Now FLY! An Adventure in Leadership

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I can’t sleep.  My mind is racing and it generates a continuous slideshow loop of what can go horribly wrong for me tonight.  It’s Sunday, New Years Day, I’m home trying to get some extra rest as tonight I fly solo and will be responsible for several million dollars worth of equipment and inventory not to mention the 100 lives that go along to operate it all after only a whole two weeks of whirlwind training, I’m managing the first production startup of the new year.

It turned out the rumors were true about a buyer for the company.  A much larger corporation that produces the same product under a well-known brand name and actually understands the manufacturing process has become our new benevolent masters. Right after the sale, they were all over our plant watching, writing, asking, observing, tallying, poking, prodding, and judging.  After a few weeks of intense scrutiny, the changes came down from the mountain top (corporate) and it began with the immediate disbanding of the three gangs that previously operated the territories. (For more info and history on the gangs read The Company Civil War).

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What was the Creatives gang had now become the Production Department and their management team was beefed up with the hiring of new superintendents.  Along with that word also came that the long-feuding DC and Wrappers gangs were to be combined into ONE department that controlled everything from the packaging of the product to palletizing, storage, and shipping so we all had to find a way to get along let alone learn to trust each other.  Our former leader, Raoul was quickly pushed into retirement and shoved out the door, along with one other longtime DC superintendents.  Pete the sweet was demoted from leader of the now-defunct Wrappers to a Packaging Superintendant and soon after that our new head of the new packaging department arrived. 

Back after the sale when they were reviewing us all it was decided that the other DC superintendent, Brad, and I were worth retaining for entertainment and torture purposes as we were now going to be trained and transformed into packaging superintendents.  Brad and I had an awful lot to learn especially since before this merger of the gangs we were always discouraged from entering or nosing around in Wrappers territory. 

I walked into the kitchen, “What are you doing up?”, my wife asked.  I can’t sleep and all I’m doing is just laying there and torturing myself.  “Do you want something to eat?”  Sure, I answered and while you do that I’ll put up some coffee.  I’m going to need a full thermos tonight.  As the coffee brewed I pulled out the drawings and notes that I quickly jotted during my so-called training.  My training consisted of me just barely keeping up with my trainer as I followed him around, up ladders and down man lifts, under moving conveyors and behind spinning dryers.  For a man 20 years my senior he moved with ninja like quality at an incredible speed but spoke even faster while giving me a running dialogue of the sights we were seeing just like a tour guide.  He had a heavy accent and I was behind him as he spoke 90 percent of the time while wearing earplugs and surrounded by loud machinery so I wasn’t really sure what he had pointed out or what he was telling me and before I could get my bearings as to exactly where I was in the plant he was off again.

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The most unfortunate aspect of our training was that good old Pete the Sweet was put in charge of it and he still carried a grudge against us so it wasn’t going to be easy.   He’d call Brad and I into his office and would roll out maps and diagrams of the areas we were supposedly in earlier but they never quite look the same on paper as in real life.  At the end of each day, he’d ask with a silly smirk on his face, so you got it now?  Every day I’d look at him straight in the eye and say, no.  He’d chuckle and say, well you don’t have much more time.  Whatever the hell that meant.  What helped me the most to learn and figure it all out was to wander around on my own usually during my lunch break and I’d come in a half-hour before and stay half-hour after my shift, making notes and asking the operators questions.  It’s amazing how much employees love showing off their knowledge of the operation to someone who shows a genuine interest.

Well, ready or not it all culminates tonight.  In my head I hear, “Now FLY!” and laugh at myself as the thought of a Monty Python cartoon where a giant foot kicks people off the top of a mountain as it yells, FLY!  Of course, all of them just drop straight down the side of the mountain and land with the loud sound of a splat!  Could be me tonight.  “Aren’t you going to eat that?”  My wife’s voice brought me back to reality.  Oh, yea, sorry.  I ate, packed my lunch, filled my thermos, grabbed my notes, kissed the family goodnight and drove to work for my solo flight.

As I drove down the road towards the plant it appeared to look larger than usual and could have been a distortion due to all the plant lights against the darkness of the night or just an overflow of adrenalin.  I parked and got out of the car.  Stood there for a moment, closed my eyes deeply inhaled the cool night air, and walked up to the guard post and checked in.  Since this was startup there was no previous shift to take a handoff from so after checking and finding no call-ins on the sick line, a positive, I walked packaging to check in and introduce myself to all the stations and make sure everyone was getting ready for the fun ahead.

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The first thing I realized during my rounds was that not only did Pete see to it that our training was less than stellar but the team he had assembled for my shift was scattered with a few experienced people but mostly those with the least amount of seniority as well as the least trained and then for good measure, threw in every misfit and malcontent from the other shifts.  Pete had stacked the deck against me and I would soon learn one of them was planted there so Pete could track my activities.

Back at the office and was worried about my green staff who were being led by a green superintendent and that my first day was going to be my last.  I sat in my chair, looked at the packaging schedule, actually just looking through it as my mind floated when I was Jared by the phone ringing.  Production was sending over the finished product to the bins and we could begin to pack.  I regrouped and remembered what had gotten me this far but also had something going for me that Pete or myself never imagined.  

