Three (3) Questions Supply Chain Managers Always Need to Answer

When it comes right down to it, supply chain managers have three (3) questions to answer:

  1. How do we get what we need when we need it?
  2. How do we make available what whoever needs them at when they need them?
  3. How do we deliver to whomever wants them when they need them?

When supply chain managers answer these three (3) questions, their responses must be relevant to their mission, which is:  Fulfil Demand. 

And when we say Fulfil Demand, it must meet the following criteria:

  1. It must be productive, i.e., at lowest cost to maximise profit margins and at minimal capital investment;
  2. It must result in competitive advantage, that is, the enterprise should come out better than that of its rivals;
  3. It must meet expectations not only of customers (i.e. quality, complete & on-time deliveries) but also stakeholders (e.g. shipment volume targets) and the communities they work in (e.g. compliance to laws, environmental sustainability)
  4. It must result in stronger relationships with customers, vendors, stakeholders. 

When supply chain managers answer the aforementioned three (3) questions to the satisfaction of the criteria mentioned, they would be deemed on their way to success. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Allocating an Hour a Day For Oneself is a Fantasy

There are those who recommend we set an hour a day to step back from our busy schedules.

I would really wish that could be true.  We all could use an hour a day to reflect on what we’ve achieved, organise our thoughts, develop ideas, and plan. 

Experience, however, shows it can’t happen for most of us. Many who commute to work already spend so much time going to and from their jobs.  If so-called time management experts suggest that the time while commuting is an opportunity for reflection, it is likely they haven’t undergone the daily hustle of riding public transport or the necessity of attention while driving through traffic.  

We wake to immediately get ready for our day and we sleep at the latest hour possible so we can maximise time with our families or to do that very last task we want to finish.

There is really not much we could allocate in terms of time to retreat and regroup. 

If we want to get a handle on things, a daily allocation of an hour for ourselves is not the answer.  It is right we should assess and plan our tasks but we need not a continuous full hour to do it.  Instead, we should dynamically assess and plan in short intervals throughout our day. 

We won’t need more than five (5) minutes when we wake up at the start of our day to see what we will do in the next one hour or so.  One to two hours later, we would have another five to maybe at most ten (10) minutes to see what comes next for our day.  We can arrive at our workplace at the start of our daily work shift and do a quick mental review of the one or two tasks we will do.  

We should only look at most three (3) tasks at a time.  Not more.  Else we overwhelm ourselves. 

We can do these 5- to-10-minute intervals of planning every two to three hours during the day. 

We should be ready for interruptions and disruptions.  Interruptions are those things that vie for our attention.  It’s the bosses asking (which is really telling) us to do another task they deem urgent.  It’s our spouses who call us and ask us to pass by the supermarket after work to buy a dozen eggs.  It’s the friends who text asking us to chat with them for a few minutes online. 

Interruptions may deserve an initial response:  No.  But it’s nice to include a reason.

No, boss, but I’m finishing the other tasks you assigned me the other day

No, dearest spouse, but you can make a full list of grocery items so that I can schedule going to the supermarket later in the week and buy all what we need in one go. 

No, friend, I’m not available for an online chat today, how about we text and meet next weekend? 

Unfortunately, many who interrupt us won’t take No for an answer.  When this happens, we may cede but we can still work our schedule to minimise the interruption. 

Okay, boss, I’ll get on your request right away.  But in reality, I’ll do it later. 

Yes, dear, I’ll pass by the supermarket after work.  But I’ll pass by the convenience store instead which is on the way and get in and out fast.   

Okay, pal, let’s talk now online if it’s really urgent.  But I’ll end the conversation after 15 minutes.

Disruptions are those things that force us to stop what we’re doing and demand our attention before we can resume what we were doing. 

We either challenge the source of a disruption or sidestep it.  In most cases it is wise to do the latter as disruptions can be just too difficult to overcome (e.g., natural disasters, traffic, angry boss). 

