Supply Chain Trial by Jury

Author’s note: I have jury duty today. The last time I reported for jury duty, seven years ago this month, I got selected as a juror for a murder trial and spent almost three weeks in court. Those were also the first three weeks of me going off on my own and starting my own company. I think I earned less than $100 for my time served — not a great way to start off financially, but serving as a juror was a worthwhile experience nonetheless. After the trial was over, I wrote the following post highlighting the parallels between a jury trial and supply chain.

Late last year, I spent almost two and a half weeks as a juror in a murder trial. Like most people reporting to jury duty, I had hoped I would spend a few hours in court reading a book and then get dismissed. Instead, I survived all the cuts made by the judge and lawyers and found myself in the jury box. But after going through the trial process, even though it was emotionally draining and highly disruptive to my work schedule and personal life, I agree with what the judge told us at the very beginning: That serving as a juror will be (and was) one of the most fascinating experiences of my life.

I’m not going to discuss the details of the case. I’ll simply say that when you mix youth with alcohol and drugs, you often end up with a bad situation.

What I want to talk about today are the parallels I saw between a jury trial and supply chain.

Bringing together a diverse group of citizens to determine the facts and render a verdict is not unlike bringing a group of people from different functional groups together in a monthly S&OP meeting to determine “one version of the truth.”

In a trial, the jury has to determine the credibility of witnesses and the truthfulness of their testimony. Participants in an S&OP meeting have to assess the accuracy of forecasts and the “testimony” of their colleagues (Is sales being too optimistic? Can logistics really handle the anticipated volume spikes of these planned promotions?).

While the stakes are not as grave as life without parole, the verdicts supply chain teams render each day, week, and month can have lasting consequences. For public companies, the verdict slip is read each quarter by the CEO (“the jury foreperson”) in their call with investors. Guilty is falling short of analyst expectations, missing the numbers for the quarter. Innocent is exceeding expectations, taking market share from the competition, and raising the bar for next quarter.

Shifting gears a bit…

I received an email yesterday from a 3PL executive. He posed a simple question: Where are we versus the needs of the market and our competitors?

Here was my simple answer: Ask your customers–they are the best and only jury that ultimately matters.

If you’re renewing your contracts and growing your business, then you’re obviously meeting the needs of the market. If you’re losing customers and winning fewer deals, then you’re missing something.

The second best people to ask are customers you might have lost or didn’t win after an RFP process. Was it just about cost or did other factors contribute to losing the business?

And don’t be afraid to take the stand yourself and let your customers play the role of prosecutor and ask you tough questions. Their assessment of your credibility on the stand and the truthfulness of your answers will factor into their decision to grow their relationship with you or walk away.

So, the next time you’re called for jury duty, bring a good book to court. And if you get empaneled, especially for a criminal trial, don’t be upset. Unlike an S&OP meeting, it will be one of the most fascinating experiences of your life.