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"