We end up not doing as we planned when we encounter disruption and the best way to get back on track is to re-evaluate and re-schedule what we couldn’t finish.  It would be best to take a short break to collect our thoughts and plan what we’re going to do for the rest of the day.  

Disruptions are products of adversities.  And because adversities are hard to anticipate, the disruptions they bring are practically unavoidable.  We get hit, we roll with the punches, we pick ourselves up, and we get back on track. 

We can never get the hour we want in a day because we will get our share of  interruptions and disruptions.  We can say No to interruptions or negotiate with the ones who are doing the interrupting.  Disruptions, however, are unavoidable and they wreck our schedules.  The bright side to any setback from interruptions or disruptions is we can always bounce back.

When we set our minds to what we want to do, we can get it done whatever life throws at us. 

“It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.”

– Vince Lombardi

About Overtimers Anonymous

Two Tactics That are Better than “No”

Most managers (and white-collar workers) face barrages of requests, if not directives, just about every day. 

Executives and peers ask managers to do many things such as write reports, attend meetings, do feasibility studies, pay suppliers, or test new products. 

Many managers would find themselves busy responding to these requests.  So much so that they’d not have any time left in a day to do what they should be doing, which is, managing. 

So-called time management experts would tell managers to just say no to requests that aren’t relevant to their jobs.  Saying no would demonstrate proactivity, the power to choose from one’s own perspective of priorities.

Unfortunately, saying no doesn’t work outright in the real world.

When I was a manager of a shipping department, I and my team were asked to work through a holiday weekend.  I and several of my subordinates had plans to for that weekend, but executives “asked” us to shelve those plans and work because the they wanted us to deliver pending orders to meet the company’s monthly sales target.  Executives wouldn’t accept a “no” and didn’t want to listen to our reasons (which generally was to take a break from work).  We ended up working through the weekend, met the monthly sales target, but didn’t get any praise or reward (except for some free pizza which the executives sent while we worked over the weekend). 

Executives don’t like no’s especially from subordinates.  This is because executives perceive any “no” as an affront to their agenda.  Executives see “no” as defiance and therefore will not take “no” for an answer. 

When a boss makes a request to a manager, it’s really a command done politely.  A request from a boss can be translated as “I’m asking you nicely to respond but if you don’t, I’ll tell you to do it.”   Executives don’t allow much room for compromise when it comes to their directions, everyone in the supply chain must march to the same beat. 

The impracticality to say “No”, however, isn’t the end to a manager’s hopes.    Managers still have two (2) ways to push back.  They can procrastinate and negotiate

Procrastinate

In the various management positions I held, I always had plenty of work to do.  Memo requests I received were often marked urgent or rush and whoever wrote them asked for immediate responses.

When I received such requests, I would categorise either as Will do or Will Not DoWill Do requests were those I’d be willing to do because I judged them as consistent with the needs of the workplace I was managing.  Will Not Do requests were judged the opposite, as in not helpful or relevant to my job description.  I’d place the memos on their respective piles but I didn’t throw them away.  (This was in the 1980’s so there weren’t any e-mails or chat groups yet.  But I do the same categorisation today via my computer and devices). 

I wouldn’t tell the sources of the Will Not Do tasks that I won’t be doing what they asked me to do.  I’d wait to see if they would follow up.  If they didn’t, I’d just leave the request sitting in that pile of Will Not Do.  If they did follow up, I’d still not do the task.  I would procrastinate. If the source comes back and follows up repeatedly and frequently, only then would I consider moving the task to the Will Do group, otherwise it stays in the Will Not Do pile.  I figure a request would be important only when the source spends significant time asking (or telling) me to respond.   

Negotiate

But even if I consider converting a Will Not Do to a Will Do, I would still push back.  I would ask the source why the request is important and why I should do it.  Maybe the source can delegate the request to someone else?  Or the source can review whether the request is worth the work?  I’d negotiate.  I would finally agree to responding to a request after I’d be satisfied with the argument of the sources and their justification. 

Or I’d finally agree to respond if the source is a superior who stops asking and starts commanding me to do it.   And even if it comes down to a command, I’d still ask the superior source politely to put it in writing. 

