Sunday, November 8, 2009

The best laid plans of mice & men: Putting the challenge into perspective

I know I said I would "live-blog" the process I go through when taking responsibility for materials management on a program, but I took a detour that will wind up being incredibly valuable. Someday.

Among my career experiences I was fortunate to work in marketing for a period of time when a new VP was hired to bring organizational leadership to the business development process. The first thing he did was hunker down in his office with several members of his staff, dissecting the business development status of the company. After a couple weeks he emerged from his office to give a presentation to the staff, explaining that the first thing he does when he takes on new responsibilities is to put the challenge into perspective.

As I mentioned, this is a mature program with significant challenges. Taking my cue from this former manager, I pulled my usual post-MRP-run reports: Backlog, Planned Orders, Open Orders, On-Hand Inventory. I normally lay the data out in Excel and do the math: how many units have to be built, how many units are on-hand, how many units are being built in the open orders, and how many units remain to be built. Simply put, the way production scheduling and MRP work is:
On-Hand Inventory + Open Orders + Planned Orders = Backlog

Anything else, and you have a problem.

So, I pulled the data expecting to see everything balance and my challenge would be a function of lead time and material availability. Except, the data wasn't adding up correctly.

By the end of the first 14-hr day I'd found some major human errors that had contributed to a portion of the problem. Once corrected and MRP was re-run, the numbers still weren't adding up. By the end of the second day I'd found an open order that wasn't consuming material properly. Once I showed it to my manager, she diagnosed the specific problem in about 30 seconds. I won't go into it here because it was human error, not system error (although it would have been nice if the system hadn't allowed the error).

So, my "normal" process for getting my arms around program materials responsibilities has been short-circuited. Fixing the issues in the system are beyond my abilities, but I'm fortunate to have a manager with the technical skills to do so and the integrity to shoulder that responsibility rather than pawn it off on me. Even so, this will be the biggest challenge of my career thus far.

I have many weeks of long hours ahead while I try to make sense of the situation from a schedule, capacity, and availability perspective. But as I tell my team, when the system is used properly, time is your friend - eventually, material is ordered properly, arrives on time, and you recover and stabilize.

Creative Commons License photo credit: David G. Romero

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