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 giggle....it 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!!

www.thelogisticsproject.org                                                                                                                     www.psigroup.org

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.