The Pros & Cons of Steady-Stream Supply Chains

The two (2) managers of the large multinational consumer goods corporation coined it steady-stream.  Both managers, one from sales and the other in charge of orders processing, agreed that the constant volume rushes every month-end were not acceptable.   It would be more beneficial to have a smooth flow of supply rather than a spike at the last few days of every month.

Steady-stream is a state where volumes of merchandise flow smoothly through enterprises’ supply chains from vendors to in-house operations to trade outlets, i.e., distributors, dealers & retailers, and then to the consumers who buy and use the products. 

In steady-stream supply chains, merchandise, i.e., materials, work-in-process, and finished products, move in sync with true demand, which is equivalent to actual usages or consumptions of end-users. 

Both managers of the multinational consumer goods firm were frustrated with the current state of demand fulfilment they both oversaw.  Merchandise flow was anything but steady.  It was more like stop-and-go traffic.  Shipments spiked at the end of every month as field sales personnel brought in most customer orders at the very last week in their race to meet volume quotas.  The month-end surge of shipments would swamp the trade with stocks such that distributors, dealers, & retailers wouldn’t have much to order at the start of the succeeding month.  The cycle would repeat itself as consumer demand gradually exhausted trade inventories and field sales pursued their quotas once more at the end of the month. 

Spikes in demand cause the same cycles of stress in supply chain operations.  Purchasing, production, and logistics would work below capacity at the beginning of every month and go flat-out in a rush in the final week.  Supply chain planners would try to second guess sales orders and schedule purchases and production of items they believe would be critical.  Planners never could predict accurately, however, and inventories would end up with some items out of stock and some over-stocked.

In steady-stream thinking, our enterprises would make and buy based on the cumulative volumes of what consumers are truly using.  These cumulative volumes comprise what is called true demand

True demand is equivalent to how much consumers use products based on their needs or wants.  The foundation for true demand is that consumers buy based on what they use.   Consumers, in this basis, use products at just about the same rate of quantity over any given period.  Households wash dishes with the same amount of dishwashing liquid, do the laundry with the same amount of detergent, and bathe with the same amount of soap.   

Even as individual consumers have their own unique preferences and usages of products, they have habits that over time reflect steady consumption.  In that sense, it translates to consumer buying behaviours which cumulatively show up in the purchasing of products at the retail level, i.e., the supermarkets and stores where the consumers buy from.

Steady-stream supply chains match availabilities with true demand.  They produce based on consumption downstream at the retail level and buy correspondingly from upstream vendors.  We keep inventories only as buffers for the unforeseen but at not-too-significant variations from true demand.  Buffers would usually not exceed 10% of true demand. 

Steady-stream leads to steady growth.  We build market share by wider distribution, not via marketing gimmicks that spike artificial demand and lead to beat-the-deadline rushes.  We ensure products are distributed and served responsively, that is, fully and completely available such as at the retail trade and delivered fast such as same-day delivery via e-commerce.  With effective distribution and service, we can grow our markets easily especially when we expand into new territories or market segments.    

Steady-stream does not necessarily mean the same volume of product day-in and day-out.  It means steady fulfilment of true demand.  Depending on the industry, true demand may be subject to trends and cycles.  Volumes may fluctuate depending on the time of the year or from economic upturns or downturns.  As long as we are in tune with true demand and we are capable to make available output to fulfil it, we are achieving steady-stream.

Enterprises that adopt steady-stream benefit by just having enough inventories and operating capacities that minimise waste, keep costs low, and experience better cash-flow.  We gain a competitive edge in pricing and can grow market share without having to spend heavily in promotions and incentives. 

But as much as there are arguments in favour, there are also those that would disagree in the merits of steady-stream, if not dismiss them outright. 

Steady-stream does not take into account speculative demand, which is more of a norm than an exception for some enterprises.  As much as end-users like consumers of household products may buy based on what they only need, there are enterprises who buy to hedge based on prevailing perceptions about a product’s future value or availability. 

