up for a party and even with all the correct ingredients, some parties still unfortunately suck. The same goes for warehousing and transportation operations, anyone can buy trucks, rent a warehouse, fill it with racking, forklifts and even the latest logistics systems, but still end up with a dysfunctional and failed operation. There is a certain Zen art to taking all of these ingredients and participants and combining them to become more than the sum of the parts and achieve stellar supply chain results, not to mention have a great time as well!

In much the same way as there are ho-hum or downright poor parties, many logistics and supply chain operations suffer from the same fate. So what are the common aspects and “chemistry” which once combined result in great supply chains and excellent parties? The first shared attribute is visualization which must take place taking into account all available knowledge, data and a developed understanding of the task or operation to be planned. This acts as a basis for the second attribute which is quantification which simply means gathering all available numerical data to define the logistics requirement, including volumes, dimensions, weight, item counts and a number of other related details. The two columns below list some of these factors which will then form the basis for specific logistics planning in both cases. In fact as you will see, any of you who have previously planned a successful party have already developed some of the basic logistics skills.

In both cases the numerical calculation of all of these factors leads to a Cost/Result both Quantitative and Qualitative.

This type of data is the starting point for the next attribute Planning which is based on accurate and validated quantification, the keystone for the successful logistics and supply chain operation and no truly excellent party or supply chain operation will come to pass without this. Advanced planning in both cases based on as close an approximation of the end requirement as possible will lead to an optimal Cost/Result. For example the space or venue size required for a party is directly proportional to the number of attendees and type of party to be held ie; sit down, buffet etc. In the same way, the warehouse space and trucking requirements of a supply chain are directly proportional to the Types/Volumes of product and the required storage/handling and processing ie; crossdock, storage/picking etc.

Based on the timing set out, decisions must be made to acquire/book required space/resources and supplies, with any change in the base metrics and requirements again directly effecting the Cost/Result. For example, if a party is booked at a hall standing room only for a finger food buffet and a later decision is made to switch to a sit down dinner, the space required would probably at least double, not to mention increased supplies/staffing and preparation/serving costs. Similarly if a warehouse is leased to support a flowthrough/crossdock operation, and a determination is made that all product now requires storage, perhaps a warehouse twice as large or more might be required, again significantly impacting human resource requirements, materials handling equipment (MHE) fixturing, systems and supplies.

Now is it necessary for someone throwing a party to understand the cost and interrelationship of all of the above aspects to have a successful event? The answer is clearly no, if they can clearly define their needs to an expert party planner/caterer and stick with the plan/metrics, the outcome can be very positive. However in this case much depends on the quality of planner and this requires careful selection by the party host based on previous personal experience with the planner or positive recommendations and references from other trusted sources.

In much the same way, the Business Professional need not necessarily understand the details involved in executing supply chain operations to be successful. The use of solid and experienced third party logistics firms to execute a logistics operation based on a well defined and accurate requirement is however again crucial. However, unlike parties of which aspects are easily grasped by the lay person we would suggest those responsible for organizing and outsourcing logistics develop at least a partial understanding and grounding in each of the aspects of logistics and supply chain operations. This will allow one to communicate intelligently with providers and understand the basic aspects and levers relevant to their operations.

We look forward to sharing more with you on all of these aspects in the coming months.

Jeff Ashcroft