What does supply chain management do? Its 5 key steps

This article explores the essentials of supply chain management. It goes over its 5 phases and how they are all key to create a seamless operation. Let’s explore what supply chain management does.

Supply chain management is a crucial process that oversees the flow of goods and services from production to delivery. Effective supply chain management ensures efficiency, reduces costs, and boosts customer satisfaction.

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5 steps of a supply chain

What does supply chain management mean? It is the coordination of interconnected processes to enable the smooth flow of goods and services. This usually starts with suppliers who provide raw materials, then moves on to manufacturing and finally gets the products to customers.

The following sections will explore the five key links in the supply chain: planning, procurement, operations, distribution and returns.


At the core of effective supply chain management is robust planning. This initial step is critical as it lays the foundation for everything else to come.

Planning itself involves several key activities:

  • Demand Forecasting: Predicting customers future needs to ensure they can be fulfilled without keeping excessive inventory.
  • Resource Allocation: Determining everything that is needed to deliver your product or service. This includes materials, labor, and technology.
  • Risk Management: Identifying potential disruptions in the supply chain and developing protocols to overcome them easily.

Solid planning ensures that the supply chain operates smoothly, as it minimizes costs, and maximizes customer satisfaction.

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Procurement is the acquisition of raw materials, goods, and services needed to create the final products. This step is vital to maintain the quality and cost-effectiveness of the supply chain.

Key aspects of procurement include:

  • Supplier Selection: Choosing suppliers based on price, quality, and reliability.
  • Contract Negotiation: Reaching an agreement to ensure fair pricing and timely delivery while maintaining quality standards.
  • Purchase Orders: Placing necessary orders to keep the supply chain moving smoothly.
  • Inventory: Keeping optimal inventory levels to minimize stock outs or excess stock.

Strategic procurement practices reduce costs, enhance product quality, and ensure timely availability of materials, contributing significantly to overall supply chain efficiency.


Operations are where the action takes place, they involve transforming raw materials into finished products. Running tight operations is crucial to maintain product quality and meet delivery timelines.

It takes different shapes depending on the industry:  in manufacturing it involves assembly lines and machining; in agriculture, harvesting and processing; in pharmaceutics, production and packaging.

Key activities in operations include:

  • Production: Overseeing the manufacturing process to ensure efficiency and safety.
  • Quality Assurance: Implementing measures to meet standards expected by customers.
  • Workforce Allocation: Ensuring that the workforce is efficiently scheduled and properly trained to handle production demands.
  • Equipment Maintenance: Keeping machinery in optimal condition to prevent downtime.
  • Process Optimization: Continually improving production to reduce costs and improve efficiency .

Running well-managed operations can significantly influence the cost-effectiveness and reliability of the supply chain.

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Distribution ensures products reach their final consumers. It’s all about moving finished products to distribution centers, retailers, or directly to customers. Good distribution is a crucial aspect of business, effectively making products available to customers.

Key components of distribution include:

  • Logistics Management: Coordinating transportation modes, routes, and schedules to optimize delivery.
  • Warehouse Management: Managing storage facilities so goods are kept in optimal conditions ready for quick dispatch.
  • Order Fulfillment: Accurately picking, packing, and shipping products to fill customer orders.
  • Inventory Control: Tracking inventory so products are available when and where they are needed.
  • Customer Service: Providing support to resolve any issues related to order delivery.

Running great distribution ensures that products are delivered in a timely and cost-efficient manner. In turn, this enhances the overall customer experience.

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Return management is a critical but often overlooked step of the supply chain. It involves handling products that are sent back by customers. This process is essential to maintain customer trust and minimize losses.

Key aspects of this step include:

  • Return Policy: Establishing clear and fair rules to manage customer expectations and streamline the process.
  • Reverse Logistics: Organizing the transportation of returned items to warehouses or disposal sites.
  • Quality Inspection: Assessing returned items to determine their condition and the next steps (repair, refurbishment, resale, or disposal).
  • Refund Management: Processing refunds or exchanges.
  • Data Analysis: Analyzing the reasons for returns to identify potential improvements in product quality or customer service.

By effectively managing returns, companies can reduce costs, recover value, and enhance customer loyalty. This step has the potential to turn negative experiences into opportunities.

Sheetgo for supply chain

Sheetgo is an automation platform where you can collect, connect and process data. At its core, it complements and amplifies the power of spreadsheets by offering exclusive features. But it also has great other features: implement a barcode scanner, collect data with forms to and visualize metrics with dashboards.

Sheetgo offers a ready-made solution to run an efficient supply chain. You can pick and choose any of its 5 modules:

  • Inventory management – Track inventory levels, orders, sales and deliveries. 
  • Bill of materials – Create a finished product with a bundle of components.
  • Purchase order – Streamline your purchase order processing, create and approve your POs.
  • Invoice generation – Generate personalized invoices and send them automatically via Gmail.
  • Packing and shipping – Streamline your packing and shipping processes. Add items, create shipments and track delivery dates.

Check out Sheetgo for supply chain and schedule a custom demo from one of our experts.

An alternative to ERP supply chain management tools

Sheetgo for supply chain comes at a fraction of the price of dedicated software which can be expensive and hard to implement. Get help setting everything up and have a new system up and running in as little as a week.

Visible supply chain fulfillment

Stay on top of supply chain fulfillment with Sheetgo dashboards, never lose track of important metrics. Set yourself up for success, never run short on important resources and identify conflicts early on.


Follow best practices in supply chain management

This solution was built by experts who understand supply chain management. It ensures you are using processes that are aligned with industry best practices. With Sheetgo, you gain access to streamlined workflows and analytics tools that help optimize your entire supply chain.

What does supply chain management do? Now you know!

Now you understand the principles of supply chain management and how each step in the process plays a key role. From planning and procurement to operations, distribution, and managing returns, each phase is essential and has potential for improvement.

If you want to keep exploring how to improve your supply chain, discover the Top 10 Excel inventory templates.

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