Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Does squeezing the toothpaste tube from the middle make you a bad logistician?

I guess this is a competition, I originally wrote a blog entitled "Does squeezing the toothpaste tube from the middle make you a bad logistician?" and then in a moment of internet instability the post disappeared....heavy sigh.

So I thought I would open this up to the readership of Surely More Interesting Than Cargo Manifests.  Using the title "Does squeezing the toothpaste tube from the middle make you a bad logistician?" can you teach us all a logistical lesson.

Send your entries to info@thelogisticsproject.org and the best will get published right here.......

We might feature some honourable runners up too.  We have a readership of over 4000 people across all continents except for the seriously cold one so it should be polite and of global interest.  We are excited to see what you come up with.

Al of the logistics project.

Je suppose que c'est un concours, j'ai écrit un blog intitulé "Est-ceserrant le tube de dentifrice à partir du milieu de vous faire un mauvais logisticien?" puis dans un moment d'instabilité Internet de la poste a disparu.

Donc, je demande jusqu'à l'audience de Surely More Interesting Than Cargo Manifests. En utilisant le titre«Est-serrant le tube de dentifrice à partir du milieu de vous faire un mauvais logisticien?" pouvez-vous nous enseigner à tous une leçon logistique.

Envoyer vos inscriptions à info@thelogisticsproject.org et le meilleursera d'être publié ici .......

Nous pourrions disposent certains coureurs honorables trop. Nous avons un lectorat de plus de 4000 personnes à travers tous les continents donce il devrait être poli et d'intérêt mondial. Nous sommes ravis de voir ce que vous erriez.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Tales of the dark arts from Niger

I am in Haiti a land where VooDoo is a serious religion; but it is not these dark arts which I am talking of, rather those seemingly incomprehensible decisions that the humble logistician takes that miraculously solve the problem you have been having for a while.  Essentially to day is a day of story telling.

Once upon a time....well in 2005 to be exact...... the agency I was working for moved me rapidly from Indonesia to Niger to solve a problem they were having with the trucking of food out of Zinder.   I appear to be one of only a few french speaking loggias available at the time.  On arrival there were tales of missed deliveries, short orders and a beneficiary population not being well served.

For a couple of days I sat with one of the national team watching the ins and outs of the operational day.  Sama would regularly enquire whether we needed more trucks, was Abu Bakar the storeman doing his job well, were the drivers lazy?  After 2 days and a little bleary with jet lag I left the office giving my first instruction.

"Paint that entire wall black"

I have to be honest I got some quizzical looks not least from my expat colleagues.  What strange kind of behaviour was this.  Maybe some anglo-kiwi arcane ritual?  Perhaps the stress of the Tsunami response had taken it's toll and my world was black.  However I was an affable guy and I had brought chocolate from europe without out it melting so I must have some logistical skill.

The next morning had drawn a few extra people into the office to see what the crazy guy was going to do with this black wall.  From my trusty logisticians bag of tricks I pulled some children's chalk.  This is where the arcane symbols start some must have thought but instead I started to grid the entire wall.  There were a few amused chuckles as what appeared to be an oversized game of noughts and crosses was being prepared.

Then with Sama and his team I explained that they were now fleet managers not administrators and we needed to find a way of displaying all the information that they used on a daily basis on this wall.  After some coaching we listed all our vehicles down the right hand column and then across the top the attributes of the deliveries, size, location, time of arrival, latest time of departure and so on.

Slowly the grid took shape as an ops board and as gaps in our board became apparent we filled them.  More importantly anyone could come into the room and see the plan.  Nutritionist started to come and visit to explain that their expected needs were higher than the capacity we had allocated.  Drivers came and mentioned that their truck would unlikely make the trip to Tessoaua or Maradi.  We still had the unexpected complications of operating in Africa such as vehicle cattle collisions but our hit rate for delivery the right stuff at the right time was back on track.  This was the only operational change that was needed to make the system work.

Sometimes the only thing wrong with the system is that the users can't read it so when your loggie randomly asks for innumerate whiteboards or a wall to be painted black take note that they are not losing it but actually trying to capture it (information that is) to make your working lives better.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Project Management: a simple system

