Internal Bullwhip Effects (& how to lessen them) – improving time-to-market for scholarly pub – part 1 (of 2)

We played the root beer game in an ops class this semester. I’d heard of bullwhip effects, but it was the first time I’d ever played the game or run a simulation. Interesting game, it made me wonder about implications for scholarly pub.

Basically, the bullwhip effect is a supply chain concept that grew out of research in manufacturing environments: e.g., root beer factories. Relatively recently, (1960s on) researchers found that tiny changes in demand at one end of the pipeline will send destructive shockwaves up the supply chain; the shockwaves increase in amplitude—interfering with and giving rise to other shockwaves—as they travel to the factory, resulting ultimately in complex delays and skyrocketing costs for the organization.

The complex delays and high production costs (overhead) that result are often a mystery to firms suffering these effects. Bullwhip effects can occur externally (originating with the customer) or internally (between divisions or departments). They can also occur in service industry organizations.

My first thoughts ran to books and returns: How much more complicated does “supply” become in a world of “Gone today, here tomorrow” inventory? But again, the bullwhip effect also applies to service industries; e.g., a scholarly press offering publishing services to its authors.

If we look at these “other customers,” authors and manuscripts (mss.), then the supply chain inverts. Rather than printing and warehousing being the “factory” with the customer-facing endpoint being tablets, Amazon, websites, or bookstores, the “factory” would be the production department itself, or the “bookmaking operation” as a whole, and the customer-facing endpoint would be upstream in acquisitions.

Again, organizations can also experience internal bullwhip effects; so from this, the game, and some reading, I had a few questions:

a) Could some scholarly pub houses experience internal bullwhip effects (that might cause fitful delays in delivery of bound books),

b) Could others (that get books out quickly) have procedures in place that coincidentally dampen bullwhip effects, and

c) Could some of the “fixes” developed in other industries shed light on paths to shortened operational timelines and enhanced profitability for u and other scholarly pubs?

Traffic patterns

Proofs for the bullwhip effect are very cool but can be complicated; however, we live through a simple illustration of a linear bullwhip effect whenever we drive through a “backup” on a freeway.

A backup can be caused by a bottleneck or accident. It can also be (and is more frequently) caused by concern over a potential bottleneck or accident or more simply still from merging traffic; i.e., slowing down to observe something unusual or slowing down to avoid another vehicle. In heavy traffic, the car following a car that slows down must slow down a little longer than the car ahead of it, to be sure that the first car resumes speed before continuing on. The car following that car must slow down longer still, and so on down the line. (Each car is over-estimating the need to pause and, in a sense, "asking" for an overestimate from the next car; building in not only a delay but a small multiplier of the delay at each stage.) Fifteen cars back, what began as a 10-second delay for car one has grown to a two and 1/2 minute slowdown for car sixteen, and what's more, the amount added at each stage is increasing: a backup is born.

On the flipside of backups is the world of the “high-speed merge.” A beautiful freeway to drive on, but how to get there? ...and, is it a toll road?

Simple sources and general fixes of bullwhip effects

Per considerable research and many rounds of the root beer game, changes in levels of service or “boom and bust” periods of requests for resources/production cause destructive bullwhip effects. Several general approaches help dampen them: A) keeping service or production levels constant, as much as possible, B) maintaining spare operational capacity (extra room between cars) to absorb the changes that can’t be controlled for — so they don’t translate from one project to the next — and, C) in all cases, sharing information from customer-facing endpoints to supplier-side materials- and services-providers helps managers control against (i.e., lessen) the deleterious impact/s of the shockwaves and bullwhips.

Scholarly pub

Looking within a publishing house, we can see the production department as the “factory” and acquisitions as the “retail store” or customer-facing endpoint; i.e., where the requests of work from the factory begin (e.g., contracts for services, receipts of final mss.). Managing editorial could be lumped in with the “factory” or seen as an intervening “distribution center.” In either case, acquisitions would be a value-added and customer-facing service center leading ultimately to the “factory” beyond.

Together these departments constitute a supply chain of publishing services, resulting in the published work of its customers (authors) landing online and in the warehouse. The receipt of a final ms. and transmittal into the pipeline from acquisitions is the same as an “order” being placed for those services.

(Marketing is part of the publishing services offered; but, delays are already “mature” enough in production, for illustration purposes.)