I learned not to commit immediately to requests.  I’d acknowledge them but I wouldn’t make promises.  I would if the sources press me to but only after I’d do some procrastinating and negotiating. 

By experience, I have found both tactics to be simple but effective means to filter the urgent and important from those that aren’t.  Many requests have turned out to be trash or withdrawn after procrastination and negotiation.  And it has saved me time. 

For managers, doing these two tactics can make a difference in how their time are spent and getting to meet goals that they fully feel are more important. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

The Many Questions Supply Chain Managers Are Asked to Answer

The following are questions customers typically ask supply chain managers:

  • “Why is it taking you so long to deliver my order?”
  • “When will you deliver?”
  • “How many of the items we ordered will you deliver today?”
  • “How much of an item do you have available?”
  • “Your items didn’t meet our specs; when will you replace them with the right ones?”

Executives also ask supply chain managers the following:

  • “How much did we ship today?”
  • “How much did we ship so far this month?”
  • “How many orders did we receive from Sales today?”
  • “How many pending orders do we have?”
  • “Why do we have so many pending orders?”
  • “When will you deliver the pending orders?”
  • “When will the items be produced?”
  • “How many of the items will we make?”
  • “Why does it take so long to produce?”
  • “When are the materials for production arriving?”
  • “How much will we pay for materials this month?” 
  • “Why are we getting customer complaints?” 
  • “How are you responding to the customer complaints?”
  • “Our costs are too high; how can we reduce costs?”
  • “What’s your plan to comply with government rules on sustainability?”
  • “How safe is our product?”
  • “What’s your plan to stop pilferage of our products?”
  • “Why are we wasting materials?”
  • “How can we reduce inventories?”

Vendors and 3rd party service providers also ask questions:

  • “How much of this material are you buying?”
  • “When are you ordering?”
  • “When do you need the materials that you’re ordering?”
  • “What are the specifications of the materials that you want to buy?”
  • “When will you pay me?”
  • “How much will you pay me today?”
  • “What is your company’s response to my bid?”
  • “How many trucks do you need tomorrow?”
  • “How long do my trucks have to wait before they get loaded at your warehouse?”
  • “Your bid is too low; can you pay me more?”

Supply chain managers encounter questions like these all the time.  Most who ask want answers immediately and supply chain managers feel the pressure to respond. 

The questions, however, lead to more questions.  And it leads to more searching for answers.  Supply chain managers sometimes spend the whole day (if not days) trying to answer questions than actually managing their operations.  

Supply chain managers work in a broad scope.  The questions they are asked would likely touch not only where there are assigned but also functions adjacent to theirs.  Logistics managers who are asked the status of shipments may find out there are issues with production shortfalls and materials shortages.

And because supply chains aren’t only limited to an enterprise’s internal functions of procurement, manufacturing, and logistics but also include the interactions with other enterprises upstream (vendors), downstream (customers) and branches (e.g. service providers, parts suppliers), the questions that supply chain managers are asked would also lead to issues outside the borders of the enterprises they work for. 

Supply chain managers, therefore, are in that unique and unenviable position of dealing with questions that go beyond their job descriptions. 

Supply chain managers should welcome questions, however, not dread them.  Not only they should anticipate them, they should seek them out. 

Questions like the ones above offer windows to opportunities as they indicate what executives, customers, vendors, and other stakeholders find important.

Questions are not problems.  But they together are the first step in figuring out what and which important problems need to be addressed and solved. 

Questions unravel the problems we need to solve.  Seeking them out and defining the problems behind them are proactive methods for supply chain managers to not only answer pressing questions from stakeholders but also open avenues of opportunities which lead to lasting benefits. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Solving Problems, Cultivating Ideas Together

I worked for Procter & Gamble Philippines in the late 1980’s.  I was a production manager who oversaw the food packing lines of the company.  As production manager, I was invited at times to join the food brand team meetings led by marketing managers, who were responsible for their respective products’ success. 

