Tuesday, 4 June 2013

I'm bringing 6C back....

Well I have been gone for a while and yet here I am back tapping away on a battered but faithful laptop.  Now normally I would title most posts as "The Logistics of" and try and make some kind logistical point thinly veiled by the cuteness of my own children.  Long time followers will hopefully remember the joys of baby feeding or the challenges of tooth brushing for 2 year olds.

Today I start with a a play on Justin Timberlake's song title.  It is nigh on impossible to bring sexy back
You can't disguise a nose pick
as a logistician- although I have claimed that logistics is the rock n roll of the aid world..... I can't actually recall what I meant by that when I said it.  I can however bring 6C back, well at least I can recall 6C on a Sri Lankan airlines flight from Colombo to Delhi. If I was to literally bring 6C back it would constitute some kind of theft and probably require customs paperwork that I hadn't done.

So why am I writing about seat? Well it all comes from a change of professional direction.  You will see from the links across the top of this blog that I am the director of The Logistics Project.  Earlier this year I took the decision to work from the inside in trying to promote not only good logistics practice but something I heard described by the Attorney General of Massachusetts as civic capitalism.  I have taken up a post as the Head of Enterprise Operations for Motivation.....oh we have a linked in page too for you social media savvies.  Motivation are all about promoting quality of life for those whose circumstances require them to use a wheelchair.  Their focus is predominantly on the developing world.  Now whilst I am all for using commercial know-how to reach humanitarian and development objectives I did have to have a little read up on wheelchair provision.

So my bedtime reading for a few weeks has been the WHO Guidelines - and I can't suggest they are a John Grisham or Stephen King novel. They will swivel your opinion on providing wheelchairs in less resourced settings.  It turns out that the Monty Python sketch about the dangers of comfy chairs and cushions does have a reality when it comes to the prescribing and fitting of wheelchairs.

HOLD ON AL........ I thought you were brining 6C back.... in fact how does 6C tie into this whole thing.... and should we take a blog seriously that combines WHO guidelines and the work of Monty Python.

Trust me I am a logistician!

I am brining 6C back because it will allow me to explain a big old WHO guideline in one simple picture. Aircraft seats are made to fit the widest number of shapes and sizes possible and consequently only fit a few perfectly.  I was over the moon that Sri Lankan airways upgraded "for the benefit of other passengers" as my 6ft 4in frame was likely to mean some poor individual got pinned to the bulkhead.  I loved the comfort of their business class seat and I have to say you can do a lot worse than fly Sri Lankan.  What I realised though is that even in the lap of luxury I was a little uncomfortable; not seriously, my knees weren't jammed into the seat in front, I did not have to consciously contract to fit the headphone cable in the socket and I could recline to a point where sleep was a possibility.  It started  with a little shift from side to side, the a wriggle to shuffle back, a sneaky lift of the left buttock and then the right to get the blood flowing back to the skin.  My long legs hung over the edge of the seat cantilevering my lower back away from the generous lumber support.  Don't get me wrong these seats were extremely comfortable but to sit still in them for 4 hours was a significant challenge.  I started to get the physical realization of what our work is about, too often in the aid world we do something rather than nothing but in the case of wheelchairs, something rather than nothing can kill you.  Pressure sores and urinary tract infections kill and incorrect seating is a prime cause, an inappropriate cushion can be the terro that Monty Python joked at.  My four hours in 6C showed me that a wheelchair users who may not have the sensation to realize that their butt has gone numb or doesn't have the upper body strength to relocate themself properly needs a seat that is bespoke to them. Fitted neatly, cushioned appropriately and supported efficiently; and that is what we at Motivation do, we design and produce chairs that can be bespoke to each individual and we train people to do that - not in a flash London clinic but in the developing world and less resourced settings.

So when you are looking to mainstream mobility don't forget:

I'm bringing 6C back
That chair has shown me how  to act
We will needd to support your back
Seated correctly with out no slack.
Take em' to the bridge 

 (this does not constitute clinical advice!!!)

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

The Logistics of Angry Birds


During my time away I have to confess to having played a little too much Angry Birds....yes Angry Birds is the route of only the best procrastinators; although in my defence I have been playing it whilst sat outside Joel's room waiting for him to finally drop off to sleep.  As always I can see the logistics in almost everything.

