7 Supply Chain Lessons from Steve Jobs - Global Trade Magazine
  September 22nd, 2020 | Written by

7 Supply Chain Lessons from Steve Jobs

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  • When Jobs joined back Apple in 1997, he made everyone stop and focus on the necessities.
  • According to Jobs, making simple products is more difficult than making a complex one.
  • Understanding your products and processes is an essential step to a successful supply chain strategy.

From working in the backyard to transforming the world, Steve Jobs has changed the perception of technology. A self-made businessman with an extraordinary vision shook the world with innovative products and designs.

But being a leading personality is not easy. Jobs had his ups and downs in keeping his business at the top. I have done my fair share of research on the management styles of Steve Jobs and analyzed his actions and key messaging to provide value to the end-customers.

Today, the digital world comprises different marketing channels and tactics like email marketing, social media marketing, affiliate marketing, pay-per-click, and more. But Jobs started his product line way before these channels picked up the pace.

So what’s the special ingredient in Apple’s success? The answer lies in its supply chain process. Here’s what Steve Jobs taught us.

1. Customer is the Priority

With an aim to build extremely worthwhile products according to the customer’s wants, Jobs changed the narrative of business operations. The first and foremost supply chain lesson from Steve Jobs is to put customers as the priority and cost-cutting as secondary.

Creating a great product doesn’t suffice in itself. Improving and nurturing a great product is a virtuous cycle. Jobs believed the same. Accordingly, he suggested building a product that provides value to its customers. Furthermore, he focused on product differentiation and seamless deliverability to ensure customer satisfaction.

From 1983 to 1993, Jobs wasn’t a part of Apple due to several hardships. The company reversed the strategy to profit maximization as the priority. As a result, it observed great losses.

Jobs didn’t suggest this mantra for just the sake of sharing it. It is tried and tested to the best of his knowledge. Therefore, if you are running a supply chain business, make customers your top priority.

You can provide value to your customers in one way or another. For instance, you may send real-time email updates to your customers about their product’s location through email marketing software or affordable autoresponders.

In the end, you have to find a way to engage your customers and provide them with a seamless experience.

2. Don’t Set Achievable Targets

Jobs believed in pushing people to achieve to the best of their ability. In other words, achieving the impossible. When Jobs was involved in Pixar, he took inspiration from the movie ‘Star Trek’. The movie was based on aliens who created an alternate reality with their mental force.

One such incident was the creation of a game called ‘Breakout’. Jobs encouraged Steve Wozniak to create the game in four days instead of four months. Ultimately, Wozniak achieved the impossible.

As infuriating it might be, Jobs had a vision of doing extraordinary things.

Identifying and rectifying the product’s shortcomings, as impossible it may seem, is the next supply chain lesson. One such instance is the Macintosh operating system.

An engineer named Larry Kenyon was working on the issue of longer boot-up time. He gave multiple reasons to Jobs for why it is impossible to cut-short the time. Jobs asked, is it possible to reduce mere10 seconds? Kenyon agreed.

Jobs went on to explain that if he would cut 10 seconds, it would save 300 million hours a year and that’s equal to 100 lifetimes per year. As a result, the booting time was reduced by 28 seconds.

Another example can be the very famous iPhone’s Gorilla Glass.

Jobs wanted iPhones to have a scratch-proof glass. Plastic won’t make the cut. Jobs directly went to meet the CEO of Corning, Wendell Weeks. Corning had the capability to manufacture gorilla glass. But Jobs wanted the glass in bulk within six months which sounded impossible to Weeks.

Weeks was astonished but still called up the Corning Facility’s managers. Weeks told them to stop making LCD displays and start making Gorilla glass. Results? They did it in under six months.

Are you ready to double your targets?

3. Set Streamlined Processes

Your supply chain process must not include complex tasks and processes. Whether it’s about inventory, warehouse, logistics, or more, each stage should have defined and streamlined processes.

The essential part is establishing links to deliver a seamless experience. Jobs in his own way made his supply chain process easy by integrating the hardware, the software, and the peripheral devices.

