Supply Chain Managers' Year-End Checklist

Here are some must-do tasks supply chain managers need to accomplish in Q4 to set themselves up for a successful 2021.

Drobot Dean Shaking Hands
Drobot Dean

For decades, one of the defining characteristics of supply chain management was data-driven decision making and a focus on historical patterns of demand. With the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic uprooting every stage of the supply chain this year, manufacturing plants and warehouses shut down for weeks or months, shipping became more challenging, products experienced rapid fluctuation of demand and key materials experienced unforeseen shortages. This unprecedented market has turned the global supply chain on its head with no prevalent historical data to predict upcoming trends.  

While many organizations were blindsided this year and had to pivot their procurement strategies on the fly, it is now time to focus on the future. The supply chain is an integral component to a successful business, and how supply chains prepare now sets the tone for how the business will be able to recover or continue to thrive in coming years. 

Below are the must-do tasks supply chain managers need to accomplish in Q4 to set themselves up for a successful 2021. 

Examine 2020’s strategy  

Did your operations run as smoothly as can be controlled? Were your methods and products as cost-effective as could be? Re-visit main decisions from the past year and explore what other alternatives could have improved the process. Evaluate how well your supply chain was prepared for the pandemic and see what areas to improve on moving forward.  

Evaluate how effective your crisis management strategy was and adjust as needed. Consider auditing your team’s standard operating procedures, technology resources, apparent skills gaps, and training and development opportunities. 

Evaluate your technology 

The pandemic may have uncovered some gaps in your current software. Many legacy systems do not adapt to change easily, making forecasting efforts more manual this year. If your current software is performing at less than optimal rates, this is a good time to examine the alternatives. Consider the key shortcomings of your current software such as edit-ability, visualization or automation and form your future decisions around those needs. 

Assess your sustainability efforts 

Sustainability has been a major long-term initiative for many supply chains, and many consumers are taking notice of which organizations are committing to helping the environment. Evaluate how the business has been tracking to sustainability goals and where your team can help.  

Help lessen the organization’s carbon footprint in the New Year by evaluating if there are more sustainable options for key materials or environmentally friendly vendors to form relationships with. Consider if it is possible to source some materials locally to reduce shipping, or if there is any way of utilizing more recycled materials in your supply chain. Begin this process now to implement these changes in the new year.   

Brainstorm ways to improve external relationship management  

A supply chain relies heavily on its connections with outside suppliers and vendors. Now, while many are still unable to travel for meetings for the foreseeable future, it is time to get creative. Is there a better way to reengage your contacts to keep relationships with suppliers strong?  

Identify your strategies for communication and conflict resolution to continue fostering beneficial connections outside of your organization. Consider tapping into your marketing team for ideas or help create engaging marketing materials to share with contacts. 

Audit your inventory 

Many supply chains are operating with slashed inventory budgets in order to reduce company losses this year, and this could potentially have serious ramifications on your operating line.

Take time to do a full audit of your inventory and create a game plan to mitigate possible delays down the line. There is a fine balance between cutting costs and being ill-equipped for an unforeseen spike in demand.  

Take time to analyze the patterns of demand from the beginning of the pandemic in order to create a contingency plan in case of a second wave of Coronavirus. Because this year saw unprecedented shortages and interruptions in the global supply chain, ensure you have a strong and diverse pipeline with multiple sources of needed materials. 

Connect with staff 

Some team members may still be working remotely and have additional personal challenges on their plate. For those on your team balancing caring for family or helping children with e-learning, consider finding ways to provide additional support. Stay up-to-date with employee mental health and engagement efforts and create a plan to improve retention, if needed. Beyond just connecting with staff individually, find ways to keep your team culture strong such as competitions, socially distant events or virtual holiday parties. 

If you’re hiring, define what your current talent gap is and what your recruitment strategy will be to attract the best to your organization. Consider initiatives that will foster a positive company culture to keep your people engaged.