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 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!!                                                                                                           

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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Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Marriage Counselling by The Logistics Project

Just recently we have been hitting the Twittersphere with a number of our Resource Notebooks.  They cover Job Descriptions, Common Forms and we are even starting to build some local work instructions into a generic manual that you can customise to fit your operation.  It has been a lot of fun working with some great platforms to start creating a really useful free archive of logistics resources.

"I may be at risk of gushing
like Huka Falls, NZ"
Big thanks go to, and for their ingenuity and generosity in getting materials out there.  We don't know these folk personally but Gary at MacMost is amazing at getting our wee laptops working to their optimum!  Lucidchart is that tool that you always wanted to draw flow charts on; and generously they have a free account which allows you to draw simple diagrams.  Evernote is simply an amazing resource, we have a paid account with them so we can upload lots of information for you but you can access all this free because they aren't parochial about it!  Anyway gushing out of the way let's get on with the marriage counselling.

Why am I talking about marriage counselling?  Surely this is more diversification than is truly necessary?  There are no impending nuptials on the celebrity horizon.  There is no stress between me and Mrs L at Lamb Towers.   It is actually the publishing of our notebooks that has prompted me to conduct a little bit of marriage counselling; you see the notebooks are full of rules, and formula and systems.  Now rules and formula and systems are all good for making things tick over but rules are never as important as the relationship!  WHAT?!?!?! I may get excluded from some arcane loggie brethren for saying this but it is true.

Mrs L and I are heading towards our fifth anniversary and are happily married but it has unquestionably been a journey to get here.  This is not me pouring out my soul in a blog; but you come to marriage with an agenda and a set of rules that you picked up from your family.   Do you open your Christmas presents before or after Christmas lunch, who runs the family bank account, are public displays of affection a good thing or gross these are all questions you assume have a universal answer....not so!!  You may remember that I had a habit of whipping my clothes off the very second I got in from work, well I don't any longer!  Let's not talk about our first year and try to work out social scheduling, dates nights, friend nights, quiet nights, cleaning nights trying to regulate it just didn't work!

"Do not deploy the nuclear option"
Where am I going with this?  Simply this when you find yourself entrenched in a position of defending the rules of building a relationship with the operator you are trying to support you are quite simply in the wrong.....always and unequivocally.... your point may be right; but if you are allowing that relationship to deteriorate you have lost.  I say this having worked with Mr "I am a successful programme manager and I will do it my own way" and Ms "This is not the way we did it in a large and impressive agency" so I know that at 400th time of hearing you are reaching for the nuclear option!

William Wilberforce
I encourage you flip the safety back on and cover the little red button and take the approach of one of my heroes.  William Wilberforce was credited as abolishing slavery in the UK and I in no way want to detract from that reputation but I do want to make an observation.  In 1826 Wilberforce nearly died through illness many have thought brought on by unsuccessful combative attempts to abolish slavery.  The act finally passed in 1833, sadly Wilberforce died 3 days later.  In these 7 years there was a huge change in the approach of Wilberforce and his friends to abolishing slavery. They moved from legislation to education.  They had realised that you needed to stay in relationship with those that feared the change, engaging in those fears understanding them and gently "hugging" them away.   You may feel I am demeaning his achievements by putting them alongside some logistics conundrum you are facing; but I think the greatness of the lesson we can learn from Wilberforce is that it can be applied so broadly to any area of conflict.  

All too often in consultancies I find that the ops and logs teams have ceased to communicate over an issue of rules or legislation.  The truth is that if the rules don't reflect the aspirations and understandings of the whole community they will just create rule breakers. Engage with those who flout the rules and build the relationship and you will be surprised to see that the objectives of the rule can be achieved through relationship.  So if your marriage with the operators in your organisation is looking as though it is heading for the rocks The Logistics Project is always ready to act as The Love Doctor.  We are only too happy to deploy a little love!!

Monday, 10 September 2012

Getting excited about tech....... oh and a little bit of fashion.

I know I have been bad at posting over the olympic/paralympic period but I have come away a little inspired.  David Rudisha's world record?  Usain Bolt?  The Jamaican 1,2,3 in the 200m? Perhaps something more British .... Mo Farah, Jess Ennis or perhaps David Weir.


It is Dave Brailsford of GB cycling.  Yes I have come away inspired by an administrator rather than an athlete.  "Oh no.....this is going to be dull post" - I hear you thinking -  granted it may not have the hilarity of our Valentine's day special or achieve the popularity of The Logistics of Socks. Mr. Brailsford (Dave) has however inspired me to look at the tech that we use.  He is renowned for looking for the technological advances in other industries and sports and looking for ways to apply them to cycling, he brought swimming coaches in, had rubberised plastic suits constructed for track cycling and convinced the French sports paper L'Equipe that Team Sky were riding "round wheels" to gain an advantage.