Many consumer goods supply chains, for example, rely heavily on commodities as raw materials for their products.  Brokers, traders, and vendors buy & sell commodities to make money from price speculations.  Demand is based more on second-guess buying & selling than on actual need. 

When we speculate, procure, make, and deliver to maximise margins, we often end up with inconsistent inventories not in sync with true demand.  This in turn leads to further speculation which ends up governing our policies and strategies. 

There are many factors that cause speculation.  The following are a few examples: 

  • Price Increase Announcements

We buy materials in larger than usual bulk quantities in reaction to vendors warning of price increases.  We fill up storage facilities and lease more space from 3rd parties.  The result is larger-than-demand inventories in which we have no idea how long they’ll keep. 

  • Product Recalls & Endorsements

Consumers will stop buying products and switch to other brands if they get an inkling there’s something wrong with the brand they had regularly been buying.  It gets worse if companies announce a product recall.  Inversely, consumers would flock to products that have strong word-to-mouth appeal such as celebrity endorsements or positive viral social media feedback.  Michelin’s published ratings, for instance, have propelled demand for restaurants and chefs who otherwise would not be too well-known. 

  • Competitive Marketing

Some of us may stick to supplying items based on true demand; our competitors, however, may not.  Competitors may try to wrest market share by offering incentives such as discounts and freebies and cause customers to speculate when they purchase products.  Incentives, especially the time-based ones, fuel speculative demand not only for our enterprises initiating them but also bring the same to our rivals.  A telecom company’s launch of a new smartphone, for example, may threaten competing brands, such that competing firms would counter with launches of their own to defend their market positions. 

  • Disruptions

Unanticipated events or disruptions can cause consumers to change their minds quickly about what and how much to buy. A faraway war, for example, drives price surges in commodity prices which spurs consumers to stock up as they speculate in fear of shortages.  Disruptions stimulate speculation at just about every point in the supply chain from procurement to production to logistics. 

  • Out-of-Stock Incidences

The moment items run out at any trade outlet, there will be speculation.  Trade outlets who have no more items to sell would order much more than usual to pressure suppliers to deliver.  If out-of-stock persists, consumers may switch to cheaper options which may lead to customers in the trade cancelling their orders or even rejecting deliveries when they finally arrive. 

  • Wrong Inventory Models

Many of us apply simplistic inventory management models that don’t sync with true demand.  Some models trigger replenishment when a re-order point is reached.  Some of us order only when items run out.  We just dictate all product inventories should be equivalent to the average sales per month, never mind if sales have been spiking wildly month-to-month far from average levels beforehand.   When inventory models don’t really reflect what are needed, we sooner or later would be speculating about how much to stock. 

Steady-stream is a state where merchandise smoothly flows through a supply chain to meet the true demand of the final end-users.  It is an attractive ideal in managing costs and growing market share. 

But as much as it is a state we would like to attain; it is challenging as to whether it is realistic in the first place. 

Steady-stream’s mortal enemy is speculation. When we turn to speculating demand instead of determining and planning versus true demand, steady-stream becomes a worthless pursuit. 

We must also ask if determining true demand can really be done given the fickleness of consumers and the never-ending speculation that is standard among traders. 

One thing for sure, if our supply chains can sync to what consumers and end-users really need, it would make it simpler for us to manage the complicated operations that underlie them.

About Ellery’s Essays

What Now?

It’s a question I encounter at the end of every seminar: 

What Now?

Where do we go from here?  How do we start?  Where do we start?  What do we do?

Most seminars end with people praising the principles learned but then hardly applying them in real life. 

Why is it so hard to apply the things we learned which we come to believe are ground-breaking?

Take Lean, for example.  The Lean Institute preaches the benefits and practices of bringing Lean Thinking into organisations.  The Lean Institute aggressively conducts or sponsors seminars and workshops around the world.  The institute has endorsed, if not published, books and articles about Lean from authoritative figures from the business world and academe.  Many companies who have implemented Lean testify to the success of Lean. 