We were scheduled to run seven packaging lines and now that the bins were full of product we were ready to go.  Most of the crew knew that I was brought over from the distribution/warehouse and had gained respect there for championing safety, in fact, shutting down a palletizer because it was missing a chain guard exposing employees to leg amputations and also generating work orders to be expedited for safety reasons then posting the work orders progress so all the employees could see it.  It was a great morale booster as most of the w/o were generated by issues employees pointed out.   

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It took a year there to get to that point of trust and it didn’t help that people like Pete the Sweet and most of the previous old management treated employees like crap.  They yelled, threatened, harassed, and discriminated against them, and if one of Pete’s spies could find something juicy they would blackmail on top of everything else.  That wasn’t my approach and it had worked very well for me.  As I touched base at each station I didn’t tell them what to do, I asked if they were aware of the schedule, did they have all the raw materials they needed or anything they needed.  Some of the operators were so welcoming, demonstrating how their machine worked and how it could work more efficiently.  It was the best education I could get and I was getting paid on top of it all. I took notes on issues brought to my attention so I could look into them.   

Even those that were deemed as trouble makers or non-redeemable approached me and only wanted to be heard and not told it’s none of their business or promise to get back to them and then didn’t.  It turned out they were capable and job knowledgable employees just no one gave them the opportunity to care before.   The one thing that Pete never counted on is that his dislike by all would help us bond together and as much as I empowered them they taught me manufacturing, maintenance and patients.  During the next six months, we became an amazing team out producing the other two shifts on a regular basis but this would spur jealously in Pete as he could never motivate a team to achieve what we were doing.  Luckily it was soon after he began cooking the production numbers before sending them to corporate to make us look bad that he would be caught.  In addition the team knew who his spy was and several of my staff quietly pointed him out to me from day one and sometimes for pure entertainment we would feed him all kinds of stuff which we knew would drive Pete crazy.  Soon Pete’s rhein would end as the company terminated his employment for several issues and the general culture generally improved to a more positive and productive one.  This was an exceptional team of people, from every spectrum of the human race and I was truly proud of them all.  We got through some tough spots but got it done through strong communication, training, trust, and respect.  

You don’t have to know everything to get the job done as long as you can motivate a team to navigate, you can learn to fly.

 

Learning to Fly
Well, I started out down a dirty road
Started out all alone
And the sun went down as I crossed the hill
And the town lit up and the world got still
I’m learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings
Coming down is the hardest thing
Now the good ol’ days may not return
And the rocks might melt, and the sea may burn
I’m learning to fly but I ain’t got wings
(Learning to fly)
And coming down is the hardest thing
(Learning to fly)
Yes, it is
Now some say life will beat you down
Yeah, it will break your heart, steal your crown
So I started out for God knows where
But I guess I’ll know when I get there
I’m learning to fly but I ain’t got wings
(Learning to fly)
And coming down is the hardest thing
(Learning to fly)
I’m learning to fly but I ain’t got wings
But coming down is the hardest thing
Yeah, that’s
I’m learning to fly but I ain’t got wings
(I’ll tell you one thing, baby, I’m gonna learn to fly)
Coming down is the hardest thing
(Yeah, and fly over my troubles, fly over my worries)
I’m learning to fly but I ain’t got wings
(Fly up high in the blue sky, lookin’ down on the world below)
Coming down is the hardest thing
(Yeah, above all my worries, and over my troubles)
I’m learning to fly but I ain’t got wings
(Yes, it is, yes it will, gonna work, fly)
Coming down
Baby, that’s the hardest thing
 
 
 

5 Steps For a Successful Peak Season – STEP 4

As we had learned in step 3 – Training, even though it is listed as the third step, it is still an extremely important detail to a successful peak season. With that said, this next step, safety is not only just as equally important as training but in fact, they go together hand in hand.  Safety is always a challenge in the workplace but then add in temporary workers and getting them to buy-in to your safety program is even more of a challenge.  Then, if that’s not enough include young workers, ages 15-24 and it will be a trial by fire.  Even if the temporaries receive safety training through the temp agency, you’ll need to reinforce it even further through your own safety orientation including clearly spelling out the consequences of not following safety rules including those infractions that’ll get them escorted off the premises immediately. (Please note for the purpose of clarity in this article, when I speak of safety I’m also including sanitation as cleanliness is part of safety.)

STEP 4 – Safety

To help make this more manageable for you and easily digestible for temp workers, break safety down into different levels/categories of skills and knowledge.

General safety for all (orientation) – this is safety information you want everyone to know.  Evacuation plan including route and assembly area; type of signal used to alert of emergencies (do you use bells, horns, whistles, etc.); required wear needed to be in the general area like appropriate clothing, hairnets, beard-nets and other general P.P.E. like bump caps, safety glasses, steel toe shoes and ear plugs; use of pedestrian ways;  cell phone use while working; keeping work area free of clutter and debris;  where to place cardboard, plastic and other trash; not using boxes and product in lower racks as stepping stools to reach upper racks; how to report an accident, dealing with liquid spills or other hazards; signage; do not touch let alone operate any machinery or equipment without being cleared to do so by management.  I know temp agencies want their people to report accidents to them but I’ve always insisted that they tell us immediately first so we are aware of any issues or hazards and can ensure proper treatment quickly.

