How Have I Failed? Let me Count the Ways

When faced with a difficult situation, what do we tend to do? Yell and scream or self-reflect? So, here is scenario. Working for a tier 1 supplier as a production control and logistics (PC&L) manager, it was our responsibility to schedule production, order components, and most importantly (at least this is what I thought) to make sure that shipments got to customers on time.

A little background, every morning, when I got in to the plant, I would do a walk around to verify that everything was as it should be. The factory floor was visual enough that it would enable me to walk the entire plant (over 1 million sqft), and ascertain what our current condition was.

We had cellular production, meaning that specific families were created in different areas of the plant, and depending on the capability of the cell and the demand from the customer, we did not run every cell for 24 hrs a day. In this particular cell, we only needed to run it for 1 shift.

 What is that doing there?

On this particular morning, I noticed a pallet in the cell that was staged to be moved to the shipping dock. My first thought was…”did they produce an extra pallet?”. That was just wishful thinking. I went directly to the shipping dock to verify that the shipment was OK. The location for this particular part was empty, as it should have been. The shipment goes out every day at 5am, and is always gone by the time I get there.

The customer is very consistent, two pallets every day, day in and day out. This gave us the ability to produce just in time and hold no inventory. So why did we have an extra pallet? My next stop was my shipping manager to verify that two pallets got shipped. Well, lo and behold, only one pallet got shipped. WHAT? Only one pallet got shipped? This is a hugely important customer for us. We NEVER want to miss shipments to this customer. They are definitely not the biggest of our customers, far from it, but they are the first customer in this segment of the market, and if we were going to make further in roads, it is critical that we don’t miss a beat.

So, of course, the first step is to correct the situation. Contact the customer, let them know what happened, and get an expedite truck on the road with the second pallet. This would at least save us a little grace by already taking the appropriate measures to get them their parts immediately, and while it would not arrive within our assigned receiving window, causing some disruption at our customer plant, it would be minimized. But the reaction that we had with our customer, is not the direction of this story, but the reaction that I had with my shipping supervisor is what I really want to talk about.

How would you have reacted, and be honest

My first reaction is incredulity, we all know that this customer was of the utmost importance. I wanted to find the supervisor, who was the only PC&L supervisor on 3rd shift, and lay into him for missing the shipment. I first encounter his boss, who handled all the internal movement of materials, and I asked what had happened last night. He did not know and had not heard of anything unusual from his supervisor. My internal temperature was already high, and he can tell that it was going up even more, so he decided to leave me to my investigation.

I tend to be the type that likes to know everything that happened in order to get a clear understanding of the situation and the whole cause and effect chain. So, my next stop was the production manager. He informed me that they had problems in that cell last night, and they worked overtime in order to get that pallet complete. Oh?  They worked overtime?  Along with the expedite, this was getting more expensive, not to count the small amount of integrity that we would lose with the customer. I checked the time stamp for completion, and verified that, sure enough, they had completed the pallet at 12:47am. They produce these parts on 2nd shift which normally ends at 11pm.

Here is the normal course of events. The 2nd shift material handling person, the one that transfers the finished goods from the cells to the dock, transferred the first pallet, but the second was not complete prior to him getting off. The 3rd shift material handler, never goes by that cell since it is not running, so the 2nd pallet never got transferred to the dock. I think that you already see where this is going. When they put together the shipment, they only saw one pallet on the dock, so the shipping people figured that the cell didn’t complete the 2nd pallet so they only shipped one.

So? Where can I place the blame?

I could have blamed it on culture, because, it will occur to our bigger customers that we would occasionally ship short. I could have blamed the 2nd shift supervisor for not communicating to the 3rd shift supervisor that they were still running in that cell and make sure that they got that pallet when it was completed, or, how about the 3rd shift supervisor, who should have noticed in his daily walk around the plant, that we were short on the dock to make that shipment, and he could have investigated more and found the other pallet in the cell.

But, Ultimately

The cause and effect ultimately comes back to me. This is one of those critical things that I picked up from working at Toyota…How have I failed to make my expectations known? I run through the gamut: 1) I never set the expectation that if the dock is short a pallet, they should check the cell to see if there is one sitting there and it did not get transported to the dock, 2) It was not clear to the supervisor that if they were short, they should walk to that cell to see if there was a pallet there, and 3) there was no procedure in place in shipping that if they were short a shipment, they were supposed to notify the supervisor for clear direction.

It is my responsibility to make sure that my expectations are perfectly clear. During my career there have been many instances where I will hear…somebody better get written up over this, when in fact the expectations were not clear. Maybe the management thought they were perfectly understood, but when in reality what was received by the operator, was different than what was conveyed by the manager. Don’t get caught in the game of 5 Who’s. When things do not meet your expectations, the first thing to do is to reflect, and ask yourself…”How have I failed to make my expectations clearly understood” (Hmmm, I think I have my next article, the Art of Self-Reflection).

Speak Your Mind