Available for iPhone/iPad
or Android 
You see I was a little bit cheap in my Angry Birds habit and I only dowloaded the free version of Star Wars.  Yup....cheapo..... now that can easily (ahem reasonably easily) be completed in a couple of nights of listening to Joel sing to himself before dropping off to sleep.  I know I am a big ruffty tuffty male but that is the cutest thing to hear.

Anyway in my cheapness I went back to the beginning of the free levels and changed my aim.  I was looking not only to progress to the next level but to gain 3 stars in doing so.  Yes I was aiming for elite level procrastination!  Now it would be easy to turn this into an ops blog about "quality and continuous improvement" and that would be good but I am in a problem solving mode of thought.  I was once described as "a hatchet man with velvet gloves".....I think it was a compliment.  The idea being that I could take operations with serious operating issues and conduct rapid change management and restructuring without bruising the people involved....or at least that's what I hope was meant.

Enough about people's pet names for me, my point was problem solving.  You may remember a post about ROT.  We invited you to tell your Boss that you're work is ROT and survive. In that blog we suggested that in the majority of logistics conundrum you are playing with only three variables Resource, Objective and Time..... Go back and revise if you don't recall...teacher says so. ;-)  I am still on course for a link to the logistics of Angry Birds.

It took me a lot more time to get 3 stars at all the levels I had previously cleared easily.  What I found was that my initial angle of attack to clear the level was wrong for the objective of getting 3 stars.  As any archer will tell you, you rarely aim for the bulls eye to get top score in competition.  You take into account wind, distance and .....erm ...err other stuff.  In a similar you may have to consider your angle of attack to solve any given problem, you can't just trot out the ROT principle and expect it to fall into place.  You may have to consider whether your Little Han Solo bird with laser should be aiming at the storm trooper pig directly or aiming at the seemingly innocuous large round stone to get the job done.

Anyway when all is said and done this blog has given you a great excuse to play Angry Bords in the office and if the boss catches you leap up exclaiming ROT before explaining how you were considering other angles of attack on your particular logistics conundrum.

Happy Logisticking for 2013!

Monday, 3 December 2012

Pulau Nias - Indonesia - not a log blog

 After the popularity of the blog post about Khartoum, I have searched out a few more letters home this one comes from Nias, and Island off the coast of Sumatra.  After initially suffering damage during the 2004 Tsunami, Nias suffered a second huge earthquake which not only destroyed much of the capital but also tilted the Island. Anyway I will let you read this letter home.

"Nias' lush green vegetation, a subtropical paradise"
I cannot tell you how tired I am, whilst I did my best to combat my jet lag by staying up all day yesterday it was somewhat crippled by the efforts of the Medan hoteliers who woke me a 0430 rather than 0530.  Once again today I have required a siesta of 2 hours at lunch, even in the heat of the tent I slept with out dream or recollection.   I arrived at 8am; it was a simple one hour flight from Medan, on a rocket like trajectory of constant climb to a pinnacle and then a steep descent into Gunung Sitoli airport.   Medan had all the trappings of a city, although as you approached the edges it became clear that as the population grew they just slashed back another 200m of lush green tropical vegetation.  Nias looked to be so entirely different as we landed, the lush green vegetation hardly broken for as far as the eye could see.  I half expected to see Elias Barnes run from the cover of the palm canopy to be gunned down in the open (a reference to Platoon for those who aren't movie buffs).
Earthquakes are neither malevolent nor judgmental; they show no fear or favour.  I don't think I have ever seen such wholesale destruction as in Gunung Sitoli.   I can only compare it to accounts of carpet bombing I have heard of from the Second World War; there is mile after mile of flattened buildings in Nias' capital.   Belied by the 'jungle' airport, Gunung Sitoli was clearly once a prosperous town.  Many tile fronted buildings, lie shattered, subsided or shaken from their glory; their architectural features lying pathetically in the rubble whilst humble shacks are still standing between the piles of bent steel and jagged masonary.   Even the buildings which remain standing are often cracked or so structurally unsound that families choose to live in one of the hundreds of tents that now line the street fronts; sleeping outside their properties, facing the dilemma of whether to destroy and rebuild their homes or to wait for a day when the shaking stops.