Specific safety  – this would focus on the area and type of work the temp has been assigned and what equipment they’ll be using.  Use of tuggers, forklifts, manual and electric pallet jacks and other vehicles are always a safety concern. Take the time to watch them in action after their training is completed.  For minor concerns coaching will help greatly but I strongly reccommend a zero tolerance when it comes to horseplay or willful acts by temporary employees.   Another specific area would be use of the compactor and banding of bales for recycling.  Only trained temporaries should be allowed near the machine if it is so decided.  Even if someone says they had previous experience using the equipment, still make sure they’re properly trained by your standards before being allowed to operate it.  Step ladders, stairways, mezzanines and any other means of travel within the building should also be a safety concern.  Don’t take it for granted that temporary employees know how to use those modes properly and that they fully understand any associated hazards.  I worked in a large plant that used man-lifts to get up and down the 9 stories.  We had an outside contractor come in for a construction project who the company assumed knew how to use the man-lift.  He tried to save time and bring his tools along on the man-lift and fell, breaking his ankles, wrist and ribs. If they will they be working near Conveyor belts, again make sure they’re aware of the associated hazards and know where emergency shutoff buttons are located and how to use.  Will they be operating mechanical pallet dispensers, shrink wrap machines, they need to know and understand L.O.T.O. for dealing with jams or who they need to contact and how.

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Bottom line, for a successful peak season look at each job a temporary employee will do as if it’s you first time and see if there are hazards lying in wait and don’t assume they’ll recognize the hazards on their own.  When you clearly communicate like with anything else, most workers will learn and comply but you will also find those gems out there who’ll keep you on your toes.  I once had a temporary worker, trying to impress me with his enthusiasm, climb up the side of 5 levels of racking like an acrobat to retrieve an item off the top. Needless to say I was not amused.

Next installment – STEP 5 – Leadership

5 Steps For a Successful Peak Season – STEP 3

Even though this is presented as the 3rd step in the series, you should never under estimate the impact of training on your operation as it is a very critical element. Training as with communication works best when it’s delivered consistently, concise and with conviction. This goes for all types of training from forklift certification to safety meetings to emergency evacuation procedures. If you treat training as a joke, that’s how it’ll be perceived and what you’ll get. This is your opportunity to set the tone in your house.

STEP 3 – Training

You know what jobs you’re filling with the temporary workers, now gather all the written procedures, SOP, descriptions and policies that cover those jobs and any other pertinent company policies and prepare your training plan. It is extremely important to have this information on hand and readily available not to mention a great habit to develop, reviewing and/or updating job descriptions, procedures and as well as conducting a hazard analysis at least once a year to keep your workers safe, practices current and regulatory obligations filled. Get your stuff printed and assembled and rehearse giving the training. Decide what kind of handouts, videos, power-points or other media you’ll use in your presentation. Don’t forget to include checklists, PPE that’s required and how to properly wear it, what materials are recycled or tossed, procedures on reporting and handling of spills, injuries, forklift use, sanitation and even include breaks and lunch periods. This is also a great way to get your staff involved in the training by having them demonstrate how to wear PPE or do a LOTO or any thing else you want to show.

Depending on your location it may also be a big help if you had the training material translated into the predominate language of the temporary workers. Some workers may speak english much easier than they can read it and this is information you want to make sure you get across. Remember, even though these are temporary workers they are still human beings and should be treated with the same respect as anyone else. I was the day shift manager at one place where my boss the D.C. manager would send temps home for extremely minor offenses as he patrolled the time clock area like a mad hen protecting her nest. Barking out their infraction as he pulled their time card and told them to go home. I would cringe with each one, “Your a minute late, go home”, “your shirt is not tucked in, go home.” It drove me nuts trying to plan the day while losing staff even before the shift began. Needless to say as he continued his campaign for crimes that were never explained upfront let alone written down anywhere he also sabotaged our relationship with the temp agency. Don’t ever hesitate to run your operation the way you see fit but make sure to be up front with workers and explain the rules clearly including the consequences if the rules are not followed but make sure they’re reasonable and not unattainable. One last comment on respecting all temporary workers. Even if their first language isn’t english that doesn’t mean they are any less intelligent and you never know who’ll surprise you with a great idea to save time and money for the operation.

          witzshared.com

witzshared.com

Make sure to document all training by using a sign-in sheets and make sure all employees attending sign to acknowledge their attendance, attach copies of the training material used for that meeting and keep for your records. Well trained employees do impact your bottom line and can lead to a well executing, sustainable workforce.

Next installment – STEP 4 – Safety

5 Steps For a Successful Peak Season – STEP 2

 

Now that you have Staffing under control, (SEE STEP 1) you can focus your attention on the next important step, storage. Seasonal items are always an interesting collection of flavors, (pumpkin, eggnog, gingerbread and peppermint), new and unusual food products, new electronics and premiere of other household goods, all making their annual appearance. The good news is many of these incoming sku are only temporary items for the season and will be moving fast over a short period of time.

