A Supply Chain Course Designed by You

What is the shelf life of a supply chain management book?

I’ve been asking executives this question for the past few years and the general consensus is about two years. Sure, there are certain fundamentals of supply chain management that are timeless, but when you consider the rapid and ongoing changes in technology, business models, economic conditions, government regulations, and a variety of other factors, it’s clear that “the book on supply chain management” is constantly being revised, with new chapters being written all the time.

Just look at trends such as social media and omni-channel retailing — neither of these things were likely included in supply chain books written just a few years ago. And while whole chapters were once devoted to Dell and its supply chain, today the company is an afterthought and all the buzz and focus is on Amazon. And in a few short years, the spotlight will undoubtedly shift again to another company.

In some ways, you can view a blog like Logistics Viewpoints as a new form of supply chain management book, one that is written in real time, as new trends develop, one daily chapter at a time.

Along the same lines, how do you best develop a supply chain management course and teach it?

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to this question, particularly as it relates to teaching at the executive MBA level, and I’ve come to the following conclusion: you have to get rid of the syllabus.

I should say get rid of the traditional syllabus and how it’s created. The traditional course syllabus is basically a reflection of what a single person — the instructor — views as important and relevant to teach, created with virtually no input or direction from the students, his customers. A better approach, in my opinion, is for the instructor to develop the syllabus based on the specific questions his students have about supply chain management and the topics they’re most interested in learning about (which should align with their work responsibilities). The instructor still contributes to the content of the course, but rather than dictating 100 percent of it, his main role is to “tie the pieces” together in a coherent manner, “fill in the blanks” with important topics not raised by the students, and initiate and moderate stimulating conversations.

Here’s how the process would work:

  • A few weeks before the start of the course, the instructor creates an online discussion group for the students to submit their questions and topics of interest related to supply chain management. Each student will also communicate his or her desired outcome for the course.
  • The students, with prompts from the instructor, will discuss, debate, and prioritize the topics submitted to reach a consensus on the syllabus. This process of discussion and debate will in itself be a valuable learning experience for the students and the instructor.
  • The instructor will then select the readings, case studies, guest speakers, and other content that align with the syllabus.
  • After the course ends, the learning and community continues. The students continue to meet online to submit questions and discuss topics of interest with their peers. And over time, the community (which includes the instructor) may decide to develop another course syllabus, and the process repeats.

Are you interested in participating in this type of learning experience? I’m ready to lead the effort if you are. All I need is 30 supply chain and logistics professionals to express interest in joining Adelante YOUniversity to make it happen.

Simply put, I believe the time is right for a new model of learning in supply chain management. Let’s have some fun and learn together.

(For related commentary, see “Putting Leadership Development and Learning Back on Your Calendar…and Budget!” and “Learning and Leadership in Supply Chain Management: Is a New Model of Learning Required?”)

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