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Small Business Supply Chain: 3 benefits of documenting yours and 5 steps to get you started

Posted In Operations, Process & Procedures, Small Business ON April 7, 2020
Supply Chain Warehouse

Your supply chain can be impacted by many events. At any time, and especially during this pandemic, it’s important to understand how your supply chain works and be able to manage disruptions.

Your supply chain may be simple or complex. It includes all the activities, people, and information necessary to obtain materials used to sell a product to your customer. Whether you make tacos, sell books, or manufacture wrist braces, mapping and documenting your supply chain will benefit you.

3 Benefits of Documenting Your Supply Chain

1. To clarify the flow and improve efficiencies
2. To prepare for potential disruptions
3. To provide guidance

1. Clarify the Flow and Improve Efficiencies

Process Flow Map

Mapping your supply chain and documenting the details will reveal what you know and what you don’t. Mapping and documentation provide a shared understanding for your team and lays the foundation for improving efficiencies.

2. Prepare for Potential Disruptions

Once you’ve mapped it, consider what might go wrong. Some events you simply can’t control but you can always try to be prepared by having a backup plan in place.

3. Provide Guidance

Harvard Business Review’s recent article, “Coronavirus is a Wake Up Call for Supply Chain Management”, highlighted this point, “when procurement personnel leave, change roles, or retire, their knowledge leaves with them.” I couldn’t agree more. (And the same applies to every employee on your team.)

It’s important to capture the knowledge of each employee involved in your supply chain. If a key employee was suddenly absent, or leaves on short notice, clear instructions will provide the guidance for you or others to temporarily fill in or efficiently train a replacement.

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The benefits are clear, but how do you get started? I’ve outlined five steps to get you going. The path is straightforward, but it will take time. Consider scheduling relatively short but regular intervals to work on it until complete.

5 Steps to Get Started

1. Map your supply chain process
2. Document the details
3. Develop your contingency plans
4. Review and Improve
5. Maintain

Step 1: Map Your Supply Chain Process

Map your supply chain as a process flow diagram or outline the steps. At this point, keep it high level. You’ll fill in more detail in step 2. Start with the source of your goods and materials. Include each major step and entity involved in the process. Depending on the number of sources and different types of product, you may need multiple flows.

Step 2: Document the Details

For each step in your map or outline, document what happens in detail. Include the details of sourcing goods, placing orders, receiving orders, and handing returns and damaged goods. You’ll also want to spell out how to enter the product into your inventory system. Use a combination of spreadsheets and word documents to capture the information here.

Step 3: Develop Your Contingency Plans

Now that you have a solid understanding of your supply chain, you’ll want to make a plan for every scenario where something could go wrong. What if goods are not available or if they can’t get to you in time? Walk through every step in the process and consider the impact of failure at any point. Identify the triggers to implementing your backup plans. What are the warning signs that something is about to go wrong? Use past disruptions and lessons learned to keep your contingency plans practical and realistic.

Step 4: Review and Improve

There are a couple of reviews you’ll want to do in this step. First review the documentation for accuracy and usability, then review the process for efficiencies.

Reviewing for accuracy and usability asks, “Does the documentation reflect how the work currently happens and does it provide enough guidance for someone else to fill in and do the work?” Here you are testing how clearly the documents are written, how complete they are, and if your assumptions are shared by others. 

Reviewing for efficiencies involves asking, “Does the current supply chain process reflect the best approach or can it be improved?” Are there unnecessary steps in your process? Are there too many layers or people involved in the process? Is the product being sourced from the best vendor? Is the work happening in the most efficient sequence?

After you’ve identified and implemented the improvements, update the documentation and run through another usability and accuracy review.

Step 5: Maintain

Documentation is useful as long as it is current. Once any part of your documentation is out of date, all of the documentation becomes suspect. Create a plan for making updates as they happen and schedule regular reviews throughout the year. A good approach is to make one individual responsible for maintaining the documentation.

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Like all documentation, it will take time and energy to do it right. The benefits of good documentation are many, so rest assured, this is time and energy well spent. If you don’t already have your supply chain mapped out and documented, now is a good time to start.

If you’d like help getting started, need in-depth support, or just want to find out more, book a free consultation. Or, take this short survey to gain insights about your existing documentation in general, and receive a custom next step.

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