STEP II – STORAGE

Depending on the orientation of your warehouse or facility cross-docking is a great way to temporarily store product without taking up valuable storage space in the racks. Cross-docking is basically taking product coming in and instead of putting it away into storage just keep it on the loading dock for shipping that day or the next. Begin by looking at upcoming shipments a few days out and the quantities needed and then look at the receiving appointments and quantities coming in. If you’re using a WMS you should be able to flag those incoming purchase orders so the product stays on the dock after being received for immediate shipping whether you’re loading your own trucks or preparing for shipping LTL. If you’re in a strictly Manufacturing environment, most orders especially in food manufacturing are made to order. As the order is produced especially those seasonal ones and brought to shipping, place them right on the dock and ship them out. Be sure to set up locations in WMS for holding the product on the dock so everyone is aware the items are for orders shipping. It also doesn’t hurt to have pre-made labels handy to place on the pallets also alerting everyone to what they are and how they’re shipping.

Renting/leasing trailers is another storage alternative however the down side is sometimes things get lost. Don’t lose track of what you have out there and stay on top of it. Give the trailer an assigned location, (usually the trailer number so you can find it) and an accurate inventory of it’s contents. There is nothing worse then having a yard full of trailers and not knowing which one has what you’re looking for. If possible keep only one sku in a trailer and if you store 2 sku keep them on opposite sides of the trailer from each other since you don’t want to have to move product to get to other items behind them. The chance of damages greatly increases the more you move them. If you need to keep things cool, refrigerated trailers are also available for rental but don’t recommend them for extended period of time since fuel usage will add to the cost of operation.

     warehouseflow.com

warehouseflow.com

Even if you are a small operation and can’t do either of the above another fallback to help you with storage is to place the extreme fast moving items in large bays closest to the loading dock. If need be double the number of bays used to hold more product for picking and shipping to reduce the number of replenishments needed. If you load full pallets keep them above the bay you chose as a pick location for quick retrieval. If your product is not perishable and you have good weather as well as a secured parking lot you can store product outside and remember as I said before, set up temporary locations in your WMS and don’t lose sight of inventory.

You can also pay someone else to hold and ship your product. A third party logistic (3PL) operation can store and ship orders directly to your customers from their location for cents per case per day or what ever agreement you make. You just need to make sure they have a continuous supply of your product and hope they care about it as much as you do as well as have a very good inventory control system in place.

No matter how many items you need to store and move in your warehouse, never compromise safety no matter how crowded things get. Don’t ever use pedestrian walkways for storage of product as this only forces people out of using a protective area and right into the flow of traffic and a possible accident. Don’t put product in the aisle-ways or block pick areas and storage racks with product. Why slow down your staff and make them squeeze around stacked pallets of product with their lifts or riding forks and it is more likely to lead to increased damages and make moving items off the upper racks very difficult and dangerous. Above all don’t ever block emergency exits, electrical panels and fire extinguishers even for a short period of time. Those are bad habits you never want to get into.

Next installment STEP III – Training

 

5 Steps For a Successful Peak Season – STEP 1

It’s the beginning of August, those lovely dog days of summer, it’s hot, it’s slow at work and folks are away on vacations. However this is not the time to kick back and relax since before you know it, the seasonal rush for goods and services will be upon you and your warehouse will be fully engaged as the home entertaining season begins with Halloween and then right on through Thanksgiving to Christmas and the New Year. Will you be ready to handle those peak season orders? Chances are if you don’t already have a plan or working on one right now you may not be prepared to keep those service levels your customers are expecting.

When business peaks you will be challenged by staffing issues, storage space limitations, increased number of orders to process, increased demands on equipment usage all while maintaining worker safety and sanitation standards. It sounds like a lot to deal with but this all can be handled expertly and professionally. First let’s break this down into steps and examine each one more closely.

STEP I – STAFFING

This is when having established a great rapport with your sales and marketing departments comes in handy. You can always get a good idea on the projections of units to be sold or manufactured during the peak season from them. Also find out what seasonal products will be available during this period and the duration, what other pricing specials and the anticipated movement as well as any other promos or combination promos or brand new items. Some customers like and are offered to buy mixed pallets of goods for promotions. A great example for around the holidays would be a promotion with a mixed pallet of light brown, dark brown and powered sugars, or in the summer a mix of catsup, mustard and pickle relish. This is important since you’ll need to plan on labor to build the projected number of pallets needed. If you’re not on a sales/marketing distribution list just ask to be added.

Now you can begin to determine your staffing needs and whether you may be able to handle the seasonal rush by going with your current staffing level and working extra hours or shifts. This is not a bad solution but be careful not to push people to far as increased work hours can lead to fatigue and an increased number of accidents. Another issue to consider if you do go this route is the tendency to sacrifice housekeeping and sanitation when it gets busy. Don’t allow it to happen since it’ll become another thorn as again the incident of accidents can increase due to trips and falls. Also consider the increased hours of usage on the equipment and the associated maintenance and charging times. Nothing worse than people standing around because the equipment is down or charging.

