Monthly Archives: December 2013

Tired of Making Resolutions that Never Resolve? Three Ways to Change Today

A new year means new goals. Unfortunately for me, it also usually means a bunch of broken resolutions just a couple weeks later. No matter how motivated I am to make a change, life gets busy and in the way, and I forget my goals. Even our departmental ambitions that we spent hours discussing quickly turn into nothing more than a poster on the wall.

Stuck on Goals

That was true until I tried these three methods that changed how I approach goals. Suddenly, I was making real progress on long-term priorities despite the fires that popped up. Using these strategies in your own goal planning can bring real change and results that so often eluded me.

Seinfeld to the Rescue – Don’t Break the Chain

JerryseinfeldBack when Jerry Seinfeld was on the road doing standup each night, a fellow admiring comic asked him how he was able to write so many jokes. Jerry responded that he put a giant calendar on a wall in his home. Each day he spent time writing, he would put a giant ‘X’ in for that day on the calendar. After a few days, he’d have a chain of ‘X’s. He’d be proud of that chain, and Jerry would do everything he could to not “break the chain.”

You can easily implement this at home or at work. Just print out a calendar, decide on what qualifies as giving yourself an ‘X’, and then post that calendar in a place where you and others can easily see it. This method has helped me hold morning huddles with my team even when we’re busy, update dashboards even though the task is time-intensive, and go to the gym even though it’s freezing cold outside.

Links to Learn More:

Jerry Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret

How Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret Fixed My Procrastination Problem

Habit Streak Plan Puts Jerry Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret on Android – a free Android app that helps you not break the chain

Do More by Focusing on Daily 3+2 Priorities

The 3+2 Daily PlannerEach morning, I used to list everything I was planning to get done that day. My list would usually be 20 or 30 lines long – and I wouldn’t even get close to working on half of the items. Worse still, I often needed to follow up on the ten things I had worked on over the next several days to actually get the results I needed. In trying to do everything, I wasn’t getting nearly enough done over the long run, even though I felt good checking off so many boxes on my daily To Do list. That’s when an article on 3+2 saved me.

Being honest with myself, I realized that I can only really accomplish about three big tasks and two small tasks in a normal workday. By focusing on the top five priorities and really nailing them in one day, I could then take on five more tomorrow. Even though I was marking off fewer checkboxes throughout the day, I had a much longer list of accomplishments at the end of the week. Holding myself accountable to just those three big and two small tasks let me actually make progress on my goals and more quickly improve our company’s operations.

Links to Learn More

Take a More Realistic Approach to Your To-Do List with the 3 + 2 Rule

Unite and Align Your Team with a Morning Huddle – The 3+2 Rule at Work

Craft Your Average Perfect Day

What's your Average Perfect Day?I have set many ambitious goals that I’ve quickly forgotten. Somehow, what I do each day just doesn’t translate to progress on those objectives. However, I have also learned that some of my goals don’t quite fit with what I actually want to accomplish each day. So to make and keep better goals, I like to use the Average Perfect Day method.

What is your perfect day? Not a vacation or winning the lottery, but a realistic perfect day that could potentially repeat itself again and again. Would you hit the gym in the morning? Meet with your team in the morning? Spend an hour on a long-term goal for the company? Recognize the achievements of others? Write a process or automate a report?

Mapping out a template of what my average perfect day looks like quickly helps me realize how I can make small changes to reach that ideal schedule. It also helps me plan goals in a concrete manner, which means I can make more progress on them.

Link to Learn More

One of the Best Goal Setting Exercises

The Twelve Days of a Supply Chain Christmas

The holiday season is often a stressful time for most supply chains. Retail sales reach their peak, companies stretch to reach their yearly goals, and many companies prepare for Chinese New Year, which looms just around the corner.

Here’s a fun twist on a classic Carol. I’ve jumped to the last verse, but if you want to gather round your team and sing it, I’m sure you can figure out the other versus.

12 Days of Supply Chain Christmas

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my Supply Chain gave to me:

12-month rolling forecasts

11 product launches

10 bills of lading

9 new vendor contracts

8 inbound shipments

7 excel spreadsheets

6-sigma black belts

5S audit passed!

4 routing guides

3PL deliveries

2 forklift drivers

And a product that fills customers with glee!

To all of you that help keep the supply chains moving, we wish you a very Merry Christmas from Supply Chain Cowboy.

A Gift Idea for Logistics Coworkers

If you’re looking for a fun Christmas present for your coworkers, suppliers, or customers that help keep your supply chain moving, then consider giving these ornaments.

Logitics Ornaments

Unfortunately, Hallmark doesn’t sell either of these as one of their special edition ornaments yet, but they’re easy to assemble yourself.

Shipping Container Ornament

Building the shipping container ornament is very easy since you use a pre-made miniature container. I used a container that is sold for model trains by Walthers. Your local hobby store may have them, or there are several for sale on eBay. Just search HO Shipping Container. (HO is the scale that I used; several other scales can work as well.) I liked the 20-foot size, although your natural urge to reduce shipping costs at work may have you in the habit of looking at 40- or 45-foot high cube containers instead. If you’re buying from eBay, make sure you get an actual plastic container since many paper card containers are also for sale – and a supply chain cowboy never ships in paper containers.

