7 Principles of Supply Chain Management

What are the principles of supply chain management? In this article, we will explain the key principles of SCM that you can understand quickly and easily.

In 1997, Supply Chain Management Review published one article called "The Seven Principles of Supply Chain Management" written by David Anderson, Frank Britt, and Donavon Favre. At that time, SCM was a pretty new term, so this article did an excellent job to explain the important supply chain management principles in one shot. More than 10 years passed and this article is considered the "classic" article and got republished in 2010. As of now, it got more than 160 citations from both scholarly articles and trade publications. The following section will show the summary of 7 principles in an infographic form and I will discuss if the concept from 1997 is still relevant to the current business environment.

1. Adapt Supply Chain to Customer's Needs
Both business people and supply chain professionals are trained to focus on the customer's needs. In order to understand the customer better, we divide customers into different groups and we call it "segmentation". The most primitive way to segment customers is ABC analysis (as in inventory management) which groups customers based on the sales volume or profitability. Segmentation can also be done by product, industry, and trade channel.

Back then, Anderson et al. suggested that the customer is segmented based on the service needs, namely, "sales and merchandising needs" and "order fulfillment.

I totally agree that we should focus on customer service, but this doesn't seem to be enough these days. The reason is that your customers may not know what they need until your competitors offer something different. For example, in 2011 Amazon initiated a program called Amazon Prime (free 2-day shipping and discounted 1-day shipping). Today, people are still discussing if this program makes sense. But one thing for sure, the customer turns to Amazon more and more. The moral of this story is that you should "anticipate" the customer's needs as well.

2. Customize Logistics Network
When you segment a customer based on the service needs, you may have to tailor the different logistics networks to serve a different segment. However, this principle doesn't hold true in all situations.

For example, if you were a contract manufacturer in China, you might already have different logistics networks for different customers. Each customer in the US or EU might already control the source of raw materials, ask you to provide dedicated production lines, and nominate 3pl companies and air/sea carriers. So, logistics network design is a kind of initiative driven mainly by the customer.

3. Align Demand Planning Across Supply Chain
Supply chain practitioners are taught to share the demand data with trading partners so nobody has to keep the unnecessary inventory. In general, this principle holds true. But in reality, only Walmart is actively sharing the demand data with trading partners.

There is a very interesting paper "Top-Down Versus Bottom-Up Demand Forecasts: The Value of Shared Point-of-Sale Data in the Retail Supply Chain" by Williams and Waller 2011, the result of research found that,

- If you make the demand forecast based on SKU/Customer level, using your own historical order data is more accurate than using the POS data you get from retailers.

- If you make the demand forecast based on the SKU/Store level, using the POS data you get from retailers is more accurate than using your own historical order data.

The implication is that the absence of demand sharing is not necessarily bad. But when you got the demand data from trading partners, you MUST use it the right way.

4. Differentiate Products Close to Customer
Dell keeps components and assembles them only after a customer places the order in order to increase the product variety. This principle is still true, but, there is another principle that you should consider.

"Standardization" is in the opposite polarity of "Differentiation". For example, some cosmetics manufacturers formulate products and choose packaging and labeling that complies with the regulations of multiple countries in Asia. So they only make one SKU that can be sold in 15 countries instead of 1 SKU/Country. By standardizing products appropriately, they can drive the purchasing cost down drastically due to the economy of scale and improve international business operations. So standardization is something that you should also consider.

5. Outsource Strategically
This is the principle that stands the test of time. In short, don't ever outsource your core competency.

6. Develop IT that Support Multilevel Decision Making
If you search Google for the term "critical success factor ERP", you'll find lots of information about how to implement ERP successfully. My opinion is that IT project management shouldn't be done in the isolation, business process re-engineering is something that you have to do before implementing an IT project. This will equip you with a full understanding of process deficiencies, then you can determine what kind of technology you really need.

7. Adopt Both Service and Financial Metrics
Anderson et al. suggested that activity-based costing (ABC) be implemented so you can determine customer profitability. However, there is an interesting twist on the ABC concept.

In 1987, Robert Kaplan and W Bruns defined the activity-based costing concept in their book "Accounting and Management: A Field Study Perspective". However, in 2003 Robert Kaplan said that it's difficult to maintain an ABC costing model to reflect the changes in activities, processes, products, and customers. Then, he introduced the refined concept called "Time Driven Activity Based Costing."

From my understanding, practitioners are still using the traditional ABC, and supply chain researchers are still citing the traditional ABC articles. My question is, does the traditional ABC really work?

Anyway, supply chain practitioners can adapt service and financial metrics from initiatives like lean manufacturing and six sigma.

- David, J., Frank, E. B., & Donavon, J. F. (1997). The Seven Principles of Supply Chain Management.

- Williams, B. D., & Waller, M. A. (2011). Top‐Down Versus Bottom‐Up Demand Forecasts: The Value of Shared Point‐of‐Sale Data in the Retail Supply Chain. Journal of Business Logistics, 32(1), 17-26.

- Kaplan, R. S., & Bruns, W. (1987). Accounting and Management: A Field Study Perspective. Harvard Business School Press. ISBN 0-87584-186-4.

- Kaplan, R., & Anderson, S. (2006). Time-driven activity-based costing.

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Last review and update: July 5, 2022
About the Author and Editor:
Ben Benjabutr is the author and editor of Supply Chain Opz. He holds an M.Sc. in Logistics Management with 10+ years of experience. You can contact him via e-mail or Twitter.