Drafting the Ultimate Fantasy Team: Supply Chain Edition

Nothing quite compares to the sensation of winning: watching your carefully chosen players perform well, game after game, racking up points and moving your team up in the rankings. After taking the time to review player stats and understand the nuances of your league, you’ve developed a strategic plan for the season. And while hiccups and unexpected events may arise along the way, you’ve hedged against this risk by building an impressive, diverse team that’s expected to take you all the way and bring home the championship trophy.

This logic is sound for drafting any fantasy sports team, but what if we could extract this logic and put it to work in the business realm? In this blog post, I explore the idea of drafting the “ultimate team” through a manufacturing supply chain lens.

The Center: Suppliers

Selecting strong suppliers is critical to your company’s mission, as they are upstream of the rest of the supply chain. In addition to ensuring the proper sourcing and quality of raw materials, it is equally as important to examine the suppliers’ adherence to government and industry regulations as well as benchmark their performance (in terms of reliability, growth, accessibility, etc.) against best-in-class industry standards. A working knowledge of the risks your suppliers face also allows for a better understanding of how variance on the supplier side might propagate down the supply chain. Much like your team’s center, your supplier ensures the material is received accurately and on time, in keeping with your team’s cadence.

Offensive Guards and Tackles: Production

As they say in sports, the best defense is a good offense. Creating a cohesive and connected unit both on the field and in a manufacturing plant sets standards for teamwork and productivity, allowing for a seamless flow of operations. A strong offensive line can anticipate what the defense will bring. The same concept applies to manufacturing through improving forecast accuracy to enable better demand planning, which allows the organization to build the right type and amount of inventory (e.g. producing top sellers or in-demand items, ensuring less stockouts). Effective cross-functional communication between the sales team, the demand planning team, and the production team allows for more iterations of this process above, as well as the ability to respond to unexpected changes in the forecast or plan. As the saying goes, “it all starts up front.” A cohesive offensive line, just like a well-executed planning process, allows the team to move methodically down the field.

Defense and Special Teams: Warehousing

While those on the offensive lineup are usually the stars of the show, there’s something to be said about having a strong defense. I’ve singled out warehousing operations here because, just like defense, we see problems here that are unique to this part of the supply chain. Just like a good rush scheme, proper slotting techniques allow for increased capacity and shorter pick paths. Selecting facility locations with proximity to manufacturing bases as well as customer locations helps reduce risk associated with product transportation. Furthermore, inventory management, like your special teams unit, must be flexible to changes in demand and be ready to step in at any point in the game. Inventory and warehousing might not seem as “glamorous” as some other points on your business’ supply chain, but they’re vital to the success of the team.

The Quarterback: Distribution

When it comes to football, I’m willing to bet that even the most lax viewer can name some great quarterbacks. The reason behind this is simple: the best players in the game have a reputation for consistency, reliability, and on-time delivery. In football, a great quarterback follows plays and works with the team to move the ball down the field. The same goes for distribution, for your carriers are the important links that connect your product to your customer. Building a strong strategic relationship with a carrier of choice can help improve service levels and on-time delivery, and often times can provide the flexibility needed when you need to “call an audible.” While it may cost more than some other transportation options, retaining a reliable carrier of choice can help reduce large fluctuations of spend in your transportation budget. Your careful selection of carriers, route optimization, and network design ensures that all of the hard work performed up to this point is neither lost nor wasted. A strong distribution network, just like a quarterback, is directly and indirectly responsible for the organization’s ability to drive up the score.

The Running Back: 3PL

Nothing defines a “running back” quite like The Option. Having open options, even >during the play, allows for flexibility and aversion against the possibility of moving the chains back. Employing a 3PL to store, pick, and even deliver your product on your behalf provides similar benefits by relieving your warehouse of the strains of being over capacity or understaffed, especially during busy times. Another responsibility of a running back is to, when necessary, block for other teammates: a benefit that is mirrored by 3PLs from a customer-facing side by preventing late or missed deliveries on account of internal warehousing woes.

The Wide Receiver: Customers

A strategic offense places the wide receivers at the end of the line, supported by the rest of the players at the line of scrimmage. While you may not consider the customer an exclusive entity of your business, they are the main drivers and  influencers when it comes to your company’s direction. A football team cannot throw the ball downfield without having an eligible receiver: likewise, a business cannot effectively sell a product if there is no market to begin with! Understanding your customer base, forming strategic alliances, and providing excellent customer service helps to increase market share as well as drive the business forward.

Although it may have seemed like a stretch, perhaps we can see that there really are some parallels to be drawn between football and supply chain management. After all, supply chain success is a performance-driven aspect of business, and the keys to success can be found in the underlying numbers and statistics. While the thrill of fantasy football may at times be more exhilarating than SCM, I think we can all agree that a good strategy, strong players, and solid teamwork are harbingers for success. Building the ultimate team takes time and a strong coaching staff to lead the way. Seeking the expertise of experienced supply chain professionals can help your organization prepare for a winning season.

Jacqueline Quirk is a Sr. Consultant in the Supply Chain Operations practice with expertise in warehouse operations. She has a B.S. in Industrial Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology with a concentration in Supply Chain.

Read more about how Chainalytics supports an end-to-end supply chain:

 Ask the author a question

In this article