However, if you decide you do need additional staffing, first determine what jobs are they going to do? Picking orders, packaging, replenishments, sweep? Speak to your regular staff and get their input on where help would be most beneficial. How much training do you want to do and how. What skill level do you want in the workers? Using a temporary employment agency to place seasonal employees will greatly help with staffing but don’t put all your eggs in one basket and work with at least 2 different agencies. Get to know your representatives at the temp agency and invite them to a tour of your facility so they can see first hand the various kinds of jobs and working conditions. Make sure to give a very thorough job description along with percentages of bending, stooping, standing, and so on in a typical 8 hour day along with the estimated weights of items that will be handled. Also supply the temp agency a copy of your safety standards that all your employees get during orientation, and other policies on attendance, tardiness and any tools or equipment including PPE like steel toe shoes that are required. Also ask to see what kind of safety training they offer their temps. Some just show a video and some a video followed by a multiple choice question test. It’s not the greatest engaging safety training but you can build on what they offer. Think what kind of previous experience would make them attractable for you and will there be opportunity to offer them regular employee status at any point? Be sure to track any issues that may arise with temporary employees, their response on issues, turnover rate, quality of employee, attendance and did they deliver on the number of people you requested and were promised? You can use these items as a report card to measure that agencies performance and justify whether you want to continue doing business or not.

You can also make training easy by putting everything together now, while it’s slow season and practice on your staff and make sure to listen to their feedback. We’ll go deeper into training in a later step.

I’ve used both methods in dealing with seasonal peaks, separately and at times little of both. Just be prepared for everything and anything when using temporary employees. Even though most agencies do a fantastic job of screening applicant’s sometimes a real pill will get by. I came in one morning and a temp worker was immediately pointed out to me since he was taking an incredible amount of time picking one order. I pulled him aside and after speaking with him realized he was very inebriated and to my surprise he admitted it. I thanked him for being honest and politely declined his offer to have a snort. Since he had no car I sent him home in a cab with his bicycle in the trunk and billed the Agency for it.

Next installment STEP II – STORAGE

Just Putting It Out There – People Are Assets

             Witzshared

Witzshared

When the opportunity presented itself for us to visit a foreign land,  we immediately said yes!  Taking a trip overseas is so cool since first, it gives you the chance to bore and torture family members and friends with daily posts and pictures on facebook of your travels accompanied with cute anecdotes on interactions with the locals!  Second and also the best reason, it’s a fantastic opportunity to meet new people in a different setting, who have a different culture and use a different language.  When our trip to Spain finally came to an end, what struck me the most was that there is really no difference between us.  Except for language, they are people just like us, with the same hopes, dreams, and desires.  They are cab drivers hustling for fares, wait staff hovering and taking orders, teachers leading classes, bankers and students all using buses, cars and mopeds to and from work.  As an Italian tour guide one told me several years ago on my expectations in Rome, which also applies in Spain and France, “It’s not better, it’s not worse, it’s just different.”

 

Tapas 24, Barcelona, Spain

Tapas 24, Barcelona, Spain

After several days of eating my way through Spanish tapas joints and watching the teams of chefs operate, the epiphany hit and no it wasn’t the baby eel.  The key to achieving success is the same here as the U.S. and in the world –teamwork.  I noticed the differences between a truly GREAT Tapas bar and a so-so tapas bar had a lot to do with the level of teamwork, execution and communication within the group.  It wasn’t just the great quality and amazing flavors of the food that made the experience, it was the entire process, full of energy and precision that was awesome to watch, especially for a productivity geek like me!  The skill of people flowing along effortlessly: menus, translations, taking orders, food preparation, food distributed, drinks, constant clearing and replacement of dirty plates and new utensils distributed, final check in, clean up and then reset the area for the next customers and all along the constant communication between all the associates as they executed each task flawlessly.  Again, and again, over and over, repeating the process happily, energetically and always engaging without skipping a beat.  Those were also the places that had long lines of people eagerly waiting their seat like at Tapas 24.  Those places with short waits didn’t have the same energy and coordination.  It shows you the importance of that very precious commodity you have, your staff.

          witzshared.com

witzshared.com

In this day and age of computerization, digital scanning, smart phones, robotics and other electronic assistants we have developed a false sense that these systems are actually keeping us in touch with the pulse of the company in real time.  In actuality, it’s the people performing the tasks, your companies biggest asset who are the pulse of the company.  They execute the process, take the orders, produce the product and complete the servicing.  So peel off that layer of tronics and ditch your electronic umbilical cord and make the time to walk the floor. Visit the workers and engage in face to face verbal exchange with these people.  Visit when they’re on the production line, visit when they’re receiving on the dock, visit when they’re cleaning and then listen, listen, listen to their ideas, their perceived roadblocks and suggestions for improvement.  They are the team and when you give them the proper tools, proper training, realistic expectations and also ensure they are protected with proper PPE and safety policies you can create a business people would be willing to wait on a long line to experience.