You may remember back in The Logistics Project's Inner Geek is Out we looked at some of the very cool apps we had found on the iPad that made our day run a little bit more smoothly, as well as the incredibly exciting laser measure (all very James Bond if you ask me).  Well this post is not so different in that we have found a few more apps that we are very fond of and some really top notch kit!

TODO by Appigo

If I am honest this blog is appearing courtesy of Todo, never quite satisfied with iCal or Outlook for managing task (maybe that's just me) Todo has made the office hum with efficiency.  What is the beauty of it.....well firstly it is very visual which works for me, secondly it syncs across iPhone, iPad and MacBook.......but hold one there it also syncs across PC and notionally I guess you can use any smart phone's web browser to access the online version....dah dah!!!  It completely outstrips the proprietary competition.  Add to this that Todo Pro is in Beta Testing which allows further functionality and collaboration and you have our APP of the hour!!

WORMS2 by Team 17

I confess not a productivity tool but more a procrastination tool, if you are done with Angrybirds but spend a lot of time on aircraft, in airports or, in our case, customs offices waiting out the customs officer.  Worms2 can make you appear productive if no one can see over your shoulder.

NB:  If you have an addictive personality this may not be the game for you....

Destiny Pen by Destiny Wireless 

This is my truly Dave Brailsford moment...well actually I bumped into Mr Destiny - aka Phill -  socially,  I wasn't really researching hi tech in other sectors... but that doesn't stop me from claiming it.  The destiny pen records what you write and then converts it into a digital record saving you having to convert a whole pile of hand written forms into meaningful data.  Destiny even work through building the forms and databases with you. Apparently National Health Services in the UK use it quite extensively as do a lot of courier firms looking for a cheaper alternative to handheld terminals for proof of delivery.  Having worked on all sorts of relief and development projects it struck me that as a community we spend a lot of time entering data onto excel that we captured on paper, whether it be camp registrations, recording the location of mines for clearance, writing up electronic medical records. The beauty is that the pen can transfer the data securely over the mobile phone network to a cloud based server in far away safe place.....nice.  Tech in the field is often a risk, as loss is a big financial blow but these units are a 10th of the cost of a PDA and don't have the cachet to encourage theft.  I know this is a geeky love but the fact you can write it on a piece of paper and it populates a database gives me a warm fuzzy feeling.  I can't tell you where to buy them but Phill seems a nice enough chap and I am sure wouldn't mind me handing out his details.

Dubarry Shoes

"Big shoes to fill...My Dubarrys nearing retirment"
I know we are not a fashion blog but I am about to wax lyrical about a pair of shoes.  As a man who has spent a little time in the field some might think there are few fashion quandaries to be had.  This simply isn't true.  Shoes was my thing where do you find a pair of shoes that work as well trudging around the deserts of Northern Sudan as they do attending a Presidential reception in Haiti.  I stumbled across Dubarry in a sale and bought them because they were cheap but I have to say this trusty pair of shoes has withstood a serious old battering and with a little love still scrub up well. I bought them as office wear for Ghana and very nicely they did too little did I know that they would come into their own as our HQ in Haiti was destroyed by wind and torrential rain.  Caked in mud, I lived in these shoes for two days with not so much as a blister but the most amazing thing was that after once over with a stiff brush and quick wash I was wearing them to President Preval's house without the slightest hint of their previous 48hours.  I know it is a Log Blog but I have to say the great philosopher, Forrest Gump, once said "Momma always says there's an awful lot you could tell about a person by their shoes. "

Anyway, that is broken the drought of posting!  Dr Tony Roath, (University of Bath, School Of Management) has agreed to give us a few lines on Supply Chain matters and this man is no crusty academic he flew F15's for a living!!! So there a few things to look forward, also keep your eyes on The Logistics Project website as we should have some pretty cool product announcements to make in the next month or so.  I''ll tip you off when they happen, have fun logisticking!!

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

So how many logisticians does it take to make a humanless system?

Apologies that it has been a little quiet recently here on the Surely More Interesting.  I have been doing a lot of training for my 40tude project.  We have also been crunching the numbers on the charity's 3 year plan and we should have an exciting close to 2012.  Anyway a little blog is in order.

I was recently involved in the fringes of a conversation between a programme director and a logistics team.....sometimes I have to bite my tongue in order to be a well behaved logistics consultant; sometimes the gold plated solution doesn’t meet the business case and despite being within the grasp of best practice it doesn’t make sense to go for it.