Yet, many companies who have attended Lean seminars, read Lean books, and listened to speakers endorsing Lean ended up not fully implementing Lean, and if they tried to, many among them failed

Tim Mclean believes Lean implementation would succeed if there were at least two things present:

Note that the numbering sequence of the two things above starts from #2:  Leadership to #1:  Goal.  Mr. Mclean believes that the success of any Lean implementation most importantly depends on what the goal of the enterprise is.  Executives are after all, logically serious about their goals and would focus on them as their agenda of leadership.  

However, if we define success in Lean as “achieving our goals” then we can set goals that we as individual leaders can achieve. For example, in the 1990’s I managed a plastic moulding factory. We set ourselves the goal of improving uptime (overall equipment efficiency) and reducing scrap. This was a goal which I, as the plant manager, could lead. My senior management just wanted cost reduction. They did not care how it was achieved. We chose to use a Lean approach, developing the skills of our front-line leaders and driving 5S, visual management, TPM, SMED and problem solving to achieve a 50% reduction in scrap and a 25% increase in OEE. We had “Lean success”, but I can assure you that this plant was nowhere near a Shingo prize!

We can apply the same line of thinking with any principle that enterprise leaders would want to apply in their organisations.  To effect change towards a new concept, idea, or system, we must first determine our goal, which is what we want, and cascade this goal to our fellow stakeholders so all of us would own it and commit to it.  Implementation via strategic and action planning follows.   

It’s our goal as enterprise leaders that determines the direction of our organisations and their priorities.  When we go attend a seminar or enrol into a course paid for by our employers, we do so to find out how relevant the principles we learn are to the goals of our organisations. 

We can evaluate what we learned and report what we think to our superiors.  Consultants and engineers do this a lot but, in the end, it’s up to us as leaders and managers to decide whether to adopt a new principle, concept or idea. 

About Ellery’s Essays

‘I Don’t Believe in Supply Chains’

The retail owner didn’t believe in supply chain management and I don’t blame her.    

The retail owner runs a store that sells office supplies.  Her business was hit by the coronavirus pandemic that began in 2020 but which she recovered from as soon as infections subsided and the local government lifted restrictions. 

The retail owner kept stocks of items that allowed her to sell to customers even as vendors were unable to deliver during the pandemic.  She also already had on online presence in which customers could order supplies and she would deliver via courier, as a result from which she was able to expand her market to customers beyond her locale.  And when she needed to replenish her stocks, vendors were all too willing to deliver. 

From her long experience, the retail owner had very few issues with the so-called supply chains for the items she sold at her store.   Suppliers delivered consistently and she had enough products to sell.   Sometimes, she would run out on some items as some vendors wouldn’t be able to deliver right away.  But the retail owner had several hundred stock-keeping units (SKU’s) or unique products which she made available to sell, such that customers always had alternatives.  Customers could always choose another brand of pen or another supplier’s ream of bond paper, as the retail owner made sure prices were competitive. 

The retail owner didn’t believe in supply chains; she didn’t have to.  She didn’t think supply chains were relevant to her business.  She had ample inventories which she managed via simple desktop software.  She had close relationships with her suppliers and she had no trouble negotiating the lowest prices and discounts for the items she bought.  Customers easily could find what they were looking for when they went to the store or to its e-commerce website and the retail owner delivered fast as soon as there was an order.  There was no complexity to her store’s operations; staff had simple and clear instructions on what to do.  What only made business complicated were tasks like paying taxes, government red tape, and handling administrative issues with her staff. 

The retail owner isn’t the only one who didn’t believe in supply chains.  Many business owners, large & small, also don’t.  They don’t recognise that model of merchandise flow from source to end-user that require management in planning, procurement, production, and logistics. 

In business, there are basically four (4) pillars to manage:  sales & marketing, finance, operations, and people.  Operations management is the parent of supply chain management but unlike the other pillars, executives had given scant attention to it.  This is because unlike finance, marketing, and people management, operations management has no one-size-fits-all set of standards that would be applicable across industries.