 

USPS Killer Customer Service – Is Killing The Message

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When I say, inept, mismanaged, archaic, thinking like dinosaurs, behind the times, unimaginative, stuck to the old way, couldn’t think outside the box even if they were litery standing outside the box what quasi government agency comes to mind?  For me it’s the United States Postal Service.  Now I know It is easy to poke fun at this agency especially with such great characters you love to hate like Cliff Clavin and Newman, but it’s hard to laugh when they lost 15.9 BILLION dollars last fiscal year.  It’s also hard to laugh when they make strides to improve mail delivery but have NO clue on customer service.  If they were a real company in todays world, would they even still be in business?  No they wouldn’t, because their culture of secrecy, poor customer relations and ability to communicate to the public won’t allow them to make improvements since so many of their inept, lazy managers are threatened by making service improvements and might actually have to think for a change.

When I read about the voice of the customer and how companies monitor that voice to make sure they keep customers happy, the USPS uses deafness and silence as their voice of the customer.  I guess it’s much easier to monitor and you can always look good on your benchmarks when you don’t hear the public.  There is no incentive to listen since they couldn’t care less and have no fear of losing their jobs.  In light of the money they keep losing, someone hit upon the idea that without communication or returning a simple phone call they’ll save money like the supervisor at the Vallejo main post office who took the time to write down my name, address and phone number, promised to call and I never heard from him again.  Dollars saved, what a great idea, why hasn’t GM or Apple thought of that?

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I live on a Cul-de-sac and our community mailbox that services 12 families was vandalized and rendered unusable.  You can see that both back service doors are dangling.  This happened on June 6th. and that is when this odyssey began, of trying to get information from the USPS but you would think our community mailbox was involved with national security they’re so tight lipped.  First I went to the main post office on Santa Clara street and asked the clerk when it’ll be repaired.  She couldn’t answer and referred me to a supervisor whom I waited 15 minutes for.  As I said earlier he took all my info and never called back.  So I tried calling the main post office and they don’t answer that line and there must be no voice mail since it never picked up, again saving money.

So I contacted the Postal Service Customer Advocate at 1-800-275-8777 who are in Washington, D.C. on June 12.  They agreed it was poor service and gave me  case #CA113468629 and someone would get back to me tomorrow.  Yea right, but you know I wasn’t surprised because when you call the 1-800 line, the receptionist bot that answers has a lousy menu to start with and when you say or type your zipcode, it came up, with a male voice who said, “94589, Viejo, Ca.”  The problem is I live in 94589,Vallejo, Ca.  So on June 14 I called my Advocate to see if they were still advocating for me.  I gave her the case number and guess what?  They had nothing!  So she gave me the number at the Main, main Post Office in Oakland, for the Customer Relations at 510-874-8737.  I called and promptly got their voicemail.  As the machine had requested I gave name, address, phone number and the issue along with the case number, and this was early in the day.  As of today, June 17 I hadn’t heard back and called again and got a LIVE PERSON.  I discussed with her the issue and that I would like to have some answers.  Oh Yes, I can see why, She said, I’ll call you back, but this time Regina did call me back!!  She told me she spoke to supervisor Taylor at the Vallejo Post Office who explained that they only had ONE technician and that it won’t be repaired until next week, but couldn’t give a specific completion date.

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What a lousy cheap excuse.  Only one technician.  The manager here should be embarrassed with an answer like that.  You mean there is NO provision to contact other districts to see if they could borrow another tech for a short period?  I guess it’s very hard to think when you’re stuck in all that secrecy.  Can you imagine a fire district saying, we have only one engine on duty and not call a neighboring city for assistance?  Even the cable company offers better service.  So my neighbors and I will be without a mail box for a total of 21 days, figuring they’ll fix it by June 29 as projected and continue making the 7 mile round trip to the main post office.  The drive time is nothing, it’s the wait time on line just to get your mail that they are so graciously holding for us at no charge.  What a great group.  And that’s why this maze to go through to get some answers.  They hope over time you’ll get tired and stop.

This is where the USPS drops the ball in their culture of lack of customer service.  What good is getting packages and mail delivered on time when you have no place to deliver it?  There wasn’t even an attempt to notify affected customers as to what was going on, what the plan was, and when it would be completed.  They couldn’t send a representative to visit us, do handouts, communicate in anyway that they cared and would be held accountable?  This is a big reflection on not only the workers but the poor managers they have running the asylum since the workers only do what management lets them do.  It’s time to re-organize the Post office into independent operated districts and a thorough cleaning of the old management.  Bringing in entrepreneurs to operate the new postal districts will make it 100% better than now.

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I will keep you all posted, (haha) as this odyssey continues.  

Sure Fire Ways To Achieve Max Velocity.

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I love science.  Well, most of science, not a big fan of equations and statistics.  However, I love science, even more, when I get the opportunity to apply it to issues going on in my world of warehousing. Science?!  In a warehouse? Really?!  I think the best way to prove it, is to show you how we can use science in your warehouse.

Order picking, like receiving is another one of those critical areas of any warehouse whether picking raw materials for manufacturing or picking orders to be shipped to a commercial store or residential retail customer.  Your goal is to get the correct item to the customer intact and within the timeline the customer demands.  You want picking to be an uninterrupted flow, like a serene river, with the pick order set in a sequence to build a stable and good looking pallet, able to stand up to the rigors of shipping and within the customer’s specs.