Treating the “fixes” above in reverse: A) we’d expect any fluctuations in the rate of transmittals from acquisitions to the rest of the house, at the start of the process, to add to scheduling delays and increased overhead costs in the “factory,” per the bullwhip effect, B) we’d expect the absence of spare operational capacity to worsen these effects, and C) any restrictions on the flow of information on future needs for services to send managers through multiple ad hoc rounds of scheduling revision — themselves further consumptive of resources and generative of delays.

Surprises leading to variations in the rates of requests for service (service levels)

Acquisitions, as a “customer-facing endpoint,” contends with considerable variations and surprises in its dealings with authors; e.g., the contracting for and delivery of final mss. 1) Some projects are on a short timeline, sent through peer review and contracted not far in advance of final delivery, as the manuscript is complete. Others are on a longer timeline, as they have yet to be written; i.e., they are contracted on proposal basis. 2) Across both of these categories, some projects arrive late, past their contracted delivery date, while others are on time.

Four general categories of variances and their resulting impact on scheduling are noted below, with projects on short timelines that arrive late offering the most potential surprises ( + + )—and therefore the greatest change in scheduling—and projects on long timelines arriving on time offering the least potential surprises ( – – ).

These fluctuations in scheduling and arrivals can translate to irregularities in transmittals from acquisition to managing editorial and impact scheduling in the production “factory” beyond. That said; some firms may have several steps or other procedures in place that effectively spread ms. arrivals and their transmittals out through the calendar. Such steps or procedures would normalize variations in requests for service and dampen would-be bullwhip effects before they start. Absent these measures, variations in arrivals would translate to variations in requests of later departments in the pipeline.

Divide and accelerate

Isolating groups of projects that characteristically lead to variations in requests of production/requests for resources or present other scheduling challenges (surprises) allows organizations to make managerial decisions to address each group separately, restricting such variations (from getting out of hand) and thereby minimizing costs and maximizing profitability.

There would be many ways to isolate such groups for scholarly publishers; above is just one example. But where would you go from there?

Perhaps (and before addressing operational capacity and information flow) we can look to other industries that manage "controlled chaos" under similar circumstances for inspiration; to see how they cope, survive, and thrive. Many do, in fact, cope, survive and thrive, often with fewer resources and sometimes to quite winning and even profitable effects ...which are categorically better than bullwhip effects.

I'll take a stab at looking for inspiration in one such industry in a followup post.


R. Barthes on branding – the u press network—part 3 – the frame of reference for u presses – what do u presses sell and to whom?

Scholarly presses produce books and journals in many forms; e.g., digital, print, audio, databases. They work with many channel partners and vendors for distribution.

What do they sell?

Not books and journals. Or at least, not only books and journals. Books, journals, and all other market-facing products are, in fact, secondary business moves based on a primary sale of services. The sale occurs by quid pro quo under contract. The performance of which includes the production (and distribution) of the aforementioned market-facing products. Scholarly presses primarily sell publishing services

To whom?

Scholarly presses sell publishing services to scholars, experts, and researchers. U presses in particular segment the market (of authors) to serve humanities scholars, experts, and researchers. Many u presses also serve regional trade and special interest authors.

Importance – today

The Frame of Reference for u presses, therefore, is everything that allows these authors to publish their content; i.e., anything to offers those services or anything can be used as a substitute for those services. The participants within this Frame of Reference have changed drastically, over the last two decades; we’ve seen an explosion of competitors and alternates in the market-space. Many customers (authors) are faced with these alternative and competitive choices—many more than in years past.

New and improved performance

New publishing models (eBooks, databases) would be new, competitive offerings of performance to attract and maintain customers (authors) and revenue. As such, they would not constitute new business models. I.e., while the secondary performance may change, the primary model of selling or trading publishing services to scholars, experts, and researchers remains the same.

Caveat – new frame/s

In light of the recent explosion in competitors and alternates, the current frame of reference is potentially over-served. New frames could lead to new models, and new business models could attract new business and new revenue; but, new models would need to be extrapolated from current and emergent needs of the targeted customer base—or on a new or expanded customer base—and would have to be presented as an alternate to or in addition to the sale of publishing services.

POPs and PODs – based on the current Frame

Given the customer base and model above, the frame of references can be altered slightly or “tightened” to attract and maintain customers (authors) and revenue.

This tightening of focus is achieved by leveraging both Points of Parity and Points of Difference to best advantage; i.e., clearly defining and communicating the competitively distinct value proposition of publishing with u presses to the customers (authors). Subsequent posts under the R. Barthes heading address competitive positioning by sketching the leverage-ability of certain attributes based on the current frame.