Many enterprises blamed supply chain issues for out-of-stock items and delays in deliveries to customers they experienced from 2021 to 2022.  But as much as executives identified supply chains as culprits for business setbacks, none have really found a way out of their quandaries.  There has been much written about the mess and failures of supply chains but solutions so far had been elusive, if not simplistic. 

Added to this is the lack of available talent to manage supply chains.  Even though interest in supply chain management as a career discipline has spiked, it had been hard to find good help.  Much of supply chain management relies a lot on experience, given the fact that the operations behind the procurement, manufacture, and logistics of merchandise are unique to the items that flow through them.  One item’s supply chain is never the same as another, even if either is in the same industry or competes against each other directly.  

Nonetheless, executives would rather delegate supply chain issues to operations managers.  At the same time, they’d hesitate to have a high-level executive oversee all of at least an enterprise’s operations, preferring to maintain departments with different internal aims that would be easy to measure.   

Lack of qualified talent, the continuing fragmented silos found in organisations, and executives’ lack of appreciation of supply chains present a pessimistic outlook for supply chains.  Problems don’t get solved; executives end up hoping they will go away by themselves. 

The retail owner, meanwhile, could care less.  She was doing well without supply chains, at least she wasn’t preoccupied with them.  Of course, it didn’t dawn to her that she already fixed her supply chain via the relationships she established with her suppliers and the practices she had put in place in her store.  It wasn’t an overnight occurrence.  She had planned what she would sell and built the structure and system that would govern her store.  It wasn’t rocket science that needed pep talks and buzzwords.  It was basically problem solving done proactively. 

And that really is what is needed for supply chains.  Not the discussions, not the buzzwords, or the belief or faith in that problems will go away on their own.  But by identifying problems, defining them, formulating a roadmap of action plans, determining and getting the needed resources and people, and proceeding. 

That’s what the management in supply chain management means. 

About Ellery’s Essays

Insights from Writing Essays

Ann Handley, the best-selling author of Everybody Writes, didn’t have much to say about essays except:

There is no one way to write—just as there is no one way to parent a child or roast a turkey.

Essays are written pieces that promote the positions of their writers. 

But they’re not articles like what we read in online news media, newspapers, or magazines; articles, after all, report events and the facts behind them. 

Essays are also not editorials in which each express often a strong opinion that either prefers or opposes an issue. 

And essays are not blogs, which stems more from the writer’s experiences as much as it attempts to advertise or argue about an idea or issue. 

According to Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab ((OWL), essays are: 

‘shorter pieces of writing that often require the student to hone a number of skills such as close reading, analysis, comparison and contrast, persuasion, conciseness, clarity, and exposition. […]

‘The purpose of an essay is to encourage students to develop ideas and concepts in their writing with the direction of little more than their own thoughts (it may be helpful to view the essay as the converse of a research paper). Therefore, essays are (by nature) concise and require clarity in purpose and direction. This means that there is no room for the student’s thoughts to wander or stray from his or her purpose; the writing must be deliberate and interesting.’

Essays, hence, narrate and justify the perspectives of writers, whatever the topics they are writing about.  They are distinct from blogs, articles, and editorials in that essays put out the writers’ agenda in very intentional, clear, and transparent terms. 

Essays don’t stress personal experiences; they stress making a point, backed up by the writers’ thoughts and ideas that are concise and deliberate.  Facts and citations are welcome in essays as long as they provide foundations for the writers’ arguments or narratives. 

Essays are also not without style.  Style defined is:

A quality of imagination and individuality expressed in one’s actions and tastes.’

The best essays don’t beat around the bush.  But the best ones don’t sacrifice style.  Style is just as much an imprint of the writer as much as his or her signature is.

Ann Handley is right in that we should just write without having to think about whether what we’re writing is a blog, editorial, article, or essay.  We should just write.  As long as we keep on writing, we will find ourselves moving up the scale we call mastery. 

About Ellery’s Essays

People Aren’t Changing, We Are

The late reverend Fr. Rafael Cortina(†), S.J., the counsellor for my senior high school class in 1980, said it a few times: people aren’t changing; you are

Fr. Cortina’s context was as we young people grow up, we encounter changes in our environment.  We think it’s the people around us who are changing but in reality it is us.