"Automation overload"
Anyway back to the conversation; the phrase that grabbed me was “I want to take the human element out of the logistics component”  what he actually meant was that he wanted to reduce the reliance on logistics personnel to process the resupply orders at each depot.

This got me to thinking how many logisticians does it take to create a humanless system.  A number of times I have work on supply IT projects I have been asked to define algorithms for resupply.  The simplest of these is

Optimum Stock - Current Stock = Resupply Order

If you want to take in the delivery time if you are operating over a greater area you add in an adjustment factor for the days it takes to distribute as a 

Optimum Stock - Current Stock + Adjustment Factor = Resupply Order.

That adjustment factor can be calculated dynamically if you have the IT assets or as a % of optimum stock level.  I could get really dull about algorithms so I will stop there.

So it would appear that you can create an algorithm to take the human element out of re-ordering...or can you?  It would have been a dull blog to just trot out some  E= MC2 type equation and leave it ..... I won’t.

"You knew what all the
letters meant right?"
You see Current Stock can be defined by counting, resupply orders are the outcome and the adjustment factor is a calculation against either consumption (I have some great algorithms for that) or as a percentage of optimum stock.  So here is the clincher how you define optimum stock?  

Yes optimum stock needs a huge amount of human input to make the rest of the system work.  It is possible to use previous consumption data to give you a dynamic consumption rate and then perhaps you can put together an algorithm to define how much of a certain product you will need over a reorder period....but who defines the re-order period..... you can perhaps create an algorithm......

Yes you can always “perhaps create an algorithm” but I always encourage teams to look at it this way; every algorithm that relies on the input of another algorithm puts it one more step away from judgement, discernment and decision.  During the Olympic period it is perhaps appropriate to give a sporting example, I chose the Archer.  At the point of release the archer only needs to be a minute portion of a degree off to miss the bullseye.  

So how many logisticians does it take to make a humanless system.....

None......trick question really.

But you don’t want a humanless system in fact you want to include a multidisciplinary team to draw together the best of your knowledge to capture the essence of what you do and make the best judgements, discernments and decisions...then let the algorithms do their business. We at The Logistics Project love to facilitate these meetings to help you get the best out of your algorithms.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

One of the things we don't do.....

Strange to start a post with a link to someone else's organisation; but you know me every now and again I like to throw a serious post about what The Logistics Project stands for.  Sometimes it is as important to know what you don't do, as it is to know what you do do (anyone sniggering at the term "do do" may leave the room now).  Anyone who has worked in disaster relief will know it is critical in the early days to rule out things that you aren't going to do or else you would get swamped.  Even within the things you are going to do you have to know what you are not going to do, for instance a WASH actor might say we want to put in hand pumps but we are not going to put one on every street corner.

At The Logistics Project one of the things we are really committed to is not duplicate effort , we'd rather support something someone else is doing well rather than try and set up a similar or identical system.  One of the things we are passionate to see is great baseline data for the logistics effort in disasters so that when you arrive in town it is more a question of crossing off what doesn't now work rather than trying to build an entire picture in the confusion of the immediate rescue phase.  We were getting started with a project we called Baseline when our good friend Michael Keizer tweeted about  The Logistics Cluster's D_LCA project.  The Digitial Logistics Capacity Assesment is a Logs Cluster product and captures much of what we were looking at doing with Baseline so .....R.I.P. Baseline.

"excellent work from the logs cluster"
We definitely do not want to re-invent the wheel, D-LCA looks to be in the early stages but just to have a platform to work on is a big step and shows us the way.  Way back when I worked with UNJLC we used to publish handbooks but the digital medium makes these tools far more useful as they are easily searchable.  Currently there is no means to submit data that you may have gathered in the course of your work nor are there templates for you to be able to fill or an accreditation to be able to contribute.  The D-LCA project is a cooperation between three different units within WFP – the Logistics Cluster, the Logistics Support Unit (LSU) and the Field Support Unit (FSU).

Hopefully in time there will be a way for qualified NGO, Military or commercial logisticians to contribute to this great project.  We for one are and will be fully behind it, because one of the things we don't do is duplicate effort because it wastes valuable resource, brings confusion and makes things that should be collaborative; competitive.  Well done WFP and The Logistics Cluster on getting this to the web.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

The Logistics of Contraception (18)

Swiss Toni (click for video)

In my university years there was a television programme called The Fast Show which I fondly remember as the funniest show on television.  One of the characters was Swiss Toni, he was a car salesman but he was always comparing life to “making love to a beautiful woman”.

