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.

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