P&G is famous for its brand management approach.  Introduced in 1920’s by Neil McElroy, who later became P&G’s president, brand management focused on individual products rather than the overall business.   Every product would have a brand manager who would be accountable for its market share and profitability. 

The brand managers of P&G formed teams represented by different functional members from all over the company.  These included people from product design & development (PDD), finance, sales, market research, and manufacturing. 

For the two (2) food product brands, my senior manager boss of food manufacturing was the member of both brand teams but the brand team at times would invite me to join meetings in cases where they needed some technical input. 

Brand managers delegated problems with their ideas to respective team members to solve.  PDD, for example, was charged with solving product design issues.  Finance was accountable in forecasting profits and presenting costs.  Sales made sure they got customer orders and that the product was distributed in all trade segments and geographic markets. Manufacturing was expected to provide time and resources for PDD’s test runs of product prototypes and to ensure volume targets were met when the product was launched. 

Brand managers would press brand team members to solve problems especially when there were tight deadlines to meet.  The careers of P&G brand managers depended on the successes of their ideas; failure was not an option.

This caused some friction between departments in which brand managers had to work harder to get supportive commitments from team members.  Some did and became successful.  Some didn’t and they left the corporation.   

One factor to why brand managers were unsuccessful was that they overly delegated problems to team members, to the point of blaming them for failures.  These brand managers misplaced delegation with teamwork. 

As much as there may be individual inventors who bring their ideas into realities single-handedly, successful idea-creators see the need to work with problem-solvers. 

Ideas and problems are not mutually exclusive.  Neither idea nor problem is worked on separately.  Problems are not obstacles to ideas and ideas should not be seen as unpleasant disruptions that lead to problems.

We should welcome both ideas and problems.  Ideas are the “a-ha’s”, the insights that are foundations of creative concepts.  Problems are the challenges that can provide us opportunities. 

When we encounter problems while inventing from an idea, we should try to seek opportunities from them, as much as we may try to overcome them as obstacles.  Problems can lead us to better ideas, as much as ideas can lead to problems. 

Team leaders therefore should not delegate as in pass problems with accountabilities to other team members.  Telling a team member to do a job and to do it correctly or else is not delegating; it definitely isn’t teamwork. 

Delegating is about entrusting and empowering a team member to do a job rightly and excellently.  It doesn’t exclude the compelling need to work with people. 

When an idea for a new product is created, a brand team should cultivate it together.  Team leaders and product design experts should tinker with new product ideas together.  Leaders should study profitability with finance experts together.  They should plan roll-outs to the trade together with the field sales people.  And they should test products and observe production runs together with manufacturing. 

The key word is together.  Teams are there together for a common purpose and when it comes to ideas and problems, they should tinker with them together to attain success. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

How Sales & Supply Chain People Can Work Together

Customer inquiries and quotations have long been seen as traditional jobs of sales professionals.  Field sales representatives visit customers and strive to get orders from them.  When customers inquire, sales professionals are expected to answer with accurate information. 

Trouble starts when sales professionals have no adequate answers to give.  Sales professionals may know prices, terms, and promotions.  But they may not know how much inventory is available to promise and when deliveries can be scheduled.  They also may not know how to cater to special requests and instructions regarding product specifications and deliveries. 

Sure, their superiors would have given field sales reps guidelines and information.  Sales reps may also have fixed allocations of how much they can promise to deliver.  But once they are in conversation with a customer, these guidelines and allocations may not be enough for a sales rep in discussion with a customer.

Sales reps have a lot of responsibilities.  They have territories to cover and targets to meet.  They promote products and negotiate contracts with customers.  They seek and open new accounts and they are expected to submit sales reports.  They also have to deal with complaints or worse, customers wanting to cancel orders or return products for refunds.

Sales representatives therefore expect their enterprise supply chains to deliver orders as promised.  The last thing they need is late, incomplete deliveries or pending orders that never get fulfilled. 

There’s a lot that’s been said about forecasting and managing demand, and a lot more about delivering orders.  But not a whole lot about what happens in-between: when customers inquire about products, what are available, and request for quotations (RFQ). 