I guess you'll have to get used to several days emails in one day as the email is a little sketchy as I have said. The ferry between Sibolga and Nias has broken down and now I am at a little bit of a loose end.  All my stock is on the main land and I really only have a fleet of four permanent cars to take care of. The planning is done and I feel to guilty to enjoy the beach.   I caught up with a Swedish friend Maria, who I worked with in Sudan.  She is out here with Raddnings Verket (or the Swedish rescue services agency to you and I) It was good to sip real coffee in the UN compound but I wouldn't give up my beach for all the fresh coffee in Indonesia.  It is becoming clear the size of the task in hand, almost all the bridges are a best buckled at worst collapsed.  The road south is all but impassible to heavy traffic but I have 60 metric tones and 10 technicians to get down there – now this is what I call fun logistics we are hiring boats, mexefloats, motorcycles and the like.   I like the fact it requires a bit of lateral thinking and creativity to get things done here.
Life has a great rhythm and ironically reminds me of my time in Iraq, with out the snoring hulk of Jack  in the bed next door, or the antics of Shammie.   It is early starts and cold showers followed by breakfast and then straight into work (we live, eat and work in the same beachside compound), we work til 12 when we have our standard fish based lunch (those who know me well know I am not that partial to sea food but I am getting used to it) we then work til around six when I go and do some exercise for an hour before the second wash of the day and dinner.   Sometimes we'll round off the work of the day after this with a few team meetings and debriefs but when we have the space the evenings are fantastic sat out on the veranda of a hotel showing the strain of constant tremors reading, chatting, occasionally an English language film on the TV that is subtitled rather than dubbed.   Then I am generally in bed by 1030 and well ready for it.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The Logistics of Sweetcorn and Marmalade

It feels like a little while since I have blogged about anything logistical.  It has been a busy time at TLP.  We have been spending a lot of time collaborating......we like collaborating.  I have taken an associate director position with PSI Group who do life support management for organisations that work in remote, austere and hostile environments.  They are looking to deploy life support facilities to disaster zones to help smaller specialist agencies meet their duty of care to staff and bring their specialist knowledge to bare on the challenges of disaster response.  We have also started to expand some of our free resources zone - the most exciting development here being a collaboration with DHL Global Forwarding to create a shipping route finder resource.

Anyway back to The Logistics of Sweetcorn and Marmalade.  At first sight there may not be an apparent link between sweetcorn and marmalade let alone between these food groups and logistics.  This is another sorry tale of logistics failures that occur in the Al of The Logistics Project household that I would never let happen at work.  I am sure your mind is racing about how sweetcorn and marmalade can end in logistics tragedy.  Sure it would be easy for them to end in a culinary tragedy.....although I am currently thinking up curried marmalade and sweetcorn recipes as I type.

This tragedy revolves around a failure to stock take.  Last week I was taking some time to work from home to avoid the biscuit temptation of the office.  Having successfully avoided the biscuits by lunch time I was hungry, I trawled our kitchen cupboards in search of healthy food only to find them awash with cans of sweetcorn and jars of marmalade.

"Curious" I thought, but figure that Mrs Al had a plan..... I was wrong for as she returned home and dropped down the bags from a shopping trip I spied yet another jar of marmalade.   I have to admit I started to giggle....it was the logistics shock you must understand.  When Mrs L enquired as to what I was laughing about I mentioned the steadily growing marmalade and sweetcorn stock.

Would had occurred was a consistent failure to stock check prior to placing a demand.  Normally we would get through a lot of these food stuffs but young children can change their tastes at a whim and Marmalade had been substituted for porridge on the household breakfast menu.  Mrs L was drawing up her replenishment list from her perception of consumption not from the raw data of a stock check.  This is a surprisingly common habit in many logistics systems.  For us it means that we will be eating a lot of sweetcorn and marmalade.... recipe suggestions are welcome..... but when you translate this to perishable or lifed commodities such as essential meds and drugs it can mean that the excess stock you build up can end up sat on the shelf - a drain on your financial resources and if they are not used a huge waste of medication.