Now I don’t want to categorize myself as a Swiss Tony but Logistics is alot like contraception. (oh no where is he going with this)  Yes, good logistics prevents you from running out of “stuff” in the same way contraception prevents you from having a baby.  Sure there are many ways to do it but having a system is the best way forward.  Not all systems are a like.
"top drawer or bottom drawer?"
I mean notionally it is a system to be scrabbling around in your bedside draw for a condom in the half light of your boudoir but it’s not what you were hoping for and it can get a little stressful if they are not quite where you expected.  There are systems which you can use such as pills, injections (for both sexes - no sexism here) which means thinking ahead, discipline but a lot less draw scrabbling.

The thing is you have to maintain the integrity of the system, it is no good sporadically taking a contraceptive pill expecting it to have a prophylactic effect.  In fact even one missed pill can be a recipe for parenthood.  If you don’t follow the system throughout your love life you will still find yourself scrabbling around for condoms in the half light but with less practice.

In the same way if you are building a logistics or supply chain system it needs to be harmonized across all your operations.  It is quite easy to designate an operation as different or special but in reality you doom that operation to be the thorn in your side.  It will be run with processes that people are not used to and will potentially create confusion for all your operations and lead to people creating their own little bespoke systems.  Harmonizing across operations of different characteristics can be tough particularly in remote, austere or post conflict settings as there are so many variables but unless you want to find yourself metaphorically scrabbling in a bedside draw in the half light trying to preserve the romance of the moment you need to do it.

The Logistics project can’t help you with your contraception and this blog in no way constitutes medically sound advice but should you need your systems harmonized, drop us a line! 

Thursday, 5 July 2012

The Logistics of Cake

I defy you not to go and search for cake now.
I have to be honest , I sometimes feel I am running dry of things to talk about in logistics, it is a reasonably finite subject before you get into the realms of algorithms and equations and I am not sure I can shoehorn them into my family life....although I am sure something at some point will prompt me to make the connection.  Over in the official blog of TLP we have started putting together a basics guide which some of you may find useful but surely more interesting is a far more personal blog.
This week it has been the logistics of cake.  Joel is now 2 and a half and is fully aware what he wants.  A large proportion of the time that is cake!! But it could equally be Lion (his favourite cuddly toy) or at 3am the other morning a series of mumbled requests fruit, play park, daddy.
This got me to thinking about how often in supply systems we (that us the collective logistician) reply to mumbled demands.  I have spent a great deal of time working in disaster relief and development and I don’t think anyone would be surprised by the number of mumbled demands we get; but my time working with commodities and in commercial freight forwarding shows that it is a perennial problem for many logistics systems.
So what do I mean by mumbled demands?  I guess they fall into several categories but essentially they are unclear requests or un auditable demands on the stock.
A classic mumbled demand from running medical programs in Kashmir, Darfur and Haiti is 
“We need 20 boxes of latex gloves” 
It usually comes at the end of the day or perhaps as you settle down for a beer of an evening and it has no detail about sterile or non sterile, powdered or powder free or even whether the recipients have freakishly large or small hands.  (I long to receive a demand gloves, sterile, powdered......freakishly large).  Working for a commercial freight forwarder has similar challenges, on more than one occasion a client has asked for 4 of one stock item meaning 4 cases of it.
A demand template can be simple
check list to ensure you have all
the relevant details.
OK, perhaps it is not quite the time to man the barricades and start a world that is led by logisticians.....although I think we would be quite good at it.  But how do you get around the mumbled demands problem?  Templates, education and whiteboards are the only way I have found.  One of the first measures I used to take in development settings was to ensure we had an appropriate demands system.  You might remember my tale from Niger of painting a wall black to get trucking right well there was another part to that plan that I didn’t mention.  We created forms, not reams of forms but some basic templates that covered the information we needed to meet the logistic users requirements.  Organisations fear forms quite often and feel that it is unnecessary bureaucracy and some of me agrees with that but until you get it right you need control measures.  The way I have always eased the forms debate is to have a healthy stack of blank forms on my desk so when I get a radio message from the field I can check it off against my template.  Whiteboards I use much the like the black wall, it is a great place to corral live information to see that you have 3 similar demands for 10000 syringes in a certain locality made by 3 different people.  There is no substitute for education, I spend a huge amount of time encouraging program staffs on how to get the best out of the system.....always take biscuits to these meetings!!  I am never be afraid to divert unused cold chain resources for the carriage of unmelted chocolate hob nobs to get the point across...... just kidding (please don’t lynch me Michael Keizer)  Time spent in educating non-loggies about your loggie system is seldom wasted.  Operators often believe that their thought is enough to trigger everything immediately irrespective of lead in times etc.
Your demand system can be as simple or as complex as you wish or are able to make it.  RDD (required delivery date) is a useful category and also noting who made the demand.  I like to keep a list of authorised demanders (Joel is not on the authorised demanding list for cake)  as a loss reduction tool another option is to limit who can receive and authorise a demand for fulfillment.
The upshot of this is that it is OK to tell your programme staff that they are mumbling their demands like a half asleep 2 and a half your old if you have sufficiently thought out your system to give them a crystal clear voice in the demands process.  
Have a good week of logistic king and if we ever man the barricades I wan't the cool waist coat and the musket!
"Les Miserables"

