With all the hullabaloo about the Supply Chain profession, I think that we need to make a solid distinction between art and craft. Art is a result of a person’s innate, creative talents whereas skill in craft can be acquired with experience. Craft can be called skill sets. In craft, more practical thought is needed whereas in art, it is being innovative or pioneering beyond basic supply chain concepts or techniques.

Art, in the supply chain, revolutionizes to the point where the rules of the game change to accommodate it. By way of example, how supply chains can leverage digital capabilities to support new business models and improve performance is truly revolutionary because value can be a profit multiplier. The art of supply chain management (SCM) is not easy to implement because it runs counter to the ingrained logistics functionally-oriented thinking about how supply chains organize, operate, and add value.

Yet art is needed in managing flexible and uncertain supply chain environments. For example, when customers value distinctive or unique output (in other words, all customers don’t want the product or service to perform or be performed the same way), this is art. Craft involves technique and implies the application of human intelligence. As an example, acting quickly and decisively to capitalize on given supply-chain opportunities is craft at work.

A craft may be defined as a skill at making the logistical functions useful within the supply chain, whereas art is a representational expression of ideas, passions and experiences that seeks to add value. Unlike craft, art is known to come out of the heart and soul — creativity. In Gartner’s 11th annual global Supply Chain Top 25 in 2015, they indicated that “some the leading companies are tracking customer satisfaction measures, and their supply chains are not just collecting data concerning the details of the sale, but also the patterns of usage and resulting sentiment of the end user,” which is artful.

Craft comes out as experience and needs considerable supply chain event exercise to deliver consistent and sustainable world-class practices. It is based on a person’s skill sets developed over time. More to the point, craft work is skilled work. One of the 2015 Gartner Supply Chain Top 25’s Key Trends was that “the more mature supply chain organizations have dedicated teams and established playbooks for assessing the current and required capabilities of new businesses and determining the best transition roadmap… strategies tailored to different business units, while others differentiate by major geography or individual markets” which involves the application of technique or craft.

Supply chain managers must have the tools (craft) to accomplish their task. Managing supply chains like any other discipline is an art because it is the ability to do things in light of the reality that pertains to the given situation. SCM is a craft with a systematized body of knowledge and universal application as well as an art that requires specific skill to be applied as the situation demands. It implies putting knowledge into practice (wisdom) by a person who possesses a highly specialized set of expertise and skill sets.

In summary, art is a result of a person’s innate, creative talents whereas skill in craft can be acquired with experience. In craft, more practical thought (pragmatics) is needed; whereas art is more related to supply chain aesthetics (perspective or aggregate of fine qualities). And what we term art can be described as “perspicacity-based work” while craft applies to “credentialed and/or certified supply chain professionals doing their thing.” The need to know how to effectively manage the end-to-end, forward and backward flow of materials and information through your supply chain is both art and craft. Therefore, as a person engages in the supply chain over a period of time, we allow them to go from being technically competent to a point where they have mastered their craft by practicing it for many years.

From the above discussion, it is clear that SCM is a mixture. The artistic element and the craft component in SCM are intricately linked. Since they complement each other, it’s not an either art or craft situation. It is both art and craft! Today supply chain management is the place where art and craft must be able to employ a plethora of ever-changing technology. How do you measure up?

Thomas L. Tanel, CTL, C.P.M., CCA, CISCM, is the President and CEO of CATTAN Services Group, Inc. specializing in Logistics and Supply Chain issues. He can be reached at tanel@cattan.com or 979.212.8200.