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If you have read any of my articles or been to any of my Distribution Simulation “games”, then you know that I am seriously crazy about inventory. Part of the reason I have this amazing job is because I am absolutely the biggest inventory cheerleader, ever! I started out humbly enough dragging my poor boss through the ins and outs of inventory as a Supply Chain Coordinator. The man must have really sighed out-loud when I put in my notice. I really felt/feel like everyone should be as passionate about it as I was (am). I would tell you his name but I think he is in an inventory cheerleader witness protection program these days. Just kidding… I stop in from time to time to trouble him and my remaining ex-co-workers.
As I said, I started out not knowing much of anything about inventory. The very first time I cycle counted I realized this was really where my heart is. I was so proud of myself, I had gone to school later in life to do this, to be in purchasing, to protect inventory, to love every inch of the supply chain. However, as you may know, learning can also equal scraped knees and egos…I learned a lot in those days. However, inventory was always and still is something I am incredibly passionate about. I want to help every company figure out what program works for them. I could sit here and write articles until my fingers fall off and still not have found the right combination for your company’s inventory woes.
As one of my favorite co-workers used to always say, “I’m just gonna tell you for free” …cookie cutter ideas will probably not work. One-size-fits-all inventory idealism will only really get you started in the right direction. The reason I am writing this today is to inspire you to think outside the warehouse. I want to challenge you to question people you don’t even know. Unless, of course, your company doesn’t have inventory control issues, then well you can stop reading and use this article to line the bottom of your guinea pig cage. If you do, stick with me a little while longer.
Start by identifying one issue. One single, solitary inventory issue. Make it one you feel is easy. Do not spend a lot of time thrashing around at night awake over it, just decide on one and let’s start there. The issue itself is of no consequence, how you solve the issue is. Once you have identified your challenge, go after it. This will take a minute…
You are now an inventory investigator. For fun, make yourself a name tag “Hello, I’m Mr./Ms. Inventory Investigator”. Grab a pen and a steno pad (like a real prime time detective might do), get up, leave your office, act like you’re a superhero dashing past the president’s office with invisibility powers, and slip out in to the orange and green jungle of shelving, a.k.a. the warehouse. As you enter, try not to let the sweet siren call of the forklift backing up distract you from your cause.
Next you will need to find out who is who. If you know, great, if you don’t, ask the manager, he or she will give you the crucial info. Make a list of their names and ranks and set out to find each one. Ask one question, “What do you think about the ________ problem we are having with inventory?” This should yield you some strange looks and maybe some illusive answers at first. However, you are just starting this relationship and you need to work on your coaxing skills, and most importantly, build trust.
As you are interviewing, there are some things that might get you information you didn’t think about yet. Ask each person in the warehouse not only what he or she thinks about the issue, but what do they think you are doing about it, and what do they think should be done about it. As you go you might hear all kinds of things from personnel issues, to how so and so’s dog died last week, and how crummy the back end of the warehouse smells after it rains. What you will also find are some amazingly creative ways to fix your inventory problem. This could also lead to more problems, but try to stay on track and deal with the one you are trying to tackle first.
As you grow in your investigation skills you will find a few amazing by-products of your new inventory expeditions. You will know the names of who is protecting your company’s largest cash asset. You will hear new and exciting ways to stop loss. You will find out who is promotable and who needs more work. You will find allies in your quest and people will come to you and let you know when something is off kilter. You will gain the respect of the people that are your ground floor crew in inventory protection. The best part is, you may find yourself rewarding the warehouse team for their dedication to inventory greatness.
What I most hope you will take away from this, except the idea to patent an invisibility cloak for the office, is that we will never get better if we don’t share our knowledge. If you come up with any cool tips or tricks let me know so I can share it with other readers and simulation participants. As always I am so excited to help and look forward to any opportunities to collaborate on inventory challenges you are facing.