So if you do not want to metaphorically end up eating marmalade and sweetcorn fritters you need to get a grip of your stock records.

Happy logisticking!!

www.thelogisticsproject.org                                                                                                                     www.psigroup.org

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Khartoum Bank Holiday - not a log blog.

Back in 2004 a very forward thinking young lady called Thea invited a recently retired Royal Air Force  logistics officer to see if he could help a group of PhDs and development professionals make a difference in Darfur.  The RAF officer was me and 8 years later putting operational know how from the military and commercial sectors into the aid and development sector, particularly when working with national staffs, still excites me. Since then I have built and run hospitals, cleared rubble, distributed food lead entire teams delivering camp management, public health, education, GBV and more.  Below is an extract from one of my first emails home from Sudan.  I remember enjoying the freedom of not having a uniform and the good friends of my first NGO job, Jason A, Jason W, Anders and Abbai.  I shall let you enjoy the picture of Khartoum circa September 2004.

"Khartoum is silent today, it is a national holiday and the usual
thronging streets are peaceful, the occasional purr of a car passing
the only thing to disturb the birdsong so often masked by the sound of
the commerce and traffic.  I walked home at 4 along my usual route
along Al Jamia Street, passed the monument of national unity and the
people's palace – the ironies of which did not wholly pass me by.  The
peace allows you time to sift thoughts usually disrupted by the
concentration required to navigate the hurly burly of Khartoum life. 
The streets lay bereft of battered yellow taxi's and lazy street
hawkers, apathetic almost to the point of silence- disdainfully
proffering their dusty wares in the vain hope you came out to buy
musical casserole dishes.  Amid the calm comes a sense of the lost
grandeur of Khartoum, slightly embarrassed by it colonial past
colonnades and covered walkways line the main streets forgotten and
dilapidated masonry crumbling, paving cracked, paint decaying – hardly
the heroic death the patrons of the empire would have wished for.  The
Sudanese have left their edifices and now lay sprawled in municipal
gardens dulled by the heat of the afternoon sun the murmur of
conversation is low as many slumber in the shade of bent and twisted
trees.  A large group studies together, books nestled in laps and
balanced neatly on crossed legs they stare intently at the pages
trying to decipher algebra, archaeology, Arabic or the study of the
day.  The wildlife takes the opportunity of human lethargy and takes
to the streets, birds land to inspect an ants nest for food; cats
prowl across the top of walls and fences nimbly tripping through the
overgrown hibiscus aware there will be no stoning or kicking today and
the dogs shut both eyes in their heavy slumber leaving just and ear
cocked for trouble.  In this daze of discovery I bring myself almost
to my front door.  I find a lone store open in the street to my hotel
and buy a natural yoghurt and some guava juice to sweeten it with and
haul myself the last 200 metres to air conditioning, and so you find
me enjoying my late lunch of yoghurt and grapefruit as I type this to
you now.  At times like this Khartoum is beautiful and a walk by the
blue or white Nile is a peaceful magic on Saturday the magic will
change for that of the hawker, the salesman, the businessman and all
street life will resume."

It has been a crazy 8 years but my passion for such rich cultures still remains.

Friday, 9 November 2012

It's tough being married to a loggie...well perhaps only this one

"This does not meet my criteria"
As you will know plenty of this blog is dedicated to my amazing children and whilst I love Millie, Joel and Keshet very much I have to say that I need to pay credit to my amazing wife.  Not only does she put up with the fact that TLP gives away resources and helps the little agencies but she puts up with the little logistician idiosyncrasies.  By now you are wondering about the grocery bag to the right here.  Am I going to tackle the logistics of running a multi-site JITL (just in time logistics) system?

Well... no... this is actually a bit of a Friday confessional.  When we go to the grocery store it can turn into a bit of a logisticians day trip for me.  Neatly stacked shelves, good nomenclature policies, plenty of batch control all things we have covered before in Surely More Interesting....

One of the little idiosyncrasies that Laura has taken a little longer to get to grips with is my passion to avoid double handling.  I blame my training Flight Sergeant at RAF Cranwell, affectionately known as Uncle Lou,who drummed into me the great evils of double handling.  For those of you not up to speed with double handling it is the practice of having to do a job twice, such as locate stock on a shelf on arrival only for it to have to be sorted and relocated again later.  Grrrrrrrr.....

