Supply Chain Strategy: The Ultimate Guide

Craft a future-focused, business-aligned supply chain strategy and translate it into executable plans.

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Discuss, plan and prioritize supply chain strategy with this one-page design framework

Translating supply chain vision into execution is hard. In fact, only 30% of supply chain leaders feel strategy and operations are well aligned.

Detailed, bottom-up planning loses sight of the function’s strategic ambition. The best strategic plans align to enterprise demands.

Our one-page template enables collaboration on end-to-end supply chain strategy development. Download to:

  • Turn strategy into action faster
  • Communicate your supply chain strategy with key stakeholders
  • Identify investments to green-light

Critical components of a dynamic supply chain strategy

The supply chain strategic planning process must quickly absorb and address disruption while contributing to business goals.

Define and execute a resilient supply chain strategy

Gartner research identifies resilience and agility in supply chain management as the two main priorities for almost all organizations, with about 90% investing in greater supply chain resilience over the next two years.

But the fear that prioritizing resilience and agility will increase supply chain cost may force supply chain leaders to make difficult trade-offs as part of supply chain strategic planning. Plus, global supply networks are complex and often include highly specialized players in lower tiers that cannot be substituted easily. As part of supply chain planning, visibility into the extended supply chain ecosystem has generally been poor. These are all obstacles to designing the supply chain organization for resilience and agility, and drivers of disruption to supply chain management.

As part of supply chain planning, the global chief supply chain officer should:

  • Use scenario planning to assess and address market needs

  • Create visibility into critical supply chains

  • Increase collaboration with key stakeholders, including customers, suppliers, logistics providers and manufacturers

  • Identify and prioritize key supply chain segments

  • Prepare for volatility in supply and demand caused by supply chain disruptions

An agile strategy is key to supply chain risk management

Due to common misconceptions around agility, over 30% of executives wrongly believe that they can’t afford to be agile and have refrained from agility investments as part of supply chain planning. And unfortunately, when a significant disruption inevitably happens, their organization lacks the “insurance” that agility offers and must pay to stabilize business.

Gartner defines supply chain agility as the ability to quickly and reliably sense and respond to disruptions through supply chain risk management — without sacrificing quality or cost optimization goals. Agility is critical because, in most industries, both demand and supply fluctuate more rapidly and widely than in the past, and this impacts supply chain planning.

Measuring the impact of supply chain agility means understanding how effectively supply chain performance is maintained when things don’t go as planned. To compare baseline performance with current performance, you will need to combine several key metrics, including order fulfillment cycle time, total cost to serve, upside supply chain flexibility and perfect order fulfillment. Then, associate performance variations with the supply chain risk management response. This analysis will help determine which agility capabilities should be activated or deactivated to impact business performance.

There are six categories of agility capability:

  • Planning: Supply chain risk management; end‑to‑end supply chain planning; scenario planning; predictive analytics

  • Visibility: Orchestrating a transparent and intelligent end-to-end supply chain; establishing a control tower; breaking organizational and information silos

  • Network: Diversifying the supply base; “nearshoring”; segmentation; expediting; supplier collaboration; inventory management

  • Operations: Supporting adaptability, flexibility and automation in manufacturing, distribution and logistics

  • Products: Product platforming; postponement for variability

  • People: Fostering an agile culture among employees

Balance cost pressure and growth aspirations to optimize network performance

Chief supply chain officers (CSCOs) have every reason to be exhausted after the disruptions and shortages of the recent past, and to be concerned about the future supply chain. Many CSCOs are asking, “How do I conserve organizational energy while increasing impact?”

CSCOs must diagnose and translate business impacts and constraints into specific supply chain responses that maintain network performance for appropriate balance between short-term cash pressure and longer-term growth aspirations. Timely and effective supply chain cost optimization actions raise the supply chain leadership profile and create the opportunity for expanded collaboration and influence on strategic design choices for even greater performance impact. 

Gartner identifies the following four themes for responding to business disruptions with targeted supply chain cost optimization actions.

First, leverage scenario analysis and situational decision governance in response to disruption events. When disruptions occur in the market, the relevance of budgets, forecasts and plans must be evaluated and appropriately discounted to reflect the new reality. As part of supply chain planning, assess changes to demand drivers and supply enablers and gather sufficient information to revise your supply chain costs.

Second, pursue alternative supply and enable profitable demand balancing in response to constrained resources. As the past decade has demonstrated, the supply chain planning process must now account for resource constraints beyond asset capacity. All primary resource categories — including equipment, labor, energy, materials and freight — have experienced challenges. Maintaining optimized network performance amid these constraints requires not only supply chain cost optimization but also proactive planning practices.

Third, improve alignment and reduce complexity in response to constrained margins. Supply chain has the primary responsibility for ensuring reliable, efficient product availability and service delivery to fulfill demand. This includes applying supply chain cost optimization techniques such as avoiding the costs of product quality or service delivery failures, and minimizing the level of operating inefficiencies, waste and losses. When market dynamics create constrained margins that cannot be remedied by competitive price increases to customers or relief from suppliers, CSCOs can make proposals that would increase operating efficiency (e.g., better alignment, reduced complexity).

Fourth, conserve cash and realign capacity in response to constrained demand. If demand is underperforming against the business plan, avoid broad-based cost reduction messages and leverage strategic cost optimization techniques. Shortfalls in demand require careful control of inventory and discretionary spend while remaining focused on delivery of customer experience. Address pressure to reduce supply chain cost with a review of scenarios for realigning capacity based on long-term projections.

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FAQ on supply chain strategic planning

Supply chain strategic planning is the process by which supply chain leaders define the function’s objectives, align key performance metrics and put into action the initiatives that will enable progress from the current state to the desired state.

To do strategic supply chain planning:

  • Assess organizational impacts on the supply chain function.

  • Define supply chain’s goals (e.g., cost optimization) and take actions to meet objectives.

  • Communicate the strategic plan and monitor performance.

Shortages of consumer and healthcare goods during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic illustrated the perils of relying solely on efficiency to drive supply chains. COVID-19 may have been the wake-up call, but many other national or global disruptors — including climate change, natural disasters and trade tensions — loom on the horizon. Supply chain strategic planning allows you to assess the value of supply chain capabilities, not just supply chain optimization. It also helps accelerate the improvements needed to close high-priority capability gaps.

A resilient strategy enables supply chain organizations to avoid, absorb and recover from the business impact wrought by major disruptions to global operations, such as price inflation and resource and capacity shortages.

To achieve global supply chain management success, develop a comprehensive view of organizational, economic and political landscapes up front, and define a list of decision factors (e.g., supply chain cost) that will guide project trajectory. On an ongoing basis, reevaluate and update the strategic plan.

  • Supply sense: An understanding of what is possible in the supply chain

  • Supply response: The operations in a supply chain that make things happen

  • Demand sense: Learning and monitoring what customers want

  • Decide and commit: With supply and demand sense capabilities, orchestrating end‑to‑end supply chains and making profitable promises to customers

  • Demand response: Logistics and fulfillment processes that enable companies to give customers the products and services they want

The best supply chain strategic plans identify select initiatives that will drive enterprise ambitions and commit the capacity (time, budget, talent and technology) necessary to execute successfully. Take these steps to ensure your strategic planning process is productive, adaptable and tied to enterprise goals.

  • Outline expectations.

  • Verify the business context.

  • Set goals and objectives.

  • Assess your capabilities.

  • Develop an action plan.

  • Set measures and metrics.

  • Put your strategy on one page.

  • Drive the plan home.

  • Prepare to respond to change.

Drive stronger performance on your mission-critical priorities.