Project Management: a simple system
We have recently been addressing project management for one of our clients. Project management is one of the skill sets we prize highly in our team as often once we have designed a solution with our clients project managing the implementation is  natural step if there is no in house capacity either in terms of time or skill set. There are many systems out there to choose from such as PRINCE 2 which came out of the UK governmental system.  If you have time and money to get staff members trained in such a tool we really support having a clearly defined systematic approach to projects that covers your entire organisation. For those of you who don't have that time here is. A simple system we have derived from our experiences over the years. It is not a proprietary system so cut, paste, edit and adapt to fit your purposes.  If you have any questions feel free to drop us a line; we'll do what we can to help.
The case for a single project management tool is simple it saves duplication of effort, time wasted in unnecessary work and provides a framework for excellent performance with having undue quantities of staff on standby to act. It is particularly useful in a project that overlaps departmental borders such as finance, PR, HR and operations.
Step 1
The prime document - this document may have many names but at its heart it is a statement of objective, a list of desired outcomes and the point to which all subsequent actions, discussion and documents must answer to in terms of do they fall in line with this the prime document. There should be no "how to" input in this document only the "what".
NB : A prime document may be changed with the consent of stakeholders but in the event changes are made all subsequent stages of project planning must be reviewed to ensure the changes have not "torn the fabric"of the project plan.
Building project plan tasking identifiers - this level should be given a three letter identifier for the project.  For this model we will use PRO
The stakeholder list
Anyone who may have an interest in the project in terms of outcome or input needs to be included in the stakeholder list.  They may be represented as departments, individuals steering committees or even clients and users but all interests need to be represented. It is possible to classify these stakeholders into 2 groups: consumers and resourcers (it is possible that some stakeholders will sit across both groups).
Consumers want something from the end product
Resourcers will contribute to the building of the end product
Building project plan tasking identifiers - each stakeholder will have a two digit code (more digits can be added if the project requires it)
The action plan
The action plan is the headline titles of steps to achieve the outcomes defined in the prime document. This is the first level of breaking down the tasks required to make a project successful. This is unlikely to contain any "how to" information it is effectively a more detailed look at what it would take to reach the prime document goal.
Building project plan tasking identifiers - each task in the action plan should have a 3 digit identifier (more digits can be added if there more action plan tasks)
The work packages
To define the work packages the project team must cross reference the action plan with the stakeholder list.
Going down the list of the action plan If a stakeholder has an input then this creates a work package for them. The work packages are owned by the stakeholders, in that they populate what goes into the achieving of their part of the action plan. They make a commitment to an objective, by a deadline, for a cost. This is effectively a contract whether internally or externally placed. Be sure to think through things like who brings in the money to pay for this, your finance team my hold the central key to your timeline.
 Building project plan tasking identifiers - work packages have a 3 digit identifier which completes the project library coding.
Project.           Stakeholder.      Action plan      Work
                                                   Task.              Package
PRO-                12-                     123-                123
The project team must agree dependencies (ie don't pour boiling water before the mug is in place). The dependencies will drive communication and project progress.  By identifying which work packages and action points require completion before another can take place gives each work package a family of dependants. Stakeholders/ in conjunction with the project manager are responsible for communicating to dependants any delays in implementation of a work package, releasing the stakeholder owners to commit to other work pending completion.
Taking the work package duration and dependencies will give you the in service date of the project objective, although it is good practice to add a percentage for slippage which invariably occurs.  This slippage can clearly be captured and give a clear new in service date.
A visual representation of dependants:
This is effectively the project plan, it can be represented in a GANTT chart that can be built on excel or any number of project software products.  The project manager then just needs to keep an eye on that timeline encouraging, reminding and policing.  The Project managers main role is to communicate communicate and communicate some more.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Working with Justice Rising

As I always say, one of the best things about working for The Logistics Project is that we get to work with organisations of vision and passion. This week we get to work with another such organisation Justice Rising.  Our good friend Cassandra gave us a Skype call to ask our advice.  Cassandra is a veteran of working in DRC, Rwanda, Mozambique and Uganda and is now looking to move into Somalia...... what kind of advice does someone with that pedigree need I thought.

Justice Rising I guess some might say works in social justice and that would be true but what comes across from Cassandra is that she is all about the people.  Whether helping people out of the sex trade or working with rehabilitating child soldiers these are all individuals.  The next project in Somalia has been throwing up some logistical barriers which is where The Logistics Project come in as myth busters.

Justice Rising experienced one of the great myths of international logistics "It is almost impossible too......".  You can add your own objective above the dots here.   Over a 15 year career....wow how did that happen..... I have been told that almost everything is impossible and maybe because I was a bit argumentative in my youth I would set out to do it and not leave it until it was done.  Over the years I have found a healthy name for this streak....solutions management

I think what people mean when they say it is almost impossible is....."I know it is possible technically but I just don't have the skills or knowledge to make it happen" - like I would say it is almost impossible to juggle 5 balls.  It doesn't mean it can't be done, it means I haven't learned the lessons and taken the time to practice and consequently haven't dropped a lot of balls, clubs, chainsaws or whatever.... (enjoy the comedy stylings of mike davis above).

That is why The Logistics Project exist to give you our collective logistical juggling experience - dropped balls and all.  For Justice Rising this was about knowing the right questions to ask of people and leveraging our contacts to make it happen.  We love to help you get to a point where you can pursue that vision and passion without the hassle of all that logistics speak.