I get like this around check out tills.  I honestly can't let items get stacked in bags in a free for all..... in fact they can't go on the conveyor belt in any old order.  Chilled produce, fresh produce, canned and packet foods, cleaning and hygiene goods; each and everyone has to have it's on place.  So at the other end they get placed into bags of like items.  So that when we get home they get placed next to the cupboard, refrigerator, freezer or shelf appropriate to there group.  SINGLE HANDLING heaven.

Where does this fit into your logistics day?  If you find that you are running a labour intensive operation, whether it be warehousing, relief goods distribution or pharmacy management; the chances are that there is an element of double handling going on.  Now you can try to pass this off as a great job creation scheme and bless you for the effort to self justify but with every move you increase the risk of error.  Now don't feel admonished you didn't have Uncle Lou hounding you about double handling.  But if you are looking to reduce loss, manpower overheads or just trim the system you might want to analyse whether you double handle.

Have a great weekend one and all.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The Logistics of Keshie's Shape Sorter and the Single Fuel Concept

I have been away...... I know.  I am sorry I left you hanging I have tried to continue in the Twittersphere as things got busy here and we have made a few posts on the more official blog of TLP.... I have a serious side.  We have projects going in Haiti and Somalia that I have got myself involved in alongside our venture with PSI Group which should liberate logisticians from the woes of building the disaster response base camp ever again.  So I got busy and I apologise.

As regular readers will know I have often feature Joel my oldest son as the subject of many of my blog posts; such as The Logistics of Joel's Christmas Toys or The Logistics of Toothbrushing with 2 year Olds.  Today my focus shifts to the very precious Keshie, Joel's little sister.  She is now 15 months old and well a dad likes to reminisce....I know she's only 15 months old but she has now learned the word no so the very cute DA...DDY is now a more well articulated No Daddy.  She is quite the young lady already, but in my reminisces I was thinking of her sat in the middle of our living room floor with a shape sorter.

Now you are wondering how this links to the single fuel concept aren't you?  Keshie, is extremely bright and I think much like her brother has some logistician tendencies that I am keen to cultivate.  If you are not familiar with Women in Logistics then here is your chance.  Keshie will be up there leading the charge.  What leads me to this proud father's boast?  As she sat with the shape sorter it wasn't long before she had matched the blue star with the star shaped hole ... it was a mile stone - father and daughter elated ...... then the yellow pentagon banged and ground against the star shaped hole and the moment was gone.  A series of other shapes were tried in that hole but none fitted, only the blue star.  Eventually over the course of a few days she worked out the shapes/holes problem.

I know I am still not connecting to the single fuel concept but I am getting there.   It was at this moment that her logistics genius shone through.  She looked at me with a little pain and confusion in her eyes that I felt said.....

"Daddy - I can see that this is a useful training tool in shape sorting but surely a shape sorter with a greater commonality of parts would mean there was a greater chance of fitting the right shape in the right hole.  Clearly the size of inventory is limiting the efficiency in progressing small coloured blocks from the outside of the box to the inside of the box"

I could be reading too much into that split second gaze but I knew then she would understand the single fuel concept.  This is the concept that if you have one fuel across your vehicle (and sometimes aircraft fleet) you only need stock one type of fuel, truck one type of fuel and never worry about cross contamination.

This extends well beyond just fuel.  Vehicles themselves for instance are a great place to draw down the size and complexity of your inventory, if you can buy a fleet with 70+% commonality of spares you can massively reduce your stockholding (and consequently money tied up in that stockholding).  It is easy when so often we loggies get cast as the overall wearing store men to think that stores are a good

"Repeat after me, we are logisticians not store men"

thing but the modern loggie has to think lean.  If you have a forward thinking team who are looking to involve you in designing projects then think about ways to encourage a lesser inventory.  For example if you are building shelters can they be designed to have as few parts and materials as possible.    If all else fails take a child's shape sorter into the meeting and show them what every baby knows drawing down you inventory is a good thing!

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