Is inventory management an art or science? If you focus on how much creativity is involved in inventory management, then the answer is it’s an art. But if you focus on all the data that goes into it, then the answer is it’s a science. To get a real answer, we should start by defining what art and science are.
Art is a creative expression that can be viewed subjectively. It’s usually an attempt to portray some aspect of life, people, nature or emotion. Most types of art, like poetry, sculpture and photography, operate under rules, but those rules can be bent or even broken in some circumstances.
Science focuses on creating systems to reasonably explain the available data. Because it is an attempt to explain existing data, science is subject to change as new data is gathered that contradicts what came before and makes the proposed system difficult to accept. That’s how science eventually arrived at our modern conceptions of the universe, human anatomy and medicine.
Art and Science in Inventory Management
Certain aspects of inventory management can be explained using both art and science. You can separate it into inventory management methods (like just in time, min-max and others) to put inventory management into a scientific system. Sometimes the system won’t always work properly, e.g. it couldn’t account for sudden economic changes or production problems. But for the most part it can be a good fit.
When the inventory management system falters, it doesn’t necessarily mean it needs to be replaced. It just means you need to introduce a little art into the process. Sometimes you can’t always justify decisions based on past experience, but you know your customers and you can guess what they’re going to do.
So Which Is It?
I could do a total copout and say inventory management is both an art and a science, but I’m going to do something more difficult. I’m going to say inventory management is an art that is perfectly complemented by science. Inventory management is mainly an intuitive process. The science surrounding it certainly improves a person’s ability to make smart decisions, but it doesn’t replace the human element of the equation.