The right brain chasm in supply chain and S&OP

Earlier this year I spoke at the Australian S&OP forum 2013. On the first day of this event, Oliver Wight spoke on the evolution of S&OP and they discussed the ‘chasm’ in S&OP. The term ‘the chasm’ comes from the book ‘Crossing the chasm’ by Geoffrey Moore. Moore used the chasm to describe the difficulty in a (product) lifecycle go from early adopters or visionaries to the early majority. According to Oliver Wight S&OP has crossed the chasm of early adopters and is becoming mainstream and accepted as best practice. Although there are still too many different definitions of S&OP out there, I agree with Oliver Wight.

The Chasm

My presentation was about how to create and sustain a culture of S&OP and how we need to start using our right brain to do that. I tell you why we need our right brain more. The biggest change we have to go through when implementing S&OP is to start thinking horizontally rather than vertically. We have to start crossing the borders of our silo’s to start communicating and collaborating with other functions. Thinking horizontally means thinking holistic. Thinking holistic is a right brain activity.

Crossing the silos is hard for us, as historically we are wired to stay in our silo. That’s just our survival instincts. Staying in our own clan or herd, means risk reduction, certainty, safety and a higher change to survive.  Only when our survival is threatened we will go outside our herds, take risks to try and survive. Our survival in business is now threatened if we don’t cross the borders and exchange better and more complete information for agile, fast decision making. If we want to cross a silo effectively, we have to understand the other silo’s motivations, goals and feelings. We need to have empathy for the other silo. Feelings and empathy are right brain activities.

The last thirty years we have made great progress in developing supply chain management and S&OP form a left brain perspective. As I described three years ago, it is now time for the  behavioural supply chain , or the ‘right brain’ supply chain. We’re three years on and unfortunately I don’t see many signs that we’re getting closer in crossing the chasm from left brain to right brain supply chain thinking.

9 thoughts on “The right brain chasm in supply chain and S&OP

  1. I agree with your “curve” on adoption of S&OP but kind of think “chrossing the chasm” as a bit of a software VC investment overused thesis on business. Very few things become main stream and many that do = are not necessarily good. It is way to simple of a concept to be used when it comes to business management solutions and S&OP.

    S&OP is good from all aspects $, people, balance, growth, fairness etc. and will continue to be a strategic advantage for firms that both understand its impact and have the temerity and fortitude to deploy and continue deployment.

    For those who don’t get it…. they will not flourish and likely will disappear as operating business over time

    Our approach at DCRA Inc. and is to make a full S&OP solution affordable to anyone !

  2. Thanks for your comment Jon,

    I think you have a point. S&OP might be crossing the chasm, but how?
    Many firms might adopt the S&OP principles, but in what form and is it really good enough?

    ‘For those who don’t get it….they will disappear over time’
    A tough statement Jon. Deep in my heart, I like to believe it!


  3. Niels

    Where Jon may be correct is that I find that all organizations have people at very different levels of understanding and capabilty. That doesn’t negate the value of a simple concept such as Moore’s chasm to conceptualize the stage of maturity of a process/technology/…

    You have touched on a good point. It is that funny overused word ‘collaboration’ that is so easy to understand and yet so difficult to implement. Until be define and emphasize horizontal roles we will continue to suffer from silo expertise. The funniest thing to me is when people ask if S&OP reports into Sales, Finance, or Supply Chain. It shows that they are not thinking horizontally and are stuck in their silo mentality.


  4. Thanks for your comment Trevor,

    it’s funny you touch on this point. Although I report in Finance, when my own leader (the FD) recently asked me to what group I feel I belong to, my answer was; ‘the business’ and not ‘finance’.

    To cross the silo’s, do we need a role with horizontal power? Some research suggest that 30% of people is selfish. Will they ever cross silo’s? Or do we need the right group of people in the silo’s, with the right capabilities & behaviours. A group that can put aside their silo priorities when/if required?

    For collaboration to happen, I think we require a critical mass of people that show naturally cooperative behaviour. If on top of that, these people have a common goal, vision or purpose that goes beyond their silo’s, collaboration might happen.

    And yes, the word is hugely overused!


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  6. Niels – interesting discussion. Without intending to be a putz – some of what you discuss is definitional to S&OP and the horizontal “power” you mention should be derived from the business unit head “owning” the S&OP process. Thank you for reminding us and for initiating this discussion. I also agree with Trevor on the question “where should S&OP reside” – the leadership of the S&OP process can reside anywhere as long as the ownership is with the senior leadership team – and the S&OP lead should has a strong cross functional understanding of the business.

  7. thanks for your comment Patrick, I appreciate it.

    I think we all agree that leadership is key here, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the biggest issue and opportunity (thought) leaders have to start addressing, which is:

    Finding ways to build critical mass of people that show cooperative behaviours, want to understand the other silo and are open to be influenced by the other silo (function or business unit). People that think holistic in ‘we’ and ‘us’, rather then in ‘I’ and ‘me’ and show understanding and have empathy for the other silo. People that pro-actively cross the silo’s. Building critical mass of people that have a developed right brain and are willing to use it.

    This is where the real value for businesses is with transparent information, timely, speed and agile decision making or correcting mistakes. Fuelled by social networking we see evidence of more narcissism and ‘I’ and ‘me’ thinking. So this challenge will only get bigger.

    Supply Chain (thought) leaders are mostly left brainers and don’t think (yet) like this. They think logic, KPI’s and analytics. This is how supply chain and S&OP have evolved the last 30 years and achieved great things. My point is; it’s time to change if we want to bring it to a whole new level.

    Yes we all agree leadership is important. I’m talking about what (thought) leaders have to start doing next!


  8. Interesting discussion, and good to see many of the familiar thought leader names also “collaborating”… perhaps one day we can also collaboratively agree if it’s to be called S&OP or IBP? 🙂

    On topic: I think the “vision thing” is the fundamental key here.
    a) Make people understand how cross-functional cooperation will make their own working lives less stressful and more satisfying (the carrot)
    b) Hold them to account for failures induced by insufficient initiative in cross-functional communication (the stick)
    c) Last but not least show yourself not to be shy by walking into the office of anyone you need at any time you need (the example).

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