Teaching the Next Gen of Global Supply Chain Professionals

Travel Map Screen Shot

The combination of Project Management and Teaching is how I got my start in Supply Chain. I had project management experience from my engineering career where I was designing, building, starting up and optimizing specialty chemical plants around the USA. In 2001, I was the Technical Manager for a plant in Charlotte, NC and I was offered a Global Supply Chain Management job to implement a Planning system called Manugistics. I had requested a global assignment in engineering but clearly something got lost in translation. I was told the company needed people with Project Management skills but what they also needed were Teachers.

I have had one Train the Trainer course in the early 1990’s where my big take away was that training adults requires the use of various teaching methods (i.e. a combination of lecture and hands-on). Personally, I think teaching methods should be varied for all ages. The reason I was given the Train the Trainer course was because I was tasked with teaching unionized operators how to operate a newly built facility with a lot of different unit operations that were controlled with complex multi-cascade control loops. It was a beautifully engineered project but training non-engineers on how to run the facility was a task. My instructor predicted that I would have difficulty getting my students to pay attention and required that I test the class at the end of every day. I was angry after that training feedback session but what my instructor didn’t know was that I had worked with non-union Philly operators during my co-ops at Drexel and I learned a thing or two about successfully working with operators. It turns out unionized Texas operators were no different. I successfully got that job done, even with testing them every day, I have utilized what I learned from that experience ever since.

For my Global Supply Chain assignment, my colleagues and I were not only tasked with getting this massive global project done on-time and on-budget, but we had to also learn the tools (Manugistics Fulfillment interfaced with SAP) and the standard business process and immediately transfer our newly acquired knowledge to others. For two years, I trained experienced Supply Chain Planners around the globe on Manugistics Planning and the standard business process utilizing and adapting the teaching methods that I learned in the early 1990’s. The first year of my global job, I lived in Paris and travelled throughout Europe and to South Africa. The next year I lived in Singapore and Australia with a three-week stint in Mumbai, India sprinkled in at the end. Because I was living in the region for the project, all the training was done face-to-face. The planners travelled to a central location where I trained them on the Manugistics Fulfillment module. We met again in another central location for User Acceptance Testing (which was the hands-on portion of their training) and then I would travel to their location and provide one-on-one support for Go Live.

Fast forward to early 2018, I was asked to train a new global group of schedulers in Aspen Tech SCM. This time, I have four years of experience implementing this tool and providing global support. The training needed to be done quickly and cost effectively. We began with a Face-to-Face session in the US which was, to my surprise, recorded by a third-party. The plan was to use the recorded sessions to train new hires. I gave WebEx sessions to Latin America and Europe which I was requested to record, and then I followed up with face-to-face sessions later in the year. The recorded Face-to-Face session got the worst reviews. I wasn’t surprised, because I walk around a huge conference room answering questions and helping students who get stuck during the hands-on portion of the training and there was no pre-planning done to understand how I taught and figure out the best way to attempt to record me. The virtual training sessions got mixed reviews from attendees and I as an instructor felt that it was hard to know if the audience was engaged or tuned out. I think they are good enough quality to be used for refresher training.

The clear winner and still champ after all these years is: Face-to-Face training.

I found a way to make the Face-to-Face sessions cost effective for my client and less taxing for me by purchasing Round The World (RTW) tickets. For a little more than the cost of one round trip Business Class ticket between San Francisco and any other region, I went around the world in 13 days in July (San Francisco to Shanghai to Netherlands to Boston/North Brookfield to Napa)

Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge – San Francisco, CA
Napa, CA
Napa, CA

My second trip around the world took a more leisurely 36 days in October/November (Indianapolis to Sao Paulo to Michigan to Netherlands to Shanghai to San Francisco).

Indy 500 Race Car
Indy 500 race car
Batman's Alley
Batman’s Alley in Sao Paulo, Brazil
Midland, Michigan
Terneuzen, Netherlands
Shanghai, China

I sprinkled in some fun personal side trips to Jamaica, Rio de Janiero, Amsterdam and Nashville (to see my niece capture her first Division 1 soccer championship and get named Defensive Player of the Year in her freshman year at Lipscomb…Go Bisons!!)

Mandeville, Jamaica
Christ the Redeemer
Christ the Redeemer
Lipscomb ASUN Sign
ASUN Championship – Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN


The new global schedulers have a pretty steep learning curve. My job was to teach them the scheduling tool and the standard business process. They also need to learn the operation of their assigned facility and all the detailed knowledge and experience that the incumbent schedulers have to pass along. For the most part, the new schedulers were engaged and grateful for the training that they received. When I visited the regions the second time, I checked in on my first round of trainees and gave them time to do Q&A or get support questions answered. The trainees seem to be ascending the learning curve nicely. I am sure they will encounter bumps along the road, but they know that Profit Point is just an email, phone call or instant message away to provide them with the support they need.

Now I am heading off to Germany to learn how a Warehouse Management Interface system works so that Profit Point can recommend ways to optimize it in the future for our client. I’ve done some virtual training, but I am looking forward to the face-to-face part of my training.

About Karen Bird

Karen is a Supply Planning Management Professional with over 30 years of experience in manufacturing in the Specialty Chemicals industry and in Global Supply Chain Implementation management in Specialty Chemicals, Consumer Packaged Goods and the Wine Industries.

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