Getting it right through clearly defined job roles.

Words: William Ross // Photo: Phoebe Rourke-Ghabriel

he Houston Supply Chain—the organisation responsible for supplying products to vessels around the globe—received some bad news. Less than favourable feedback had been received from customer service centres globally, there were issues regarding compliance with orders and customer complaints. It was time to identify the problems, and provide a comprehensive plan to improve the service it provides to to the customer service centres, and ultimately, to customers as well.

To do this, says Tim Ryan, WSS marine products director Americas, his regional supply chain team worked in collaboration with the company’s global supply chain team to establish a programme to better identify and strengthen the specific roles played by people in the organisation. This resulted in the more than 80 functional descriptions that existed prior to the project being reduced to just 24 standardised roles.

Tim Ryan, WWS marine products driector Americas.

Tim Ryan, WWS marine products director Americas.

“The success we ultimately had in Houston was due to the fact that, in the pilot project, we agreed globally that we would reduce the number of roles, and that we would be very specific about who does what and where,” Ryan says.

The four supply chain managers and the supply chain director first met in Dubai; there they scrutinised all of the 86 functional descriptions used in supply chain activities around the world. “It was good timing because of the issues that were happening in Houston,” Ryan says. “We decided to use Houston as the test site, from which we could take the lessons learned and the feedback gained and understand how to then roll out the changes globally.” It was also important, he adds, to have the right organisation in place as the company moves toward the implementation of its new IFS8 internal system.

Ryan stresses that the issue was not about reducing staff. “We wanted to be able to post the descriptions locally so the right people would end up in the right roles, looking after the specific responsibilities outlined in the description. It’s all about building a well-run supply chain more than simply reducing the number of functional descriptions.

One interesting challenge for the team included the diversity of the markets; the pilot programme started in Houston before moving to Panama and Rio de Janero. “In Brazil, everyone pretty much did everything,” Ryan says. “It was a real challenge for us to go there and say, ‘OK, everybody doesn’t have to work on the process from end to end.’ There will be different sections to each process, and those sections will be entrusted to an individual and a specific functional description. We’re dealing with different cultures in the Americas, and that will certainly be true as we move globally. Some cultures want more managers, in others everyone wants to lead. But in Rio, for example, we were fortunate in having a supply manager who is very accepting of change.”

The results are already very positive, says Kjell André Engen, vice president of marine products in Oslo. “The new setup has been very successful. Where there were complaints from the customer centres, now Houston has become a very good provider, one that is very precise in deliveries—deliveries on time with the right content.”

“I think it is succeeding because of the effort that went in by the supply chain managers from all regions as well as the supply chain director,” Ryan says. “We didn’t just go out haphazardly. We carefully studied exactly what it is that we do, and how we do it, and with that understanding, how do we structure our supply chain? The process so far has been carried out throughout 2015; now it’s time for implementation, and beginning to roll this out into other sites throughout the Americas and around the world.”

Getting the Good Word Back

When your job is all about supplying customers you don’t deal with directly, how do you truly know when you’re doing a good job for customers?

“It’s really easy for managers to sit up in our offices and say how well we’re doing,” says Tim Ryan. “I wanted to make sure that all of our customer service centres globally – the people who are interacting on a daily basis with the Houston supply chain – are also saying that we’re doing a good job!” 

So, following the streamlining of functional job descriptions within the organisation, Ryan put together a seven-question survey for distribution to the customer service centres. “The responses were extremely good,” he says. “When you haven’t done well, you’d never get that kind of positive feedback.” That result, he adds, was not simply a source of pride for managers, but a signal that the company’s strategy for supply chain organisational transformation is moving in the right direction. “When we don’t do a good job, it affects the customer service centres globally,” he says. “They’re the ones who deal directly with the customers in their country. So we can say that there’s no doubt that we’ve seen good success coming from the organisational transformation.”