We complain that customer services of businesses have gotten worse when really, we had raised our own expectations.  What was satisfactory to us several years before is no longer the case and so we complain about services that we were happy with before. 

We complain our Internet receptions for our smartphones are super slow but we forget that not many smartphone models several years before had the capability to surf the web.

We complain about how an hour would be so long to wait in line at the bank but we forget that we were waiting for two (2) hours at the same bank a year ago.  Thanks to an automated queuing system installed six (6) months ago, wait times at the bank had been cut but we complain anyway because we now have higher expectations. 

Other people aren’t changing; we are changing. 

The world changes as fast as we do.  As we adapt to changing times, we change too.  As we physically age and gain more experience, we change too.  As we learn and accept new ideas, our mindsets change and we do too. 

When we say people are changing, we react defensively.  When we say we are changing, we act proactively.  For the former, we look at ourselves on the receiving end of what are being thrown at us.  For the latter, we see ourselves as changing and the ones who will decide what to do with our changing selves. 

It’s a not an ‘us against them’ issue but as a ‘what am I going to do with what’s new with me’ question. 

We don’t stay the same.  We change every day as we undergo new experiences, learn new things, and gain insights.  What we are today will be different tomorrow, even if only slightly.

In our fast-moving world where we are fed information and ideas at overwhelming quantities, we are changing much faster than we think. 

Acting proactively has never been so essential as today.

About Ellery’s Essays

Sometimes It’s the Smallest of Things that Cause Big Problems

It can take three (3) hours to travel to the hot spring pools of Los Baños, Laguna in the Philippines. Authorities have invested millions of dollars in improving the highway’s infrastructure but motorists still complain about the long travel time.  At one intersection of the highway leading into the town, a lone traffic cop stops traffic twenty (20) minutes at a time for each side.  The queue of vehicles builds up and it can take up to an hour just waiting to cross the intersection. The Los Baños local government finally installed a traffic light to improve vehicular flow.    

In 1999, the United States’ National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA) lost a USD$ 125 million probe to the planet Mars because ‘because a Lockheed Martin engineering team used English units of measurement while the agency’s team used the more conventional metric system for a key spacecraft operation.’  The probe, the Mars Climate Orbiter, was at the end of its 286-day journey and was in the process of putting itself into orbit around the red planet.  The wrong calculations inputted to the probe forced it into the wrong position, causing malfunctions in its propulsion system.  NASA lost contact with the probe which probably bounced from the Mars atmosphere and headed towards the Sun. 

Many times, it’s the small things that cause the big problems.  Address the small things and chances are the problems will be solved outright. 

Yet, many corporations and organisations miss the small things. They hire highly paid engineers and consultants who recommend expensively sweeping solutions such as replacing old machines with new ones, installing an integrated information system, or re-structuring the enterprise’s organisation. 

Small causes often require easy solutions.  There will of course be some work to set up any solution, such as purchase & installation of needed equipment, education & training, and testing.  But it’s likely that the solution involved won’t be major in expenditure in terms of cost and time. 

At an energy company I was a consultant for, supervisors at the company’s geothermal power control room complained that executives were slow in approving new automated valves needed to control the flow of steam from underground wells & pipes to the power plant’s turbines.  Supervisors were forced to drive to the wells to manually turn valves on or off to regulate steam output.  Executives didn’t see the importance of new automated valves but they’d complain how come steam-to-power energy yields were not meeting targets and why expenses for overtime and diesel fuel were over budget.

And that’s why many small causes aren’t addressed and problems solved immediately.  We don’t see.  We don’t walk around.  We don’t ask.  We don’t delve into the causes.

Many small causes can also be fixed, if not prevented, if managers have sufficient autonomy and authority to fix them.  Some of us who are executives place too many limits on managers such as needing approval to buy critical parts, to proceed in the repair of an equipment, or to give assignments to workers. 

