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"

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