Organizations whether they be large or small, established or start-up, public or private, and regardless of the particular industry in which they operate, often find themselves requiring external expertise to help solve a problem.
Sometimes the organization is fortunate to require direction on how to grow intelligently vis-a-vis human resource policy, financials, or supply chain execution. Other times that same organization may have to figure out to drive down costs, absorb an acquisition, or develop contingency plans to survive a global pandemic.
Specific to the supply chain, business leaders have a myriad of choices from which to select some outside expertise. Of course, large multinational firms have ‘the name’, a broad suite of offerings, swarms of people, their established approaches, and solutions galore.
Mid-sized firms may not have the ‘name cache’, but often offer similar solutions (albeit in a narrower band), may have founders and partners with big firms in their bios, might focus on particular industry verticals, are expert in a selected supply chain functions, and are a bit more nimble in meeting client requests.
Specific to the supply chain, business leaders have a myriad of choices from which to select some outside expertise.
Boutique or niche firms (and solo person shops for that matter) are by definition focused on a particular role (say implementation of software), industry vertical (e.g., retail or automotive), may have staff with somewhat diverse backgrounds, tend to market themselves as experts in a specific supply chain discipline (e.g., distribution, procurement, or logistics), and can be extremely flexible in the ebbs and flows of the client relationship. Often the owner or partners is/are also part of the delivery team, has close client relationships, and can quickly decide course changes. Not a bunch of red tape here.
Any one of these choices may be appropriate for you and your team. If asked, most consultants will give the standard “It depends” response. Irrespective of your need or project, here are a few analogies that might help:
- GENERAL PRACTITIONER VS. SPECIALIST DOCTORS
General practitioners are trained to diagnose and treat patients of any age and gender, and we use these doctors for annual check ups or when we have general health issues or concerns.
While we all appreciate the enormous breadth of knowledge that a GP has in various areas, if you have a condition that warrants more intensive care, you’re going to want to be referred to a specialist. You wouldn’t go to a GP for a torn ACL, the same way you wouldn’t go to your orthopedic surgeon for a cold. All surgeons are doctors, but not all doctors are surgeons.
- SUPERSTORE VS. SPECIALTY STORE
Walmart is a one-stop shop for most people because of convenience, affordability, and geographic coverage. They’ve got apparel, food, a vision center, car repair, gardening, pet supplies, pharmacy, toys... oh, and most of the assortment is available on-line. While there are benefits to shopping for everything all in one place, it doesn’t work for those requiring high-touch service.
The massive Walmart offers some decent products, but they can’t provide the same quality items and intimate, hands-on approach that local or specialty vendors can. The West Side Market here in Cleveland, is home to 100 vendors offering meats, seafood, fruits, vegetables, baked goods, dairy, flowers, ready-to-eat foods, spices and nuts. The person, often the owner, working the counter will help you find the product that meets your specific requisite, even offering free samples. Generally, Walmart employees can only point you to an aisle.
- HANDYMAN VS. LICENSED TRADESMAN
A reputable handyman can fix your door hinge, paint your garage, and repair your deck, but there are some projects a “Handy Dan” may not be licensed or able to do. Specialized trades like plumbing, electrical, and HVAC require a professional who is well-versed with circuit boxes or piping in a new appliance. Personally, I don’t want a furnace guy doing an internet search on how to fix my equipment when it is single digits temp outside.
As we see from these comparisons, there is no one ‘right’ answer.
- It depends on the size and scope of your project or need.
- Budget is a consideration; as is your experience in transformational, cross-functional programs.
- Is your project highly complex involving a wide variety of business functions or is relatively straightforward and single-threaded?
- Is the project charter, budget, and timeline well-defined or is there probable variation?
Do yourself a favor before spending hours Googling or calling firms. Make your best, honest effort at not just identifying your needs now, but also game out what the project will look like in three months, six months, a year from now.
- What could change?
- What is your culture and which model will fit best?
- Do you need speed to results or loads of intimate guidance on the journey to results?
Question everything. Be blunt. Challenge yourself. Then reach out to the Generalist or Specialist based on your needs.
Dennis Heppner is a Principal at JBF Consulting. Dennis’ expertise in transportation, logistics and supply chain operations, and third-party providers spans 25+ years. His experience is broad-based, spanning entire supply chains, including business process redesign, sourcing, distribution network design, transportation management, distribution operations, outsourcing selection, and business strategy for major manufacturers, distributors, retailers including eCommerce, and service organizations.
About JBF Consulting
Since 2003, we’ve been helping shippers of all sizes and across many industries select, implement and squeeze as much value as possible out of their logistics systems. We speak your language — not consultant-speak – and we get to know you. Our leadership team has over 70 years of logistics and TMS implementation experience. Because we operate in a niche — we’re not all things to all people — our team members have a very specialized skill set: logistics operations experience + transportation technology + communication and problem-solving skills + a bunch of other cool stuff.