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Supply Chain – A Travel Analogy

Have you ever travelled? Stupid question, of course you have.

It starts with planning and scheduling, doesn’t it? Deciding the dates to travel is maybe the first thing. That involves several potential allies. You don’t walk to the airport empty-handed and pick the next random destination. Sounds fun, but no, that’s not how it’s usually done. Depending on why you are travelling, you need to match the timing with the reason. If you have a meeting on Tuesday, then you have to schedule so that you arrive in time.
So, armed with your reason for travelling and your traveling partner, you pick your potential timeslots.

Now, how will you travel? Air, Sea, Train, Car? Depending on how long the journey will take, we have to calculate the time of our departure. Often, we must allow for unforeseen obstacles.

Then, we have to coordinate with the schedules of transportation. The airline does not customize their schedule to your needs. So, which flight leaves early enough to get you to your destination on time? And, if you’re driving, you want to know if you’ll hit a city rush hour traffic on your journey.

Now that you have the main travel selected, you have to arrange or plan the sub-journeys. Get to the airport, get from the airport, where will you stay, where will you eat? Will you have time to visit a friend, tour the city, pick up a souvenir? You know, the details.

Let’s go with you to the airport.

You watch people hustling to make their plane. You see people trying to figure out the process and where they should go. You see people frustrated and arguing with strangers or loved ones. You see airline crews going to their gates too. It’s not just passengers.

From the window, you watch as luggage is loaded onto your plane, Hopefully yours is among them. You see fuel being pumped, food and beverage brought on board, the cleaning crew working in between flights, and sometimes a maintenance guy or two. There are people helping to navigate and sometimes a vehicle towing the plane from the gate to the runway.

Inside, you hear people trying to get upgraded, folks with children and strollers, Grandmas and Grandpas that need wheelchair assistance. You hear loudspeaker pages for people to return to the checkpoint to claim the item they left there. You see restaurants and other shops serving the travelers who have a layover or who just got there early.

I often wonder how any of this comes together and gets us to our destination.
It’s a complex supply chain. It’s not that complicated, but it’s complex. If any one piece goes wrong, it’s a frustrating experience for everyone affected. And like all supply chains, I’m always amazed at our expectations as travelers that nothing will go wrong.

The same skillset used here, is the same skillset used in all supply chains. Used everywhere actually.

John Melbye, Supply Chain Educator at Become Demand Driven

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