The Failure of Emergency

November 6th, 2008

I just checked to see what I had last written and found I have been even more delinquent than I had imagined. I did not tell you anything about my multi-state tour to set up my little invention that so pleased my boss: the On Time Delivery Bridge. It keeps track of lines that we ship late and helps compile the reasons why so we can review the results and say “Oh! We have a problem here!”

But that story is for another time. I am going to try to be brief and my moral for today is: just because you have an emergency doesn’t mean you are doing something right. We had some very high level people in the plant recently (you can only go one level higher I think), and we were all told after they left that they were concerned because they didn’t feel a “sense of urgency” in the plant.

I figure what they really found lacking was a sense of purpose. Nobody has any confidence that the leaders as a group really have any idea or agreement about where we are going and how we want to get there.

But let’s talk about having a sense of urgency. Let’s talk about what it taking about half of my disposable (I choose what to do) time: expedites. Here’s how lame this situation is: We were instructed to use certain set lead times, not dynamic lead times, so that we would have consistent delivery results and a consistent measuring stick to check our consistency on. This has worked reasonably well for our tools–although there were a lot of issues until we got a set lead time that was almost tolerable for the market. But we based our set lead time levels on how much of a product we had shipped. When we applied this same model to our spare parts, any part which hadn’t shipped much wound up with a long lead time (more than two calendar months).

Not because it takes us that long to make the product, mind you. Because the model showed that “not many” customers wanted the product, so we didn’t have to ante up for a faster delivery.

So, customer places an order for a part he needs, walks away for a month. Comes back, wondering what the heck happened to his order. It’s still there, promised out another month or so. Customer gets mad and wants to have his part now. Oh, okay, that will be another two weeks because that’s how long it actually takes to make. . . you could have had it two weeks ago but we were waiting for our set lead time to elapse.

Or you can have it right now, we have thousands of those gizmos in stock, we were just waiting for our set lead time to elapse.

This is causing friction with our customer base. When we get comfortable with the month of November we are going to look at the whole policy and see if maybe we can fix it a little.

Meanwhile, when the customers call their service reps and start swearing and screaming because their order is so late, the rep sends the expedite request to me. I’m supposed to examine this request and make sure they have filled in all the little details and given a proper, adequate, and justifiable reason for the expedite request. There’s a little seed of a good idea in here: if you change your schedule every time any customer says, “I want my stuff,” you wind up with no schedule at all. It is necessary to put the brakes on some requests, especially when the customer, via the customer rep, says “You have some, I want it now,” and we really have to hold onto that stock to fill another, earlier order. Those situations sometimes come up.

Most of the time, though, the customer has either already waited weeks, or they are seeing a date that is months out. And I’m supposed to make sure all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed. If I don’t, I make the production team mad with the frivolous expedites and disregard for supply chain realities. But I can’t spend too much time checking on the details because the expedites come in at a steady clip and most of them just need to have that ludicrous set lead time overridden so that the order can ship before I start collecting a pension. And the more often I do that, the more I get expedites that “must” ship the next day–really just feeling me out for a real lead time.

Sense of urgency? Sure. I am working frantically, urgently, to try to tear through all these expedites, especially so that the 20% or so that really are urgent will be looked at, and the 5% that are truly urgent and I can easily fix will get on their way without further delay.

I got your sense of urgency right here, and it’s not because I am doing my job so well but because the decision-making leadership is doing their job so poorly.