He ensured the best user experience by taking end-to-end responsibility starting from the microprocessor’s performance to buying the devices from the Apple Store. Therefore, he created a whole Apple ecosystem wherein you can connect your iPod to a Mac that has an iTunes software for syncing all the Apple devices.

In short, declutter your supply chain processes and create a seamless strategy.

4. Focus on Necessity and Act Accordingly

When Jobs joined back Apple in 1997, he made everyone stop and focus on the necessities. In a grid of two-by-two, he wrote: “consumer” in the first section and “Pro” in the next section. He labeled the first row as “Desktop” and the second as “Portable”.

He gave a target to his entire team. They had to create four extraordinary products, aiming for one product per quadrant. All the other products must be stopped.

Your supply chain strategy must entail only the necessary touchpoints. Deciding what needs to be eliminated is as necessary is deciding what to incorporate.

His strategy was to list down the 10 most essential things to prioritize. Later, he struck the 7 and focused on the first three.

5. Understand Your Product

The next lesson is somewhat derived from the above-mentioned lesson, that is, eliminating complexity. Jobs focused on product simplification. But before doing that he analyzed the shortcomings of his product. Understanding your products and processes is an essential step to a successful supply chain strategy.

Seeing the product as a manufacturer or designer will never work as a long-term strategy. Rather, you must see your products and processes as an end-user.

As Apple declared, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”, it preached what it said. Jobs appreciated a simplistic style and wanted to incorporate the same in his products and strategies.

According to Jobs, making simple products is more difficult than making a complex one. Moreover, it takes a lot to understand the challenges in order to come up with elegant solutions.

Jobs along with Apple’s industrial designer, Jony Ive, began exploring Apple’s products. When they were discussing the design of the iPod’s interface, Job wanted a clutter-free design. He straightaway wanted to be able to reach anywhere in three clicks in iPod.

For instance, he removed the screen where the users were asked to search a song by name, artist, or album. The results would be displayed according to keywords input. Next, he got rid of the on/off button. The device was smart enough to power down when not in use or light up when in use.

6. Don’t Be Afraid to Make Changes

One thing that should stick with you is predicting the demand for your product. Demand forecasting is quite a common term in the supply chain industry. The question is: how many of you comply and make a radical change?

Steve Jobs did the same with the iPod. Innovation never remains constant. Someone can make better strategies and outsmart you. Therefore, you must take a leap where needed be.

People who were using PCs had to download or swap music and burn their CDs themselves. The slot in iMac’s drive was incapable of burning CDs.

What was a quick solution? Jobs transformed the entire music industry. He created a one-stop solution by combining iTunes, iTunes Store, and iPod. Now, the users could share, buy, play, or manage their music in any of the other devices.

After Jobs relished the success of the iPod, he realized that the product will meet its end soon. He knew that the smartphone makers will add built-in music players to their devices. That is why he started the manufacturing of iPhones.

Soon after his death in 2011, iPods came to an end too in 2014.

7. Envision the Future

Apple’s retail stores are all over the world. Therefore, the last lesson is related to the demand forecast. You may run a local or global business, but tracking your operational details is essential to your business.

What was Apple’s mantra? Apple decreased its average inventory (excluding emergency stocks) which resulted in increased inventory turnover. Meaning, Apple didn’t keep more stocks than required since it can become obsolete.

Apple’s products have a longer life cycle and its sale is not dependent on seasonal factors. However, Jobs never stayed behind in leveraging the seasonal sales season. Since there is high demand during this season, therefore, Jobs shipped and stocked its products to its warehouses via air. This is because shipping products via sea require more lead time than air freight.

Wrapping-up

Apple’s supply chain process was not the best in its initial phases. However, it evolved gradually with the experiences and learnings. Steve Jobs revolutionized and transformed the digital world. His lessons shall always be remembered and valued.

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This guest post is contributed by Kurt Walker who is a blogger and college paper writer. In the course of his studies he developed an interest in innovative technology and likes to keep business owners informed about the latest technology to use to transform their operations. He writes for companies such as Edu BirdieXpertWriters and uk.bestessays.com on various academic and business topics.