If your warehouse pick operation is already set up for maximum efficiency you are to be commended.  If you would like to get your order picking to that point here are some tips and history to get you there.  It begins with Vilfredo Federico Damaso Pareto, born July 15, 1848, and the young Italian grew up with many interests and talents including engineering, sociologist, economist, and scientist.  He was the first who observed in 1906 than 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population and he further developed the principle by observing that 20% of the pea pods in his garden contained 80% of the peas.  This all gave birth to the Pareto principle of 80/20.

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This principle applies to your warehouse in that 20% of your sku, (stock keeping unit) account for 80% of the volume picked.  Why is that significant?  When you set up the locations of your picking slots you want the fastest movers closest to the dock for convenient quick movement.  In fact, depending on the quantities you ship you may want to look into cross docking some of these items as well.  You also want to give the physical pick location ample space to hold enough product for orders to be picked with the least amount of replenishments.  It also means that the items that account for only 5% of your pick volume can be placed the furthest away from the dock and can sometimes be stored in gravity flow racks and picked in batch style.  How does one find out how fast product moves?  You should be able to have generated a velocity report, and I would bet that the sales and purchasing groups have access to this report as well.  It’ll break down for you the total numbers of units moved for each SKU over a designated period of time.  This information can show you seasonal variations in quantities of specific sku shipped and other patterns.  I found running a velocity report quarterly was enough but you may want to look at it on a monthly basis.  Now you can categorize your sku into their different types of mover groups, fastest to the slowest and  can be broken down into three or four groups depending on the number of sku you maintain on hand.  A items=20% of the products that account for 80% of cases moved.  B=30% of the products that account for 15% of cases moved and C=50% of the products that account for 5% of cases moved.

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With that accomplished we can begin planning the slotting sequence and layout of your pick slots.  Usually want to set it up with heavy & large sturdy items picked first to form the base of the pallet and smaller lighter cases on top to avoid any crushing of boxes.  If you’re picking strictly raw materials for production put your heaviest items closest to production.  Make sure to purposely leave a few empty pick slots here and there for future expansion or to help give added slots for holiday season quick movers.

Once you have the sequence in order, to help maintain maximum picking effeincty you want to know how many cases of an item can actually fit into the picking slot.  That information helps determine the size of the pick slot you want and the number of replenishment you’ll need to make during any given workday.  The best way to accomplish this is by Cubing.   No, it’s not the art period but the cubic footage the case, carton, the box actually exists in.  However, to stop and measure every single sku you have and calculating the cubic space it uses is extremely labor intensive and there is also a greater risk of error.  There are machines like Cubiscan that you can purchase or lease to accomplish this task in no time.  Moving forward, as new items come to the warehouse you can get the carton size specs from purchasing or the vendor for calculating cubic feet.  

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Keeping the flow.  I strongly recommend that once you have gone through all this effort to get your picking operation in order keep it fresh by reviewing velocity reports on a regular basis and reviewing your slotting.  Listen to feedback from the pickers as they’re in the trenches every day and believe me they enjoy building the perfect pallet and they catch subtle differences in carton sizes or weights and other changes in the product.   They have some great ideas on picking sequence.  Most importantly put all this information together and develop a written slotting guide and procedures for your company on how the product is set up in the warehouse.  State your list of categories of velocity, A – ? , how often you’ll do velocity reports and Include what input is needed from purchasing and suggested timeline for this process on new items coming in with their dimensions, weight and estimated usage.  Make sure all old inventory is used up before beginning a new replacement item to avoid dead inventory.

Hurray Science.

Tweet To The Hand. Should you be Worried?

Marissa Mayer, the new CEO at Yahoo made quite a splash recently when she announced some changes at Yahoo, (Why Marissa Mayer Told Remote Employees To Work In An Office … Or Quit).  Immediately, people reacted to something that seems so alien and different, it truly freaked people out.  What some see as bucking the trend, I see as a brilliant, bold, innovative move by going back to old school.

This baby boomer gets it.  Technology is great.  You can snap a photo of anything and post it on the internet and within seconds it’s there for all the world to see. You can comunicate with a vendor on the other side of the world who just finished his breakfast while you’re enjoying dinner.   You can conduct presentations that can be posted as a pod for later viewing and track sales and inventory from your couch in your own home.  Production issues, employee hours, vendors, other company issues and the public’s pulse all from the comfort of your device.  Chester Gould would be so proud.   My kids even  now like to text or FB me with the trials and tribulations of their day along with their great accomplishments at work or school.  However, I do expect them to actually speak to me at least once a week on the phone.  If I’m lucky I actually see and speak to them face to face at least once a month.  Yes, technology is great tracking family and work, but I still like to hear it in their voice that everything is really going good and I want to see their facial expressions as well as we did at the dinner table when they were younger.  That’s right, right up until they went to college they were expected at the dinner table, no television, no phones, just us and some good old fashion conversation.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net                         

