Climbing would be a great, truly wonderful thing if it weren't for all that damn climbing. – John Ohrenschall
The people in our biz generally fall into one of two broad categories: supply chain Strategy Consultants and System Integrators.
To oversimply things just a bit, Supply Chain Strategy Consultants work with VPs to make sure the folks at the top “see the big picture”. They generally operate at around 10,000 feet at the lowest and aren't directly involved in any detailed or technical stuff.
System Integrators (as their name would suggest) ensure that new technology and legacy systems will talk to each other. Their job is not “thought leadership” per se, but rather understanding their clients' requirements and getting through the detailed development and implementation tasks.
So for a supply chain transformation project to be successful, conventional wisdom would suggest that you would need a Supply Chain Strategy Consultant to help with the big picture stuff and a System Integrator to handle the details.
If you were to take each of these folks with you on an Everest expedition and found yourself on a plateau trying to figure out your next move, here's the advice you would get:
Strategy Consultant (over the radio from a safe warm lodge): “The summit is the goal. Make sure your pace is not too fast or too slow and let me know if you need me to send up more oxygen tanks.”
System Integrator: “I've surveyed the plateau and we can go straight up to the next plateau, skirt around to the south face for a bit to find an easier climb upward or pitch camp for the night.”
They have both provided valuable input, but what exactly should you do next?
This is where the Sherpa comes in. Conventional wisdom is defied by the fact that the Sherpa is not a “strategy guy” nor is he a “details guy”. He's both.
Every trip up the mountain is unique, but the Sherpa knows exactly where the summit is and that there are several paths to it. Having been up the mountain many times, the Sherpa is continually considering weather conditions, experiences from previous climbs and the strengths and weaknesses of the folks in this particular expedition every step of the way.
Put him anywhere on the mountain and he not only knows multiple paths to the summit, but he also knows which is the “right” next move for a particular expedition on a particular day.
The Sherpa is a humble servant who not only contributes his knowledge and experience to the climb, but is also right there with you testing every foothold and weathering every snow squall. It is not “his climb”, but “the team's climb”. (Everybody knows who Sir Edmund Hillary is, but – without going to Google – can you name his Sherpa? If you knew it right away, kudos! If you give up, click here. As for me, I needed Google).
A supply chain transformation project is a lot like scaling Everest. The feat is monumental, the conditions change constantly and you'll need a team with a diverse skill set to make it to the top.
While it's certainly possible to make it to the top without a Sherpa, I wouldn't recommend it.