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5 Ways to Visualize Your Supply Chain Processes (Part 1)


The first word that comes to mind when I think about Supply Chain Management is complexity.


Modern-day, multi-national supply chain leaders face some of the most challenging obstacles when leading, influencing, and improving their internal processes. In our journey, it's crucial to focus on honing the skill of using organized and timely data to make smarter decisions, even when the going gets tough.


Historically, one of the struggles that supply chain leaders had to deal with was the absence of data. I can gladly say that we are way past those times. Nowadays, we face a completely different challenge: Sometimes we have too much data and don’t know how to visualize it. Leaders must first filter out important information from distractions, ensuring they stay on track toward their goals.


 

In this series, we present 5 ways supply chain leaders can visualize their processes through business intelligence tools, like Power BI (Why Power BI?). This enables leaders to consistently address three vital questions necessary for achieving their objectives:


1. Are we achieving our target or goal?

2. Are we improving?

3. How do we improve?


Be sure to follow along as we start with the first 2 visualizations.


 

1. Process Behavior Charts vs Bowling Charts


Choosing the correct way to display and monitor a KPI can be a tricky task. There are many ways that information can be presented to try to understand the behavior of a system through time. If we begin with the simplest form of visualization, information can be placed into a card to know the value of a metric:



Bowling Charts


Bowling Charts fail to answer any of the 3 previously mentioned key questions about target monitoring. The value itself does not present whether the desired target is or isn't being reached, it is impossible to know if the system is improving.


One of the most common approaches industry leaders have taken to tackle this problem is implementing Bowling Charts.

 

The example provided is extracted from the talk “Is Red & Green Lean? Color Coding & Bowling Charts vs. Process Behavior Charts” by Mark Graban


Charts that showcase numerous data points can provide valuable context by allowing viewers to analyze information by category, such as plant health, and track changes over time. However, these detailed charts can become visually cluttered, hindering viewers' ability to grasp the overall system performance at a glance.


Furthermore, relying solely on static target values makes it challenging to assess improvement. Identifying critical areas and optimal intervention times becomes an additional hurdle due to the sheer volume of data and the potential for misinterpreting random fluctuations. This is where Process Behavior Charts come into play.


Process Behavious Charts or PBCs, are one of the best ways to look at the difference between noise and signal in a world filled with distractions. With this type of visualization, it is easier to observe the overall trend of a process and any unusual values and shifts caused by changes in the system.



The PBCs provide a clear framework for when a signal should be noted, through the guideline of 3 simple rules.


A signal is detected whenever:


Rule 1: Beyond Upper or Lower Limits

  • A data point outside of the limits.

 

Rule 2: Consecutive Change

  • Eight or more consecutive data points on the same side of the central line

 

Rule 3: Close to Limits

  • Three of four consecutive data points are closer to the same limit than the central line.

 

These graphs reveal much more interesting insights, like the steady decrease in performance by Plant 3 in the last 8 weeks, the sudden increase in performance of Plant 1 and the complete noise and steady process in plants 2 and 4. Be sure to click through the Power BI Demo at the end of the article to visualize the information on all plants.

 

Note: To know more about PBCs, I encourage you to read the book Measures of Success by Mark Graban

 

Gauge vs Bullet Charts


Another very popular visual that supply chain leaders frequently request to visualize their goals and objectives relative to a target is Gauge Charts.


While gauge charts offer a glance at progress, similar to a car speedometer, they lack the detail needed for in-depth analysis. This can be problematic on report dashboards with limited space, as gauges can occupy vital space without providing a comprehensive picture.

 

With no clear target and the inability to display more context on whether the number presented is good, bad, improving or declining compared to other periods, gauges leave supply chain leaders unprepared to report on their progress.


Another key element that makes gauges hard to wrap our brains around is the misleading perspective created when visualizing radial degrees. This can overly mislead viewers on the proportion of a whole and can create some fairly deceptive communications, right Steve? (This is the main reason why Pie Charts are Evil!)


Bullet Charts


In contrast, Bullet Charts can display all relevant information in a packed yet visually friendly manner.


For an alternative way to represent data, Stephen Few developed Bullet Charts as a better alternative to Gauge charts. With a structure very similar to bar charts, they look to provide critical information more compactly while avoiding using radial angles for comparison.

 


Bullet charts offer a valuable tool for supply chain management. They allow for the simultaneous visualization of multiple categories, with clear targets and comparisons to past performance data. This clear visualization empowers supply chain managers to identify lagging departments in YTD sales and make informed decisions based on a compelling data story.


Effective data visualization techniques are powerful tools for industry leaders. These techniques can show how supply chains work within Business Intelligence platforms like Power BI. By using these visualizations, leaders can track their goals and use that information to improve their supply chains.


While supply chains are increasingly more complex, analytics, technology and data storytelling increase their value, proving they are paramount to obtaining a competitive advantage.


Keep an eye out for the second part of this series, where we explore 3 more ways to visualize supply chain processes with Power BI.


Before you go, I invite you to interact with the demo, and discover the magic of Power BI!




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