When Tactics Win Out Print E-mail
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Written by Charlie Barnhart   
Thursday, 03 September 2009 17:40

The supply chain works best when diligence and consistency rule the relationships.

With this writing we come to the last in our series on the Seven Deadly Sins (and their counterparts, the Seven Heavenly Virtues) of Outsourcing. We have enjoyed putting these articles together and want toGlobal Icon thank Circuits Assembly readers for their indulgence. The Seventh Sin is Acecia, which translates as Sloth. Its outsourcing equivalent is Apathy, and its Virtuous counterpart is Diligence and Consistency.

Before embarking on long-winded analysis of Diligence versus Apathy, we would remind readers of the legend of the Gordian knot. The way the story goes is shortly after the citizens of Athens were told by the gods that whoever rode to town on an ox-driven wagon should be crowned king, a gentleman named Gordius (or his son Midas, some accounts say) pulled into the center of town on exactly the right ride! After being crowned king, Gordius decided to show his gratitude to the Athenians by tying his famous wagon to the Acropolis (with a particularly impressive knot) and proclaiming that whoever could untie it would become his successor.

However, Gordius wasn’t as generous as it might seem, as the knot was actually impossible to untie: It was made from a piece of rope whose two ends had been spliced together (arguably a good analogy to the outsourcing model in place today). Ultimately, Alexander the Great solved the problem with a sword and thereby was handed the crown (and Asia) in 331 BC. (Some say this was cheating. But if the knot had no ends, wasn’t cutting it the correct solution?)

Back to our sin du jour. As we have said often, those on the front lines of the outsourcing relationship are some of the hardest-working, least-appreciated workers in the electronics industry. Day in and day out, they perform the tactical, task-based activities required to maintain an outsourcing program (at an OEM or from within an EMS), which unfortunately also means they ultimately get blamed when something goes wrong (and inevitably it does).

Why is it inevitable that things will go wrong? Because the task is as impossible as the Gordian knot. But move away from the day-to-day grind of managing outsourcing and get assigned to anything “strategic” and you’re on Easy Street. In other words, in today’s business climate (or perhaps the entire Western World), being “tactical” equates to career suicide, while being “strategic” equates to flying high. But what of the needs of the company? A successful outsourcing relationship is hard work. There isn’t an Easy Button. Manufacturing electronics products is not an exact science: It’s messy, and things go wrong. It can seem like a Gordian knot to those charged with implementing it.

This is especially the case when you try to solve manufacturing problems a half-dozen (or more) time zones away. Plus, supply solutions increasingly have become interdependent; planning is based on forecasts shared up and down the supply chain. When the OEM forecast is off (as it usually is), small problems quickly become large ones, and those on the front lines find themselves in the intolerable position of having to put out fires, while simultaneously dodging bullets from coworkers and management. A Chinese Foxconn worker recently committed suicide after being questioned over a next-generation Apple iPhone prototype that went missing from his possession. It’s an extreme case, but it gave many in the industry pause, as we consider the pressures he must have been under.

Is the sword the only solution to outsourcing as currently practiced? Should outsourcing be abandoned and everything brought back in-house? Is our industry so plagued by Sloth and Apathy that we are no longer able (willing?) to do the heavy lifting and accomplish the tactical, tasked-based activities so critical to a successful outsourcing relationship?

Perhaps in some cases OEMs should consider changing direction – a few have started or are thinking about doing so – but in most cases, we suggest not. We still see companies that manage outsourcing extremely well: OEMs and their EMS suppliers able to work together by practicing Diligence and Consistency, day-in and day-out. There is nothing strategic about it – just plain hard work by two parties that have a job to do and are committed to excellence. 

Charlie Barnhart is cofounder and principal of Charlie Barnhart & Associates (charliebarnhart.com); This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Last Updated on Wednesday, 09 September 2009 18:45
 

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