Why Traditional Supply Chain Principles Failed
The pandemic didn’t catch the supply chain off-guard. Instead, traditional fail-safes gave way to an unprecedented crisis that couldn’t be solved or eased through classic supply chain management wisdom.
For example, one hallmark of managing a multilayered supply chain is to never put your eggs in one basket. If one of your suppliers fails to deliver a product or material, you switch to another source. For example, if a natural disaster impacted one supplier, the company may need to rely more heavily on a different supplier or find a new one.
In a pandemic on this scale, there is no alternative supplier. As countries have moved through the same issues together, the supply chain grinds to a halt because we rarely experience global issues like this.
Another issue is the behemoth size of our supply chains themselves. The toilet paper shortage was a great example of how non-agile systems cannot simply adjust in time to a massive disruption because they are by nature very slow, operating on razor-thin margins with no room for error.
Contrary to internet memes, toilet paper shortages were not caused by hoarding. Instead, a carefully balanced production of home goods versus commercial goods failed in the wake of more people suddenly being at home for extended periods all at once.
There’s plenty of commercial toilet paper — those huge rolls meant to sit in office bathrooms — but production lines can’t simply switch over to produce more consumer toilet paper. That’s not how it works. By the time massive supply chains rotated production over, we’d be over the crisis anyway.