· 2 7 9 ·
he notion of the Triple-A supply chain has been around since
2004. But is this a phenomenon we see in practice? The more
you look under the covers of the concept as originally described by
Hau Lee, the more unlikely it looks. Certainly, some confusion is cre-
ated by the definitions he uses. When these are redefined in a more
liberal way to reflect reality, we find that Agility and Adaptability (or
extreme flexibility if you like) are at the same level in the conceptual
hierarchy, and represent two quite separate supply chain configura-
tions. My concept of dynamic alignment is at a higher level in the
conceptual hierarchy it is the over-arching organizing principle
under which the other two operate in this multiple supply chain
world. And it is the dynamic alignment concept that brings the
notion of flexibility alive, allowing different patterns of demand and
supply to be serviced by discretely different configurations. The idea
is designed for the reality of a plural world, rather than a world where
a single supply chain contains all three qualities. The single supply
chain state just won’t materialize any time soon!
Hau Lee’s highly acclaimed seminal article
on the Triple-A supply chain
has been in the domain for six years now, during which time our under-
standing of how supply chains function has increased exponentially. So
C H A P T E R 1 1
The triple-A supply
chain revisited
What is really going on under
the covers?
· 2 8 0 ·
it’s high time to revisit the ideas in that article, discerning some helpful
nuances and adding some refinements.
Lee gives many interesting examples to support his definitions of each
of the A’s Agility, Adaptability and Alignment but while these are
quite descriptive, lingering questions remain about exactly what is going
on under the surface. Indeed, Lee himself admits as much in the last para-
graph of his article when he muses that ‘what they [firms] need is a fresh
attitude and a culture to get their supply chains to deliver Triple-A per-
He is right, of course, and in this extension to Lee’s article I
will endeavor to introduce that missing ingredient the internal cultural
perspective. Without it, I’m afraid the story, while instructive, remains
purely descriptive and consequently lacks explanatory power.
By better understanding the human dimension of supply chains, it
becomes possible to move from a purely reactive to a more predictive
level. In other words, if you know what subcultures are in place and what
supply chain strategies are being proposed, you’re in a better position to
predict the likely outcomes in the all-important implementation phase.
Unfortunately, in my experience, more than 40 per cent of intended
strategies written into business plans fail to be fully executed, and it’s
mostly due to a misalignment between those strategies and the values of
the people inside respective organizations and their partner organizations
in the supply chain. When the chips are down they tend to do what they
‘prefer’ to do. That’s human nature all over and we better get used to it.
Lee posits that only those companies that build Agile, Adaptable,
and Aligned supply chains get ahead of the competition’.
I agree with
his overall thrust, but we need to explore and refine his definitions of the
three A’s to better understand why this might be so.
Redefining the three key properties
Lee’s first ‘A’ Agility is becoming increasingly critical in today’s vola-
tile markets. But you pay a price for it. You can’t be agile and lowest cost
concurrently something has to give. In truth, you will find customers in
your markets that want one or the other or, at times, both responses. If
the latter, you have to try to understand which they want more. To give
an agile response at lowest cost-to-serve is, in effect, rewarding custom-

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