Accenture Academy Blog

Author’s note: I recently had the opportunity to attend the BCS National Championship Game. What you are about to read is not a posting that boasts about my trip to the event. Rather, it is a true and cautionary tale about the logistical missteps of my cross-country adventure.

You’d think that a logistician would be capable of planning and executing a simple trip to a football game. Buy the tickets, make the reservations, get on the plane, and go the game. Easy enough, it seemed—or so I thought. Here are a few of the logistics concepts that I failed to heed during my last road trip.

Lead Time Management—As you know, lead time focuses on the time interval between the initiation and completion of a process. In the world of lean supply chains, lead times that produce just-in-time arrivals are ideal. However, I didn’t want to cut it quite that close for the BCS Championship. A late Sunday arrival for the Monday evening game sounded like plenty of lead time. That is, until a highly disruptive storm was predicted for the Southeast US starting on—you guessed it—Sunday evening. Suddenly, the 20-hour gap between landing and kickoff didn’t sound like nearly enough lead time.

Proper Contingency Planning—According to an Inbound Logistics article, contingency planning requires you to commit time, manpower, and resources to something you hope you'll never need. But if you do need it, that planning can mean the difference between success and failure. When the weather news broke, my friends and I began to develop contingency plans for the trip. However, few options existed. All earlier flights were booked; there wasn’t enough lead time to drive to Phoenix, and nearby airports were under the same weather warnings as Atlanta. After many discussions, we found a Florida airport within driving distance and below the weather pattern. It would work if our original itinerary was cancelled.

My friends were successful in booking a refundable flight that fit our scheduling needs. But by the time I tried to book a ticket, the flight was sold out. After devoting more effort to the process, I found a flight from a different Florida airport. It would work only if the original trip was scrubbed by 9 p.m. Sunday. Otherwise, I would be too late to catch the alternate flight.

As we boarded the original flight on time in Atlanta, it looked like my tenuous contingency plan would be a non-factor in the trip. As we waited for connecting passengers to arrive, the heavy snow began to fall. After de-icing and a lengthy runway delay, the pilot turned back to the gate. At 10:30 p.m., we deplaned and my friends headed to Florida for their alternate flight. I was stuck in Atlanta with fading hope of getting to Phoenix.

By some miracle, the snow stopped within an hour and a few planes began to take off. We re-boarded the plane minus my friends who also had my game ticket, since I figured it was worthless to keep it with me in Atlanta. After another long de-icing process, the plane finally took off and I was on my way. Little did I know that the five-hour departure delay would exacerbate my travel woes and highlight my inability to demonstrate basic logistics planning competency.

Efficiency and Effectiveness—In an ideal situation, logistics managers make decisions that promote supply chain efficiency and effectiveness. However, Benedikte Borgström’s analysis notes that when you focus on the wrong issues, your supply chain may be neither efficient nor effective. My mistake was choosing a low-priced, limited-service regional car rental agency whose operation was closed when I arrived in Phoenix at 4 a.m. local time. To make matters worse, the national car companies with 24-hour operations were completely sold out of vehicles. I had to trudge back to the airport to find a cab. At that point, I knew the true meaning of “neither efficient nor effective.”

Strategic Sourcing—In the classic article The Seven Principles of Supply Chain Management, principle 5 suggests that you manage sources of supply strategically to reduce the total cost of owning materials and services. I certainly failed on that one, choosing a hotel based on its very reasonable price but failing to note its long distance from the airport. That’s not a problem if you have a rental car, but an $85 cab ride negated most of my savings. I was also stuck in a remote location without reliable transportation. Ultimately, my total cost of ownership for hotel and ground transport wasn’t anything to brag about.

At that point, the story finally began to take a positive turn. It was 5 a.m. when I arrived at my hotel. Fortunately, the night clerk didn’t treat me as a no-show or give my room away. While checking in, I saw a sign for a local shuttle service. By midday Monday, I established a strategic alliance with the owner/driver and he transported me around town at reasonable rates.

My friends (and my ticket) finally arrived in Phoenix on Monday afternoon. They met me at the stadium about two hours before kick-off. Their contingency plan had worked, though my lack of a viable strategy somehow got me to Phoenix 10 hours ahead of them, afforded me a few hours of sleep, and saved me the $450 for the alternate flight. Better to be lucky than good in this situation, I guess.

If you haven’t heard, the day ended with really good news: our Auburn Tigers capped off an electrifying game with a last-second field goal to win the national championship. That’s what I call being efficient, effective, and just in time!

Clearly, they are not only great football players; they are great logisticians, too.


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