Discover more from PackageX Comics
A Swiss military theorist made logistics a key component to achieving victory, something business can learn from today.
The term logistics was coined by Antoine-Henri Jomini, a Swiss military theorist who the French and Russian armies recruited in the 1800s for his uncommon approach to achieving victory on the battlefield.
The art of moving an army — what Jomini called “logistique” — was not prioritized by many militaries, let alone named. I suppose the maxim “we’ll get there when we get there” was common back then and this laissez-faire attitude caused Napoleon and the Czar to reach out to Jomini.
Similar to how militaries realized that the movement of armies was essential to military success, companies today are realizing that the movement of products is essential to business success. Obviously moving an army is not the same as moving products, but there are many parallels.
Jomini defined logistics as:
1. the art of properly ordering the marches of an army, 2. of well combining the order of troops in columns, 3. the times of their departure, 4. their itinerary, and 5. the means of communication necessary to assure their arrival at a named point
Comparing this military definition to business activities, it’s clear why we borrowed the term from Jomini instead of creating a new one for the process of getting products to people.
In the military, a well-ordering army means that troops are organized to execute tasks effectively. In business, we order products by type, quantity, and location, and keep track of stock levels to avoid stockouts or overstocking.
In the military, combining troops into columns ensures that they move efficiently. In business, grouping orders by destination, product type, and size is vital to maximize shipping efficiency and reduce transportation costs.
In the military, troops must be deployed at the right time to accomplish the mission. In business, products must be shipped at the right time to meet customer demand and maintain customer satisfaction.
In the military, troops must follow a specific itinerary to reach their destination on time. In business, packaged products must do the same. This includes optimizing transportation routes, scheduling shipping times, and selecting the right mode of transportation.
In the military, communication is vital to ensure that troops arrive safely. In business, communication is vital for providing customers with real-time tracking information. This visibility also allows businesses to respond to unforeseen situations like weather and change plans on the fly while keeping customers in the loop.
These are not complex activities but we still struggle to do them. And the reason is simple: many logistics operations are siloed from each other and other parts of the business. For example, getting product returns processed and back into inventory is tricky because inventory management and returns management systems are disconnected.
Disconnection is a major challenge today for businesses and militaries alike.
I was not surprised to learn that Warfighting, a document that codifies maneuver warfare philosophy for the U.S. Marine Corps, fails to emphasize the importance of connected logistics operations. The function of logistics is mentioned but so separate from strategy and tactics that it caused a U.S. Army captain to recently publish an essay about how the Marine Corps might improve by taking a note from Jomini.
“Far more important is the conceptual rebalancing that no longer makes logistics an area subordinate to operational strategy or tactics.”
In terms of business, putting logistics on the same playing field as other functions like product, marketing, and sales is a start to achieving greater success. And if you want to achieve wild success, you might even give logistics a time to shine. After all, we’ve seen how well that worked out for what was once a little book seller.
Either way, anything operating in a silo is not good for business. Connection will always outperform disconnection. While it may seem exciting to create a secret squirrel team or install a new growth hacking widget and leave logistics operations disconnected, logistics is what ultimately delivers what you create, market, and sell. It’s the linchpin of customer loyalty and business success.