Enterprises encounter problems all the time.  Few are crises; many are rooted in small causes, such as a not-well-trained traffic cop or an error in calculations for a space probe.  Problems with small causes are more often than not easily and quickly solvable, albeit some investment in time and resources may sometimes be needed.

For various reasons, we pursue complicated strategies to solve problems caused by small things.  We fail to see the real reasons behind many problems.  We in turn become more the cause to the festering of problems and crises in organisations. 

We would do well to go back to basics when it comes to management.  We should walk around, see things for ourselves, and delegate many issues to the staff we hired to trust in the first place. 

About Ellery’s Essays

Scarcity and Abundance Depend on What We Need and Where We Are

My bedroom gets sunlight for only a few minutes every morning.  Because my room faces the north-east and because there are trees nearby, the morning sun’s rays shine through my window for only a moment, passing through a break between the tree branches. 

Then it’s gone, for the rest of the day. 

The sun’s rays hardly come in at all later in the year as the sun angles southward, away from shining directly onto my bedroom window. 

The availability of sunshine is relative to the place where it is received.  Extreme northern and southern regions of Earth get almost no sunlight in their respective winter seasons but receive almost 24 hours of sunlight during their summers.  We folks near the tropical equator get sunlight up to almost 12 hours every day.

Sunlight is free but how much we receive is beyond our control.  It is therefore abundant for some and scarce for others at different times of the year at different places of the Earth. 

The same applies for resources like water, agriculture, and fish.  Some places have plenty of these while others have to make do with much less.  For fossil fuels and minerals, there are times during the year when the stuff can easily be mined and drilled and when it’s difficult to do so (like in winters when the ground is icy hard).    

Technology offers some answers to maximise what we can get from resources but there’s only so much we can avail depending on the place and time of year. 

How we procure what we need when we need them boils down to how well we manage our inventories and schedule our operations.  We harvest, fish, or mine when seasonal stocks are abundant and accumulate enough to supply us through the lean months.  We carefully plan how much we will store to meet anticipated demand and invest in storage & logistics facilities so that we have enough to keep and sufficient resources to deliver. 

Both demand and supply are, however, fickle.  Consumers, for whatever reason, may want more or much less than forecasted.  What we harvest, fish, or mine may be more or much less than we expected.  In any case, we always need to adjust.  Whether items are perishable or not, it’s never really a good idea to have too much of anything and always downright unacceptable to have no more stock available to use or sell. 

We’d like to supply as much as we can to all buyers and exact tidy profits from doing so.  We are after all taught to be greedy; we want to sell as much as we can and obtain as much as we can get. 

Reality, for many of us, however, doesn’t work that way.  There will often be limits to how much we can get and how much we can sell.  We therefore choose whom to sell to and work with whatever supply would be realistically available.  In short, we budget and allocate. 

Management is a lot about setting targets and meeting them realistically.  As much as resources can be plentiful, there will only be so much we can avail at a given time.  And whether or not we have enough to meet demand, we can only make available finite quantities. 

There is no such thing as unlimited. 

About Ellery’s Essays

The Pros & Cons of Trigger-Dependent Systems

I complained to the Philippines’ Department of Trade & Industry (DTI) that a mobile phone seller didn’t honour the terms of a promotion in which I was entitled to a PhP 3,000 allowance to buy smartphone accessories.  The DTI responded that I have to fill out a form before the department would respond.  No form, no action.

Many systems are trigger-dependent, that is, they don’t work until a prerequisite is satisfied. 

A pizza parlour, for example, won’t deliver until there’s an order from a customer. 

An usher won’t let patrons into a movie theatre until they show their paid ticket stubs. 

A contractor won’t start building a house until the architect and the homeowner approve the plans. 

A warehouse won’t let a truck out without a signed gate pass.   

A vendor won’t deliver without a purchase requisition.

For many enterprises, system triggers are important if not essential.  Operations won’t proceed unless there’s authorisation or an order.  Manufacturing operations won’t run until the accomplishment of needed activities beforehand such as the refining of raw materials prior to the manufacture of finished products.  System triggers ensure control and clarity in the running of processes.   

