Inside Supply Management Magazine

The Five Ws of Supply Management

March 25, 2019

By Leah Williams, PMP, CSCP

Due to its ability to impact the flow of goods to and from an organization, supply management often serves as a company’s backbone. The function is critical to organizational success, as it can improve customer satisfaction and reduce costs.

Since joining the supply management profession, one of the questions I am most asked is, “What is supply management?” In answering the question, I have found it useful to explain supply management by tying it to the five Ws — who, what, when, where and why. The five Ws have been used to lay a foundation for problem-solving, information gathering and storytelling. They can also be used to spread awareness of supply management.

Who: The Customer

In supply management, the customer is the person or organization requesting a good or service. The goal of a practitioner is to satisfy the customer’s needs while fulfilling the business needs of the supply chain. In order to fulfill a customer’s request, the supply management team strives to provide the right product or service, at the right time, at the best price. Customer satisfaction is — or at least should be — a recurring theme throughout the profession.

What: The Product or Service

A customer’s needs are is met by providing the requested product or service. Products are tangible items, services intangible actions. The products and services provided a customer vary based on the organization’s business capabilities and industry. Supply management encompasses the steps and processes necessary to provide the product or service.

When: The Deadline

Supply management activities must be executed on a tight schedule. The customer and organization agree on a deadline, and supply management takes the necessary steps to meet that goal. Several supply management activities are involved in every request. If one process is delayed, there could be negative repercussions on subsequent processes. All processes and steps impact the timetable for delivery of the requested product or service.

Where: The Location

A location is a specific place or position. When requesting a product or service, the customer specifies where the product should be delivered or the service provided. Once specified, the supply management team prepares a plan and process schedule, to make sure the customer’s location needs are met. Supply management strives to provide the product or service at the agreed-upon location, on time.

Why: The Purpose

The purpose of supply management is to satisfy the needs of the customer and the organization. The function connects multiple aspects of the business and affects the efficiency, quality and productivity of an organization’s operations. Supply management also impacts the flow of goods to and from the organization — flow of products to the customer, flow of cash from the customer, and flow of information in both directions. The success of an organization is directly impacted by the success of supply management.

The five Ws are just one method of explaining such a complex profession. Each “W” is connected through the purpose and processes of supply management. As we continue to spread awareness of the profession, the five Ws, along with other teaching tools, can be used summarize key information.

Leah Williams, PMP, CSCP, is a supply chain analyst at Northrup Grumman Corporation in Linthicum Heights, Maryland, and a 2017 ISM® 30 Under 30 Rising Supply Chain Star. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author.