In the many business meetings I’ve sat in, executives often ask what demand will be or how many orders are pending.  They don’t ask much about what customers are saying or asking.  Either they wait for their marketing people to mention anything or they just make conclusions on their own

In the retail business, store owners usually inquire from their suppliers about the availability of specific items, ask how much the prices would be, if the item can be delivered by what date, etc.  In short, the store owners inquire and expect the suppliers’ sales people to answer.

Whereas demand forecasts offer projected sales of items in cumulative numbers for an upcoming time period, inquiries from customers tell enterprises what they are looking for.  These inquiries can be and are valuable nuggets of information that can generate additional sales for an enterprise. 

But from what I’ve seen and heard, this information never really reaches the enterprise’s executives.  Either the information is forgotten or ignored.  What reaches executives are reports that have filtered the feedback from customers.

I’ve observed there are five (3) stages to demand creation and fulfilment:

  1. Inquiry
  2. Quotation
  3. Order
  4. Delivery
  5. After-Sales Service

Sales usually works exclusively on the first three.  The supply chain typically works on the last two. 

But the divisions of labour and accountability are more of formalities than realities in many cases. 

When customers inquire (1st stage), they ask not only about price, promotions, and product features, they also ask:

  1. How many items do you have available?
  2. How fast can you deliver?

And when the sales person gives a quotation (2nd stage), the customer will ask again:

  1. How long will it take you to deliver?
  2. When will the items be delivered after I place my order?

And when the customer decides to order (3rd stage), he or she will ask the sales person once again:

  1. When will the ordered items arrive?
  2. How many will arrive? 

It’s the same questions repeated at least three (3) times in those three (3) selling stages. 

Sales people naturally wouldn’t be able to answer those two (2) questions without foreknowledge of what the supply chain will do when the orders are received.  I’ve therefore observed that it’s common practice for sales people to call someone at the supply chain to get answers to those two (2) questions. 

That someone can be anyone.  It could be the one receiving the orders, the one who allocates items for delivery, the production planner, and any supply chain manager, or even all of these people all at once. 

In many cases, the supply chain people the sales people call don’t have the answers either.  And even if they did, they can’t or won’t guarantee the time and quantities of what would be delivered. 

Sales people would press whomever they’re talking to for some answers which they then can provide to their customers.  And in many times, the answers aren’t reliable or in the first place, aren’t authoritative. 

The easy way out of this quandary is to formalise the participation of supply chain operations in the first stages of selling:  inquiry, quotation, and order.  This can be done via:

  1. Assigning people from the supply chain who’d know the answers to liaison with the sales people;
  2. Establishing a system to already reserve items that customers want quoted and allocate them when the order arrives. 

It sounds hard and it will take quite some work to do #2 above.  But given that there probably is an informal system of allocation working already between sales and supply chain, the enterprise would do well to just get it set up and running. 

Note that in stages four and five, delivery and after-sales service, both supply chain and sales should still work together.  Even as the supply chain would have a higher accountability in serving orders and providing some after-sales services (e.g., warranty services), sales should be in communication with customers about the status of deliveries, getting feedback, and collecting payments. 

When sales and supply chain people work together in the five (5) stages of selling, they gain more confidence in responding to customer inquiries and requests.  They learn what customers need as much as they find ways to improve serving orders and fulfilling demand. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Pursuing Perfection Beyond the Acceptable Quality Level (AQL)

An ad promotes an Internet Service Provider’s (ISP) subscription plans.  On the bottom in small fine print is written “30% minimum speed at 80& reliability.”

The Philippines’ National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) in a memorandum in 2011 mandated that ISPs should provide at least 80% service reliability to customers: 

An ISP therefore should be able to provide an internet connection to its customers at or more than its minimum internet speed 80% of the time.  Or to put it another way, the ISP’s customers should be able to experience the minimum internet speed they signed up for 24 out of 30 days in a month.  If a subscriber does experiences the minimum speed six (6) days or faster in a month, the NTC considers the ISP’s service acceptable. 