Auditors target the absence of triggers when they check operational deviations.  Was there a signed customer order before an invoice was printed?  Was there authorisation to release cash for payment to a supplier?  By pointing out the absence of triggers, auditors can check for possible malfeasance as well as point out where managers can improve process controls. 

Managers and their subordinates, however, can become dependent on the triggers.  Managers like control and some won’t permit subordinates to start something without permission, authorisation, or order.  But as both managers and subordinates become so dependent on triggers, they may lose their sense of initiative.  They both become people who wait for things to happen rather than making things happen. 

In a factory that was fabricating various metal products, for instance, a supervisor instructed workers not to start work until she gave out their written job orders.  The factory opens early at 7am but the supervisor gives out the job orders at 9am at the earliest.  Asked why it took two (2) hours to prepare the job orders, the supervisor said she had to wait for a planner at the main office to tell what products to make for the day.  The main office opens at 8am and the planner in charge of sending the day’s production schedule had to wait for the managing director to approve it.  The managing director arrives daily at the main office at 8:30am. 

An answer to improving productivity for the factory is for the main office and managing director to approve the production schedule the day before so that the supervisor can already have job orders ready first thing in the morning. 

But a better answer is to give the planner the authority to prepare and forward the daily schedule to the supervisor without having to wait for the managing director to approve it.  The planner instead could make out an earlier weekly production plan which the director can approve.  The planner would notify the managing director when there are changes in the plan during the week in question. 

In this scenario, the planner and supervisor are given the power of initiative; both get autonomy to schedule the manufacturing of metal products more productively.  They both gain some leeway to flex production timetables as long as they don’t end up delaying targeted delivery lead times to customers. 

Trigger-dependent systems assure control and efficiency.  But they don’t help productivity if the systems encourage people to wait rather than act. 

Enterprise executives invoke trigger-dependent systems because they want to control operations such that they comply with standard procedures and policies.  The trouble with trigger-dependent systems is that people may end up too dependent on triggers that they end up waiting for them instead of acting with initiative.  People aren’t machines; we have the ability to learn and improve and to decide what would be best for our employers as long as we understand policies and we agree with our superiors’ standards and strategies. 

It’s nice to have triggers but it’s better if we can trust the people we hire to pull them.

About Ellery’s Essays

Many People Don’t Use Toilet Paper

Many people don’t use toilet paper.  For some, it’s a cultural thing.  For others, it’s economics.  As a matter of fact, more than four billion people don’t use toilet paper. 

Many people in Asia, Africa, and even in Europe don’t particularly like toilet paper.  For some of them using toilet paper is downright disgusting. 

In Japan, people prefer to use the bidets in their toilets as the means to cleanse themselves.  In other countries, they wash themselves with water after they finish.  Using toilet paper to many people is not sanitary. 

Some people, however, just can’t afford toilet paper or it isn’t simply available.  Aside from being poor, some live in rural isolated areas not readily reachable by toilet paper marketers.  Some also make do with very rustic restroom facilities that don’t make it really feasible to use toilet paper. 

The earliest use of paper for cleaning after oneself at a toilet traces back to China in 589 AD.  Widespread use in succeeding Chinese dynasties followed, notably among wealthier people.  Many people, however, also preferred alternatives such as water, cloth, or leaves to cleanse themselves.  Paper was just one of many popular means after toilet use. 

It was in the 19th century that Joseph Gayetty invented and introduced the commercial toilet paper which many of us are familiar with today.  Today, more than seven (7) billion rolls of toilet paper are sold yearly in the United States alone.   For those of us who have grown accustomed to it, toilet paper has become an item we can’t imagine living without. 

When we face facts that don’t agree with our mindsets, we either respond or withdraw.  We all have our beliefs and when we face facts that go against them, we feel forced to respond.  Many times we’d rather not confront those facts, choosing instead to remain in our comfort zones.

We all have comfort zones.  Comfort zones are situations where we feel in control and secure with whatever beliefs and values we have.  