Sunday, 24 June 2012

The Logistics of Tea Mugs & Strip Tease Arrival

I realize there hasn’t been a blog post for a while so apologies to regular readers.  To be honest I was struggling for a bit of inspiration perhaps because I was so heads down in the writing of an operations manual that the facts were overwhelming any creativity.  Anyway this week I have been working with PIH in Boston and they have encouraged me to get posting again. So here goes.
Image borrowed from        

I am sure you have gathered by my previous blog entries that I love my family and particularly my wife.    There are however some practices where we don’t see eye to eye on and these were particularly noticeable in our first year of marriage.  For instance I have a favourite mug, this mug is capable of containing many litres of tea throughout a day before requiring’s my way of conserving water.  Not so in the world of Laura, I would quite regularly go to use my favourite mug only to find it was in amongst the dirty crockery smeared with baked bean juice......hmmphhh.  In fact Laura is such a tidier that there would be times when between me getting the mug out and the water boiling for tea it would have been whipped away for washing.
What goes on behind a man's front
door is his own business...
until married!
Now it wouldn’t be fair of me to highlight one of Laura’s idiosyncrasies with out also laying myself bare too.  I was a single man for 35 years and had kind of got into the habit of shedding the stresses of the working day as soon as I got in through the door.....and when I say stresses I really mean my work attire.   Laura once described as a strip tease show between the font door on the bedroom.  I would regularly walk in through the door and start undressing neatly folding garments and leaving them in small piles or over the back of chairs, on the edge of tables until I had made it to the bedroom and switched my attire for something more comfortable.  Now at the most basic level I have ignored any lessons I have learned on where to store things as we looked at way back with Joel’s Christmas Toys.

So what is the logistical point I am driving at here?  Well it is one of the dark corners of logistics......disposals.  Now some people will no doubt argue that this is a finance thing, that it is up to the accountant how they go about writing off unwanted stock and equipment .  To an extent they are correct but if we look at my missing mug and the neatly placed pair of socks draped over the back of a dining room chair that used to drive Laura so crazy, we can perhaps see where the logistics of this comes into playing.
This is a classic problem in warehousing - undefined disposal authority, in the disposal process there should be a nominated authority to say this stays or goes and a process to request a decision.  The symptoms of this can run one of two ways:

  1. Like my missing tea mug anyone can decide that it is time to get rid of some stock and just stock adjust it off and remove it......this is a sure fire way of incurring loss or super inflating your consumption.
  2. No one gets rid of anything because they aren’t sure if they are allowed and your logistics system slowly clogs up with expired or obsolete stock and equipment.  If you find yourself clambering over the same unopened dusty boxes of 1972 bright orange letter-headed may have a problem.
It is important not to confuse the reason or trigger for disposal with the authority.  The trigger may be expiration, batch recall, damage or just that this stock takes up too much space - the authority should rest in one person or system to say.  For those of you interested I have ceded authority of all crockery items to Laura, who is now the sole arbiter of whether the tea mug needs washing.
This also stems from not having a clearly defined process to govern disposals.  I am clearly the authority for disposing of my garments at the end of the day and I still like to make the switch into board shorts and T-shirt when I can even if it is just to draw a line under the day. What I clearly failed to do was ascertain a suitable means for disposal.

When I consulted other stake holders it turned out that the best disposal method was to place in the laundry bin provided......who'd have thought eh?  In my defence garments usually made the laundry bin eventually, but it took the stakeholders to agree an appropriate time line for this activity.

The moral of this story is that you need a disposals process that governs not only who gets to decide on what is due for disposal but how it gets disposed of.  So if your storeroom is full of dusty old boxes and obsolete equipment you may find that you are metaphorically walking around a room littered with clothes in your tight whiteys looking for a dirty tea mug....... and I think we can all agree that this is rarely going to be considered a good thing.