The relationship between a company and a contractor consultant needs be one of trust, transparency and all about the customer to be successful. In addition the ability of the consultant to listen should be extremely refined to hear what the company braintrust wants the new system to accomplish but also and maybe even more important listen to how the employees will operate the system to obtain maximum efficiently in the task enhanced by their product. After a period of listening and mirroring employees the hope is the contractor will deliver that much needed system to make everyone happy.
At the time we were owned by an Investment firm who really didn’t have a clue about what went into the making and packaging of the product we made and had no interest to learn. The equipment was ancient and abused being kept together with baling wire, duct tape and the sheer determination of veteran mechanics using every trick in the book to keep production moving. Downtime was a common occurrence and a great source of frustration for each and every department. With all that going on, the Investment firm in their infinite wisdom decided the most important thing to do was improve invoicing. Not the equipment needed making the product to sell so we can have something to invoice but invoicing itself as the sooner an invoice went out the quicker we could get paid, but not so we have money to improve production but so management can give themselves bonuses. Well, I guess when it’s put that way, it all makes sense.
The contractor consultant the software company sent to work with us seemed a nice enough guy at first. He spent little time with the employees for their input but a lot of time hob knobbing with the investment firm executives. I expressed concern but was assured he was spending time on the floor with employees getting the important input but after investigating found that was not the case. The most critical part of a software upgrade is during the transition period when the employees begin using it live. You want them to know how to do their job correctly to help build their confidence using the new system and this is usually accomplished with training material provided by the vendor. As intuitive as the consultant thinks his system may be for users this may not actually be the case with your people if the consultant didn’t listen properly or replaced their information with his own beliefs on how it should be used.
Our consultant procrastinated and when we went live our newly upgraded Management System that was to better track inventory, streamline shipping and speed up invoicing wasn’t! You know the old saying, garbage in, garbage out, that’s what was happening. Without the training material people were making scanning errors, weren’t sure how to use the printer let alone how to reload it with labels. Bar codes were incomplete or just plain wrong and product was being incorrectly identified. We spent every morning, recounting inventory and readjusting it which ate up valuable time that the new system was suppose to save for us. It was a mess and of course the usual finger pointing began between the investment firm, the contractor, the consultant and the workers. Fun was had by all.
I wanted my crew to succeed and could no longer wait on the promises of a procrastinating consultant who didn’t seem to share our concerns. On my own time I made enlarged copies of the bar codes, with the name of the product boldly displayed and placed them in plastic protectors. Wrote out the procedure to sign on to the scan gun and where to apply the printed label then double checked that the whole super sack crew were in the system and had the proper access. As soon as the production meeting was over where we found out we had three kinds of super sacks to pack out I went to the station to have a huddle with my staff. We covered the scanning process and gave them the bar codes and other materials but most importantly I told them there was going to be a no fault policy in effect. If they made a mistake all they had to do was tell me right then and there so I could make the necessary adjustments immediately in the system. I watched them for a while, could see they had it down and went on my regular rounds. The crew loved it and their confidence soared thanks to the no fault and materials so much so they set a shift record for the number of super sacks produced. We left copies of everything at the super sack station and told the other superintendents what we did. The inventory errors went away, productivity improved, the inventory manager was happy, our customers were happy and most of all, the investment bankers were happy as we could now enjoy the benefits of the new system.
I did however make one underestimation. As it turns out the V.P. of Finance, one of the investment bankers who championed the upgrade of our inventory/shipping/invoicing system had been paying attention to what was going on after all and after our procrastinating consultant complained to him that I had jumped the gun and what I did, oh how dare I want my staff to be successful, the V.P. brought him to our next production meeting and thanked me in front of everyone for my efforts. I had made a new ally and was able to get a few more improvement projects completed before they sold the company to a larger manufacturer who understood what we did.
It’s easy to complain when things don’t happen as they should, it’s another thing to put your money where your mouth is and take care of the issue with a little extra effort. There is always a solution, don’t fear thinking outside the box.