The ISP is also required to tell its subscribers what the minimum internet speed is. In the ad mentioned above, the ISP informs customers that its minimum speed is 30% of what it advertises.  Thus, if a subscriber applies for a 300 Mbps plan, the ISP will guarantee a minimum speed of up to 90 Mbps.  An ISP is obliged to give only up to 30% of what the subscriber signs up for. 

Just imagine if this kind of advertising is applied in the fast-food industry.  A customer orders from a fast-food restaurant and the restaurant is guaranteed only to serve 30% of what’s on the menu.  If we order a 10-piece bucket of fried chicken, for example, and the fast-food gives you only up to three (3) pieces and the government allows it, we would surely be angry but we won’t be able to do anything about it. 

What the ISP advertises and what it actually serves evolves from the concept of the Acceptable Quality Level (AQL). 

The United States military adopted the Acceptable Quality Level (AQL) as a standard for inspection during the Second World War.  The idea is to set a level of what would be considered acceptable from a batch of items received from a vendor or a factory. 

For example, the US Army may accept a lot of 10,000 bullets if only up to fifty (50) of the bullets (AQL of 0.5%) are defective.  The US Army would be willing to pay for all 10,000 bullets even if it really would be able to use only 9,950 of them.  That doesn’t sound so bad unless you’re the soldier who ends up with the fifty (50) bad bullets. 

How AQLs are set varies from enterprise to enterprise, industry to industry.  Vendors would plead for higher AQLs if customers are buying items in very large lot sizes.  Sellers of small parts manufactured in large quantities like nails, wires, screws, and welding rods would ask for high AQLs as they would argue that defects are unavoidable and impossible to sort & separate all unconforming items. 

Customers, however, would discriminate what items deserve higher (looser) or lower (stringent) AQLs.  Customers would insist that how AQLs are set should depend on what the items would be used for.  For construction of a large warehouse, for instance, having a higher AQL for a large number of nails may be tolerable.  For owners of residential homes, however, they may not welcome a high AQL for nails or any construction material as this may result into a badly built house that can bring inconveniences if not hazards (e.g. a bad nail that leads to a collapsing ceiling). 

Food product manufacturers may accept higher AQLs for not-so-critical items like packaging materials but won’t welcome allowances for defective raw materials.  A food enterprise may accept a few imperfect boxes but I doubt it would accept even a few bad apples out of hundreds. 

And pharmaceutical firms won’t probably be too tolerant for high AQL’s for ingredients for medicines.

Utility firms apply AQLs in their services.  Electricity firms negotiate contracts with communities and try to convince consumers to accept a minimum level of power un-reliability, such as allowing for a number of days for a power plant to not supply electricity so that it can undergo maintenance.  Water companies try to get customers to agree on an acceptable quality of potability, to the extent notifying customers that the water they supply will not be fit for drinking anytime.    

In exchange for higher AQLs, enterprises sometimes offer discounts or defer price increases, from which they can position themselves as low-cost suppliers versus rivals.  In other words, customers can get products and services cheaply but they won’t get 100% quality. 

ISPs try to out-compete each other via this latter scenario.  Some offer the cheapest rates, advertise maximum speeds, but in the fine print guarantee only a minimum speed at a fraction of the time that is compliant to the law. 

Some ISPs will try to outdo the other such as by bumping up the minimum speed to 40% versus a rival’s 30%.  To the subscriber, however, he or she will never really get what they wish for from the advertising.

When ISPs advertise their maximum speeds, they reveal what they are capable of supplying to their subscribers.  But they also are insecure that their operations won’t run perfectly and reliably all the time.  Hence, they build in allowances to attain what they believe is an attainable level of performance which they can realistically provide to their subscribers. 

The problem with this kind of thinking is that it encourages complacency. 

The ISPs over time will won’t feel the need to improve the uptime of their broadband connectivity and to lengthen the time of their maximum service speed since they have the government’s blessing for an 80% reliability and a minimum speed that only requires notifying customers.  And they will continue to do so as long as rivals don’t try to up the game.