NEXT POST = Internal Bullwhip Effects (& how to lessen them) – improving time-to-market for scholarly pub


R. Barthes on branding – the u press network—part 2 - the communicative impact "engine" of u presses

As mentioned previously, a brand’s value exists in the eye of the beholder; i.e., the customer. A true review of the current value of the u press network and gauge of current trends (future value) would call for market research (with authors). But, a few attributes (and how they might lead to points of parity and points of difference) are worth considering before and after such research.

Premium Access

To admit of a bias up front: I believe that the premium access component of many not-for-profit scholarly publishing, specifically herein u presses, brings unique value to the mission.

To admit of another: monetizing content is fraught, these days, and publishers will want to diversify away from monetizing content alone; nonetheless, commercial underpinnings of attracting use with content (enhancing the attractive and communicative impact of content) remains, is relevant, and brings unique value.

This post lists several attributes of u presses, in search of Points of Parity (POPs) and Points of Difference (PODs) with/from free publishing (OA): Arm’s Length, Ameliorative, Multidisciplinary, Commercial, and Active in the Market.

The hypothesis here is that the premium access component amplifies the aggregate impact on the focus of the publishing process (content), just as a sling swung around and around over one’s head, accelerates a small rock (idea) to be hurled at a giant or a target. Relevant metaphor, yes: David and Goliath; u presses were built, on premium access footing, to hurl bolts at giants (for-profit presses, popular readership, and world markets). In so far as these remain targets, u presses’ premium access status would be a value-added component of their publishing programs.

Slings & slingshots

Before vulcanized rubber, slingshots were made with a long, non-elastic, usually leather, strap or sling. A “shot” was achieved by whirling a bolt held in a small pouch at mid sling, around and around over your head, usually at arm’s length, until effective velocity and best trajectory was reached, whereupon one side of the sling would be released for a shot at the target. It took a lot of practice, professional-type practice, to hit the mark.

Premium Access & Missionary as Compound-Attribute and POD

Several attributes of u presses are listed on the info graphic below.

Arm’s length = tied to research institutions but not beholden to them
Ameliorative = increasing the communicative power (impact) of texts
Multidisciplinary = rendering arguments across the disciplines and to the public
Premium Access = impact-driven; market-facing
Active in the market = res ipsa loquitor—but marketers do it better

Each attribute is worth examining in detail; but a salientcompound-attribute holds u presses uniquely apart from exclusively Open Access (OA) and for-profit publishers, and that is the oft mentioned and oft under-appreciated combination of “Missionary + Premium Access.”

OA publishers = Missionary (communicatively passive)
For-profit publishers = Premium Access (communicatively active)
U presses = Missionary + Premium Access (communicatively active)

Decision making is different across the two camps. Missionary = importance. Premium Access = impact. Members of each camp have slightly different criteria for selection of works to be included in their specific programs (simplified here for illustration).

Librarians = will patrons need access to it?
Archivists = will someone need access to it someday?
Scholars = will we need access to it for teaching or study?
For-profit publishers = will it have impact?
U presses = could its impact change discussions; does it matter?

Though born of missionary parents, u presses were built on a Premium Access structure like that of for-profit publishers. As such, u presses consider both importance and impact at all stages in the publishing process. I.e., u presses are largely impact-driven, professional across all services, and uniquely (with respect to other members of the missionary community) promotionally-minded, championing ideas in the marketplace, and not just to scholars and students but also to the public.

Why is this?

We live in a commercial society. For good and ill, commerce is an engine unto itself, in that it improves the tools it needs to improve its outcomes.

As the info graphic attempts to illustrate, the Premium Access component to the publishing process cycles both the selection and the “Amelioration” of texts on notions of impact; i.e., the communicative power of ideas/stories are both selected for and enhanced during Premium Access project development. Once that optimal trajectory of topical scope, attractive reason, and persuasive explication and packaging is reached, the material is released from development to be championed and consumed in the marketplace.

For-profit commercial presses select and develop projects on impact alone (subjects are taken into account, but impact is the governing criterion). For-profit commercial presses also not only influence popular discourse, but they tend to dominate it; they change discussions and encourage exploration.

Long ago, scholars, researchers, libraries, and universities realized that if popular motivations lead individuals away from new ideas and research, then granting access (alone) to new ideas would not be enough; new ideas and research will not achieve their full potential or do the most (or potential any) social good, if they are overlooked.

Academics also realized that the communicative impact of ideas is uniquely enhanced during Premium Access project development: I.e., for-profit publishers were not only dominating discourse, but they were also refining, hoarding, and continually evolving (through dint of engagement with the marketplace) best editorial, production, and marketing practices.