So do these marvels of the 21st century that allow telecommuting really improve intra office communication?  Getting specific data yes, but real communication?  When the kids lived at home and I wanted to have a conversation about their day at school and if they would say, “Dad, talk to the hand”, I could see the expression on their face and the tone of their voice and knew if they were kidding or not.  You can’t do that with an email or text.  Oh, yes, you can capitalize letters when yelling and place happy faces if joking and all sorts of symbols to demonstrate your mood.  Could you picture Alexander Graham Bell texting Watson,  “Mr. Watson–come here–I want to see you. images (4)

  But to me these devices also harbor a dark side as well and allow you to hide behind a veil and make comments that are not productive or conducive to solving an issue.  They give you a false sense of I can say what I want because you don’t have to deliver it face to face.  Even If you have an issue with another department and you need to work things out does it make sense to email that department head who is only feet away from your desk?    Isn’t it better to go to their office and sit down and discuss the situation?  Think of the time lost to solve an issue that is obviously important to you and now have to wait for a reply email and then having to reply to that email.What’s their work load like, have they had time to read your email and is it something as important to them as you?  So you wait for that replay and you stew.  What’s wrong with them, don’t they care?  You have so many other things to do in the course of your day and don’t have time waiting for emails going back and forth.  You need to resolve the problem or issue today!  I still enjoy when people are in a meeting together in one room and there is honest discussion, but it’s done politely.  The  brain storming is an immediate rapid fire exchange of ideas, which generates more ideas and before you know it, you’ve begun working out a new and better product or policy or procedure and I believe that is one of the major reasons that Marissa Mayer is seeing.  Lost collaboration and unproductive time.

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But people do like their email and tweets.  Every time I read about the possibility of robots taking jobs from people I laugh since people are already becoming robots controlled by their device.  My wife and I went to dinner and sat at a table near a young couple.  Sue and I spoke to each other face to face at dinner discussing several things that happened in the course of our day.  The young couple sat, barely spoke to each other but were both on their cell phones tweeting, to each other?   People walk aimlessly around the supermarket at their own pace as if they were the only one in the supermarket totally unaware of your presence while they play with their devices.  They drive cars in rush hour traffic focused on texting about some idiots driving habits and they check in on facebook.  This lack of  human interaction is leading the demise of humans and the art of discussion as well as the art of listening.

So before you fire off that email or text stop and think.  Is that person in this office building?  Go talk to them and begin a discussion.  Then you won’t be told to tweet to the hand.

All I Really Need To Know About 5S I Learned From Grandma

“A place for everything and everything in its place”, that’s the mantra Grandma drilled into me daily during the summers I spent with her and Grandpa.  All the cooking utensils and hand operated machines in the kitchen were her tools and like any gifted artisan, she created masterpieces with them.  She also taught me, in order to be creative, inspired and efficient in the kitchen, you needed to respect your work area and the tools!   Everything had to be stored in its proper assigned place, kept clean, sharp and ready for use in an instant.  They were from the old country and this is how they were brought up.  Even the small barn in the back of the house where Grandpa’s workshop was located was spotless, organized and free of clutter.  I looked forward at the end of the day, to help Grandpa matching up the tool with it’s corresponding drawn figure on the pegged wall.  They both were in constant motion from dawn until bedtime but it gave them purpose and they were very proud of their property.  What Grandma didn’t know at the time was she was training me on her own version of a 5S program which is a key building block of any Quality Warehouse.

What is 5S exactly?  Briefly,  It’s a concept developed in Japan that is a way to keep one organized and ensure good housekeeping in the workplace.  5S offers organization and standardization, improves safety, working efficiency, improved productivity and helps motivation and instills pride.  The 5S are:    Seiri – Clearing up.  Seiton – Organizing.  Seiso – Cleaning.  Seiketsu – standardizing.  Shitsuke – self-discipline.  There are also variations of 5S like 6S (Sort, Straighten, Sweep, Standardize, Self-Discipline, Safety).  Either way, don’t let the terminology intimidate you.  You can call it by any name you want, I refer to it as using common sense, but you do need a vehicle to help keep your warehouse neat, organized, clean and ready for whatever challenges the work day brings.  A great reference I found for 5S questions is 5S Supply.  I recommend signing up for their blog.   http://blog.5ssupply.com/author/5ssupplycom/

Grandma also taught me, it is a concept that can also be used at home just as well to keep things so you know where to find them when you need them.  Just think, when your home is clean and organized any project you tackle is so much easier to do.  Think about your hobby room?  How difficult is it to scrapbook when everything is organized and easy to get too?  Apply this concept to your pantry at home.  How many times have you bought something you thought you needed because you couldn’t find it but only to find it buried underneath a bag walnuts a few days later?  When the pantry is organized:  baking goods, oils, canned goods, grains, snacks it’s easy to take a quick look-see and know what you need to buy at the store.  Same applies to the company tool room or supply store.  When you know what parts are on hand and when you need to reorder you’re not wasting valuable time searching for something you think you have.

Whatever 5S program you decide to put in place, it sets the tone for your team at the warehouse.  Employees are more productive, like beautiful flowers in a well lighted, enriched environment free of trip hazards as opposed to being like mushrooms in a dark, dirty place.  O.K.  You are now a step closer to a Quality Warehouse.  More tips to complete this journey coming.  Any thoughts and suggestions are always welcome.