Many enterprises have over time accepted the AQL and said all right to accepting so many defects in the items or services they buy.  It becomes a standard that sometimes no one bothers to see if it can be improved.  If a factory is getting 95% acceptable product and its rivals are getting just the same, executives may not see the incentive to improve; after all, the factory is competitive at least for now. 

Up-and-coming competitors challenge established companies by bucking the AQL standard, by taking advantage of the complacency that take hold in established companies.  A new ISP company for instance may offer guaranteed minimum speeds of 80% (though they may lower the maximum speed advertised) at the same price as rivals.  

Competitors, the successful ones anyway, will claim to do better by offering better quality that improves from an industry’s AQL.  The real good ones would adopt continuous improvement that lead to zero defects. 

Acceptable Quality Levels (AQLs) were established to provide some reasonable standard in the inspection of items.  They weren’t meant to set the standards of quality; doing so only inspires complacency and encourages stagnancy. 

In a world where competitive disruption is more likely than ever, perfection in quality, via zero defects, is what we should pursue. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Nothing Matters More Importantly than the Delivery

In the final scene of the 1975 movie, Three Days of the Condor, Deputy Director Higgins (played by the late Cliff Robertson) of the CIA tells Turner (played by Robert Redford) that when faced with shortages of basic necessities like oil and food, people won’t be asking but will be demanding there will be supply. 

They won’t want us to ask them.  They’ll just want us to get it for them.”

-Higgins (Cliff Robertson), Three Days of the Condor, 1975

The movie surmises when people are in need, they won’t care what are supply chains and how they function.  People will just expect governments and private enterprises to deliver. 

When it comes to making supply chains work productively, the only interested parties will be the ones who will have responsibilities over them.  Customers, consumers, and stakeholders won’t care how it will be done. 

They’ll just want the products delivered and services rendered.  Nothing else matters more importantly. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Why We Need Engineers

I spent fifteen (15) minutes one morning pounding several pills into powder.  The powdered pills are medicinal supplements for my pet cat, to fight against liver ailments. 

One of my cats tested for high SGPT, an enzyme when found high in a blood test, indicates problems with the liver.  The vet prescribed the cat needed one tablet of liver supplement a day.  But since I found it impossible to force feed the cat with a tablet, the vet said it was okay to crush the tablet into powder and mix it with the cat’s food. 

The vet gave me the prescription and told me in what form I can give the pills to the cat.  She didn’t tell me how to do it.  That’s for me to figure out.  I used a kitchen hammer to crush the pills, put the powder in a bottle, and sprinkle close to the prescribed dosage on the cat’s food every morning.  I crush as many pills I can altogether to avoid having to use the hammer frequently and save time. 

The vet prescribed; I administered.  The vet tells me what’s needed and I do the work of planning and implementing.  And this essentially is a small-scale example of what spells the difference between scientists, doctors, & executives and engineers.  The former group formulates; the latter makes it work. 

Sometimes, however, the former group of scientists, doctors, and engineers believe engineers aren’t needed in some cases.  The former people try to work things out by themselves in the hope of saving time and money by not engaging the latter, the engineers.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. 

And when it doesn’t, it can be disastrous.

A beach house in Florida was seen the only one left standing and intact after a hurricane.  The owners foresaw the risk of storm surges and invested in a super-strong foundation and superior construction materials.  The owners wanted a strong house on soft ground on a beachfront.  They invested in engineering to make their house withstand the risks.  It paid off as seen from the picture. 

Unfortunately for the beach house neighbours, it didn’t turn out so well.  They obviously didn’t engage engineers when they built their houses.  They lost their homes as a result. 

Enterprises & organisations don’t need engineers for every problem.  We can agree with that.  Many problems can be solved by common sense.  Many problems aren’t engineering related.  Many are rooted in economic, legal, and personnel issues. 

There are problems, however, engineers are in the best position to solve. 