Why the slingshot?

U presses were charted to give researchers competitive access to popular markets. I.e., they were charted to give scholars access to the full complement of professional publishing services; namely, the Premium Access development of their ideas through discriminating selection, development, production, and marketing.

To this end, U presses were chartered with missionary objectives, to treat the best of ideas with the potential to do the most social good, and they were built on a Premium Access structure to reach into the popular markets and develop and refine the best practices to do so — on a continuing, self-improving basis — so that those best ideas could compete most successfully on the giant, for-profit publisher’s turf.

In sum

Testing ideas in a classroom is one thing. Testing ideas with your colleagues, another. Testing ideas in the marketplace, before the whole world, is quite another; it calls for specific and evolving skills, focus, and commitment. It all comes down who do you want to reach, when, and how well do you want to do it. As we experiment with and transition to new models we will need to be sure to safeguard, replicate or improve on this engine.

Further on Why the slingshot, yes, if you’re wondering; right hip pocket, for several weeks after reading the novel. I was the Huck Finn of Wilton, CT, walking the forests along the NY/CT state line for most of a summer; tin cans, tree trunks, and mailboxes trembled at my approach.


Max Planck Institute Librarin, Urs Schoepflin, on OA and the future of humanities research

Librarian from the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (MPIWG), Urs Schoepflin, gave a talk on the IU campus on Monday, 10/22/2012. The talk was titled “Challenges for the Humanities: Scholarly Work and Publishing in the Digital Age.” Schoepflin presented the MPWIG’s European Cultural Heritage Online (ECHO), an Open Access Infrastructure to bring Essential Cultural Heritage Online. His talk was part of the History and Philosophy of Science Colloquium Series at IU.

ECHO is a framework for bringing Humanities research and scholarship online; it hosts primary materials, enables peer review, empaneled an editorial board, and brings forth finished works online, for download, and POD. I think they’ve completed 5 books already. Schoepflin discussed the history of the project, the creation of the pilot platform, and the likely road ahead. One thing that stood out: researchers and librarians at the MPWIG largely eschewed the assistance of IT professionals in its creation; they opted instead to have Humanities researchers with specific aptitudes for technology define and build what was needed to best facilitate research for the online community. They held to simpler-is-better model and made sure everything could work through a browser.

It is a fascinating infrastructural and professional approach; many institutes are participating; materials are of the highest quality. It is truly part of a new era in research. Schoepflin summed it up—specifically referencing the part about Humanities researchers learning online programming tools—by saying simply: This is the future of Humanities research.

He’s right. I had to think about it; but, he is right. What’s most right about what he said is the fact that the researchers and librarians are doing it for themselves; they learned the IT tools to build a contemporary research solution. That didn't happen in the past. It's seems it will in the future.

We’ve seen this in other industries; e.g, marketers and graphic design software. The web is informational software. It is only natural for workers to source their own skills and solutions. I’m not versed enough in OA platforms to know how common this is yet or when exactly we reached its advent; but, it’s in the past.

Schoepflin is right about OA being the future of Humanities research in the larger sense as well; it’s unlikely that we would see a future without OA in it. OA is a wonderful thing. What does this mean for scholarly communications on the whole? Could we see a world of all OA all the time an only OA all the time, everywhere?

Unlikely, as we live in a commercial society, and if we did, the resulting communication/s would be less robust, and a great deal of value would be left on the table for consumers, institutions, and publishers. However, we will see more OA, as it does certain things well.

E.g., Social Media & Marketing (that other kind of Communications): Social Media has become a huge focus of Marketing. It’s better than traditional media for certain things. Mainstream advertising was dominant to universal (an exclusive mode of communication). Social media and online advertising has bucked the old trends. Now we live in a world with both.

But, we still have mainstream marketing; its role has simply changed and refocused—in concert with the new platforms’ messaging. I.e., traditional, mainstream marketing remains part of the marketing/cultural discourse or the “marketing mix,” alongside the new, online marketing, and in many ways, the one “plays off of” the other.

Similarly, OA is changing old models. Publishing/communications programs will naturally look to make the most of OA. But, if we look at Marketing (with a capital M) responding to Social Media, we see the presence and actions of the one, "new" channel increased and altered the prospects for the other; value was ultimately found in fielding a coordinated approach that capitalized on the strengths, reach, and efficacy of each.

The scholarly communications/publishing market will seek an advantageous and complimentary equilibrium point or strategic "mix" in a similar way, if not to a similar degree.