Comfort zones can manifest themselves physically such as in the dens or bedrooms of our residences where family members find privacy or in associations such as church communities where individual members feel belonged and faithful to a common deity. 

Comfort zones are more of states of mind than something physical; the physical being more of a reinforcement of what we want to think and believe.  They are where we find realities in alignment with our beliefs.  They are our heavens on earth. 

When we are in our comfort zones, the last thing we want is something challenging its justification to exist.  We call such things disruptions, which can range from the mere annoyance to a tidal wave of opposing views. 

A fact that more than half the world’s population does not use toilet paper disrupts the comfort zones of those who do.  Many toilet paper users may laugh at the fact and forget about it, but for some who have travelled to places where toilet paper is not readily visible, it can be a jolt. 

People who have used toilet paper all their lives wouldn’t readily welcome the idea of not using it wherever they may be.  Never mind what other people say that it isn’t sanitary or that it is getting more expensive or unavailable to buy, the toilet paper advocates have always used it and they can’t do without it. 

How we respond to disruptions to our comfort zones determines how we lead our lives and what we can expect in return. 

We either elude or fight for our comfort zones.  For instance, if we travelled to a country where toilet paper isn’t popular (and where the toilets may be nothing more than a hole in the ground), we either surrender to the situation and do what the local people are doing or we push back and insist that the item be made available no matter what the cost.  Either option can be stressful which is what happens when we experience disruption to our comfort zones. 

As much as possible, we rather not like to leave our comfort zones.  But for those who do, there are advantages, one of which is the thrill of discovery of and insight into new ideas. 

The cleansing habits of the Japanese, for example, have provided many visitors to their country a perspective into their sanitary routines.  Most Japanese practice cleanliness and organisation at a very high standard.  Many have learned the benefits of Japanese housekeeping.

For the courageous among us who immerse themselves in the rural corners of the world where toilet paper is unavailable and unaffordable, we can come to appreciate the challenges of logistics in bringing basic commodities productively to far-flung places and the untapped markets of consumers willing to avail of them. 

We don’t have to abandon our comfort zones to become successful people; we just have to at least understand what it’s like from another one’s point of view.  It does require stepping out of our comfort zones but in return we may learn something new that we could cultivate for own benefit.

There will always be disruptions; it’s just a matter of how we respond to them. 

About Ellery’s Essays

Tools are Just as Important as Talent

A mechanic once advised a trucking owner that his job is only as good as the tools he has.  The trucking owner agreed and bought all the tools & supplies the mechanic needed.  The owner was rewarded with trucks that hardly had breakdowns.  If there were, the mechanic would immediately have the broken-down truck repaired within a few hours.  The result was increased revenue and the appreciation of good delivery service by the truck owner’s clientele. 

A lot has been said about talent but not much about the tools and instruments the people we hire use.  Many enterprises insist on hiring talented people but would scrimp on tools and instruments.  The results then speak for themselves. The jobs we give to talented people end up done short of our expectations because the talented people didn’t have the right tools or instruments that they needed.

When managers at an energy corporation complained that the quality control department took a long time in clearing materials for use, the QC laboratory staff retorted that the managers hadn’t acted on their repeated requests to buy new testing equipment.  The managers said that the equipment, which included specialised ovens, were too expensive.  The laboratory staff said that their ovens were already old and were difficult to start up every morning; hence, the QC laboratory couldn’t test materials fast enough.  Executives, thus, asked the purchasing department to rush the order for new ovens.  The QC laboratory was fully staffed but they didn’t have capable equipment such that they couldn’t do their jobs and meet the enterprise’s expectations. 

We see the same situations in offices where administrative assistants end up working overtime because their desktop computers are slow and outdated.  We see this also in cafeterias where servers complain there are not enough plates, utensils, and trays to serve customers.  And we see this in banks where there are enough tellers but poor internet connections force long transaction times for waiting clients.   

Talent is only one factor when it comes to pursuing productivity in the workplace.  The other is having adequate tools, instruments, and supplies for the talented people to work effectively. 

About Ellery’s Essays