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Beware the stories we tell ourselves and others


Supply Chain Storyteller - Beware the stories we tell ourselves and others.

Excel failures are the software’s fault, not user error, right? In my two most notable failures, I’d gotten handy with multi-tab spreadsheets and various functions and tricks to use them as the basis for global supply chain plans. All that skill and technique is useless when the wrong file version gets sent.


In one case, I built a global supply and production planning model that extrapolated item-level forecasts from high-level regional demand estimates. Considering that my predecessor in the role used individual files and lots of paper, I felt good about my super file until I forgot to refresh a pivot table and sent the “final” plan with incorrect information. That file fed into the 5-year financial planning model, which immediately looked wrong and brought a deeper look into the source file. It took a few days for me to find my simple error, which I owned up to and had to explain to the executive management team.


The other case was also an example of sending the wrong file. We were in the middle of production for a large-scale product launch. My teammates and I were in constant contact with the factory in Asia, sending many files back and forth throughout the day. The protocol was to double-check the file version each time it returned from the factory. That fateful day, the quick updates I needed to make were my last task before heading home to my family. I only learned of my mistake on our nightly global update call when the site halted all production due to unexpected changes to the plan.


The pain felt during both incidents was genuine, but they make for good stories, which I often share, especially with those earlier in their careers. In many cases, sharing these stories create bonding moments with others as they tell me of similar mishaps. It’s essential to learn and understand that not everything will go well, and mistakes happen, sometimes in significant ways.


In both situations, I overlooked the role of the stories I told myself. I was overly confident in my skills and abilities and slightly impressed with myself. I’d started to believe the stories I told myself. I'd begun to accept them as truth.


Telling stories and making promises not rooted in reality can bring far more harm than good. I'm now better at checking myself to ensure my stories are real, and supply chains and broader businesses should be, too. For example, if a company gives a customer various shipping options upon online checkout, it must be able to deliver in 2-days, a week, or whatever they offer.


The power and fun of telling a good story are incredible, and the pull of getting a big reaction is natural. The challenge is to stay grounded and ask what the story we’re telling ourselves, our customers, or whoever. If we’re doing this only for the story's sake, it might be time to reset and adjust.


About the Author

Patrick Van Hull

Chief Storyteller at Supply Chain Storyteller


Let’s chat when you’re ready to start learning together. Book a call with me

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