When the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared a pandemic stemming from the SARS-Cov-2, popularly known as CoVID-19, political leaders and executives instituted strict health protocols in their respective communities and enterprises.  Borders were shut; people were told to stay home; factories were closed; deliveries were delayed.

Shortages happened.  Hospitals ran out of supplies such as face masks and personal protective equipment (PPE).  Supermarket shelves emptied.  Undelivered perishable food was thrown away.  Factories didn’t get their materials or didn’t have enough workers to run production lines. 

And when vaccines became available.  No one figured out how to distribute them.  Executives made promises that they couldn’t keep especially when supply ran short.  Contracts were broken as national leaders of countries where the vaccines were manufactured decided to keep the limited supply for their own people. 

Leaders appointed czars and task forces.  But because they were mostly made up of doctors, scientists, politicians, and even soldiers, the appointees could only go as far as making manifestos and policies.  There was hardly anyone figuring out the planning and implementation of what these appointees wanted to do. 

Leaders and executives probably thought they just needed scientists and a few good managers.  They didn’t figure they needed the people who’d have the expertise to set up structures and systems to make their ideas realities. 

That’s what engineers do.  Make ideas into realities.  But many leaders don’t know that or haven’t accepted that. 

And that’s how managing the pandemic became one big tragic mess.  More than 300 million reported infections. More than 5 million people dead.  Billions of dollars and euros spent.  Millions of people out of work.  Thousands of enterprises closed, some forever.  And shortages and disruptions in supply chains continuing.

Scientists make formulae.  Executives develop policies.  Engineers build and help implement solutions. 

In many cases, many leaders deliberately forget the last sentence of the above paragraph.  And just like the beach house, the few who do remember are left standing while the others are swept away. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

The Value a Small Table Can Bring

I was in a bad mood that morning.  The bank I always go was closed.  The manager said the staff was sick with the coronavirus so I had to go to another branch further away.  I didn’t like my time being wasted but I had no choice if I wanted to finish my transactions that day.  I went to the other branch not feeling happy. 

When I went to the branch, the security guard helped me park and greeted me.  The staff nearest to the door also greeted me a good morning.  So did the tellers.

Approaching the teller counter with my deposit bag, I noticed a table beside the counter.  It had a spray bottle of alcohol and it gave me a place to put my bag on.

The table was a pleasant surprise of convenience and it lightened my mood that morning.

Having a table beside a service counter is a blessing.  I wish banks and other service institutions would also have tables so we clients can have a place to put our stuff on when we’re transacting.

In Japan, tables beside service counters are a common sight, especially at hotels.  The tables allow registering guests a place to put their bags on which makes it convenient to get their paperwork for the hotel reception. 

hotel registration desk at Japan with tables beside the counter
Banks in Japan offer small tables for clients as they transact with tellers. 

But it’s only in Japan where I’ve seen tables beside service counters.  I haven’t seen the same thing anywhere else.  At least I’ve not seen it where I live or anywhere other than Japan. 

Until this visit at the branch of my bank here in Manila where I live. 

Maybe the bank staff intended the table to be a place for clients to disinfect their hands before transacting with the tellers.  Whatever the intent, I found the table very welcome and told the tellers I loved it. 

Now if the bank can only duplicate it in their other branches.

Bank executives train their staff to greet clients and to always be polite.  They don’t do a good job, however, when it comes to minimising transaction and wait times.  They also scrimp in investing in chairs for waiting clients.  Many times, we clients have to stand while waiting and carry our bags.  When we reach the counter, there would be hardly any space to put our deposits or cash on, especially if there were plastic transparent barriers taking much of that space.   Bank executives just don’t see what customers are experiencing and they make it like they don’t care. 

That small table beside the teller counter at that bank branch was a simple convenience apparently thought of by the staff there.  It was a small thing but combined with the greetings of the guard and the staff, they all made for a big thing for me.  It symbolised a little empathy from the part of the bank, at least from the people that worked in the branch.  And that was enough to make my day and think of good things about the bank.

I hope the branch that I always go to thinks of the same thing someday. 

About Overtimers Anonymous