Lessons from Shaka Zulu for Supply Chain Analytics solution development

The Legend of Shaka Zulu

For those who are not familiar with Shaka Zulu, he was the greatest Zulu warrior of all times. He ended up becoming one of the greatest Kings that Africa had ever seen and the primary driver behind his rapid rise was that Shaka Zulu was a disruptor as far as the domain of war goes.

Rewriting the rules of war

Before Shaka Zulu, wars betwen African tribes was fought in a very conventional way- the two armies came face to face in an open field, with a large distance between them and would throw spears at each other. It was not a very effective method of fighting wars, but no one ever questioned…WHY ?

Shaka, who started as a soldier in another tribe after being ousted from his tribe, started challenging some of the “legacy” war tactics, including battle gear, weapons and war tactics. To test his theories, the leader of the tribe gave him his own legion that he could train leveraing his own tactics. Shaka’s War strategy, as depicted in this video where he is starting the training of his legion, was based on three aspects:

  • Strategy (Planning)
  • Speed (Agility)
  • Physical Contact (Proximity: Be as close to the “problem” as possible)

I will explain what Shaka meant by these three and how these three are applicable to developing an efective Supply Chain Analytics solution design in the subsequent section.

Unbiased historians widely acknowledge Shaka’s military leadership and prowess in developing new weapons and tactics such as the short stabbing spear and the battlefield strategy izimpondo zankomo or “horns of the beast” encircling tactic.

Incorporating Planning, Speed and Proximity in your Supply Chain AI solution development process


What irked Shaka was that wars were fought in a very brute force way. Armies facing each other face to face in Shaka’s mind was very brute force. He devised tactical attach stratgies like izimpondo zankomo or “horns of the beast” encircling tactic as well as incorporated element of surprise in the warfare.

Similarly, Supply Chain analytics solutions can’t be built in fire fighting mode. You can’t go face to face with the problem and start throwing various solutions at it to see what will stick. You need to plan a portfolio of solutions, basically following these high level steps:

  • Layer 1: What are my key Supply Chain challenges
  • Layer 2: Which Supply Chain processes are associated with these challenges
  • Layer 3: What processes contribute the most to the “magnitude” of challenge
  • Layer 4: What is the most effective, yet simplest possible Analytical approach that can be used to mitigate each of those possible challenges?


After a war strategy has been planned, Shaka’s next tact was to catch the enemy by surprise through speed. His attacks were so agile that enemy hardly had time to orient, and in some instances wvwn understand where the waves of attack were coming from. He also got rid of slipper that his warriors wore, which slowed them down from running.

From a Supply Chain AI solution development perspective, it means that once you believe that you know what the solution is, you need to move fast, pilot and scale fast enough, without giving the underlying problem you are trying to solve to evolve itself. If the pilot and execution drag on for a long time, chances are that by the time you develop a solution, you may find that you need to iterate it to meet some other aspect that has morphed in the sub processes involved in the problem you are looking to solve.

Get as close to the enemy as possible

Shaka believed that the best way to fight a war is to get deep into enemy territory by making physical contact with them. The conventional war gear was not developed for that so Shaka himself developed a new form of shield and spear, designed exclusively for close proximity physical contact.

In the Supply Chain world, you have to get “close” to the processes if you want to be able to develop an effective solution. What that means is that an effective AI solution can not be developed unless you understand the nuances of the underlying processes. Supply Chains are very process intense and solutions designed need to incorporate aspects of every nuance of those processes. Before your Data Scientists or Analytics professionals write even a single line of code, make them experience those processes by being on the shop floors.


Views my own.

Note that this article does not detail the entire end to end process of designing, developing and implementing Supply Chain Analytics processes. It only illustrates the impact of planning, speed and proximity aspects in developing a solution.

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