Once you get the container you like, then you just need to attach the ornament hook.

Container Glue

To get a hook, you can either buy them from the dollar store, cannibalize an old ornament, or just grab a paper clip. I used pliers to straighten the wire out and then put a nice right angle bend at the bottom. When you’re happy with your hook and ready to attach it to the ornament, just put a small line (about 1/ 4 inch) on top of the container and press the hook into place.  If you’re ambitious, you can use a rotary drill to put a couple small holes in the top for the hook. However, I followed the advice of my crafty wife who thought it’d be much easier to use a hot glue gun instead.

Container Hook

Let the glue cool until it’s dry and then you’re done. Some containers have room to put something inside, so you could throw in a nice note.

Multiple Containers

If your coworkers don’t deal with many shipping containers, then consider a pallet ornament.

Christmas Pallet Ornament

The base of this ornament comes from the Uline Pallet Notes. We have quite a few of these since Uline often ships them to us for free, so I collected up the wooden parts from around the office. If you don’t use Uline for warehouse supplies, then you might be able to use popsicle sticks or other small pieces of wood. Having them pre-made is definitely the easiest option.

Next, you need a fun box to put on the pallet. I went to the dollar store and found a bunch of small boxes that were just the right size. Anything small could work though, even a round glass ornament would look good shrink wrapped to a pallet. I threw a round jingle bell inside my box so it sounds like a festive load when it moves.

Pallet Components

Using a glue gun, secure the lid to the box and then the box to the pallet. Gluing everything together isn’t required, but it will make wrapping much easier.

To wrap the pallet, actual pallet shrink-wrap works best, but I used simple home plastic wrap from my kitchen (I made sure to get permission from my wife first). Cut the wrap into 1-inch wide strips.

Shrink Wrap Strips

Then, with someone pulling tight on the other end, roll the ornament around from the base up and wrap it just like a real pallet. When you’re done, grab a hook and attach it to the top with a glue gun.

Wrapped Pallet with Hook

Finally, print out your pallet labels. You can either print small stickers or just tape on a cut piece of paper. Here’s the Word document I used to make the labels.Pallet Christmas Ornament

Sometimes it’s difficult to think of gifts for all of your coworkers, but I have really come to enjoy making and giving ornaments at Christmas. It’s a festive way to say “thanks” for all of their hard work, and it’s also a fun way to display your inner supply chain cowboy on your Christmas tree.

What types of gifts do you give to coworkers? What other types of supply chain ornaments could you make? What other creative ways do you have of thanking others in your supply chain during the holidays? Please leave your thoughts below.

7 Simple Ways to Manage Temporary Workers Better

Temporary WorkersWhether it’s a seasonal jump in orders or an unexpectedly large rework project, calling on temporary workers is often the only way to get everything done on time. I refer to temporary employees as one of my three supply chain silver bullets that help me pull off operational miracles. Having managed dozens of projects with workers I just met, I’ve gathered a list of seven ways to make those projects run smoother and quicker. By incorporating the concepts below, your next project with temporary workers will be a better experience for everyone involved.

1.     Start Right with a Clear Orientation Huddle

The first twenty minutes together with your new team sets the tone for the entire day. Use this opportunity to set clear expectations and preempt later distractions and problems by answering common questions.

When temporary workers first arrive, I have them read over a laminated, double-sided sheet. Not only does this protect our company by letting them know of HR policies, but also addresses common issues and questions. The sheet contains a two- or three-sentence summary of our policies on the following topics:

  • About Our Company
  • General Warehouse Safety
  • Forklift Safety
  • Dress Code
  • Time Clock Procedures
  • Breaks and Lunches
  • Bathrooms, Break Area, and Smoking Area
  • Cell Phones and Personal Items (be sure to address cell phones specifically)
  • Substance Abuse Policy (from HR)
  • Harassment Policy (from HR)

After reading over the list, each temporary worker signs an acknowledgement sheet that we keep on file. This protects the company and gives us recourse to send people home that break policies.

After gathering everyone’s signed acknowledgement, I hold a brief huddle. Before going into the days’ work, I emphasize a few key expectations. Specifically, I show them the lockers they can put personal items (or when lacking lockers, ask them to keep everything in their cars). I also point out work and break areas as well as recommend local places for lunch. These few minutes answer 90% of the common questions I encounter, which allows us all to focus on the work at hand.

2.     Set Clear Expectations

Having given a clear orientation, I then strive to set very clear expectations of the day’s work. The key here is many visual examples of the end product and a clear standard procedure to reach that result. For example, if we are trying to build 3000 retail displays that day, then I have several completed examples to show everyone. Each station has a color picture of what the display should look like at that station’s point in the process. I build one or two displays completely with everyone watching to ensure they understand how the display look as it is built and completed.

As much as possible, I strive to make the work mistake-proof. Setting up checks to ensure the display is built correctly helps catch errors. If physical checks aren’t possible, then I ask several people to act as quality lookouts along the assembly line to catch any defects. I empower them with the ability to stop the process and call for help when they see errors. I also let everyone know I’ve asked them to do this job to avoid offense.

Finally, I share with the team hourly and daily production goals. This gives a score to the team’s work and helps them gauge their speed. When I’m building something new and have no experience on what to set the goal as, I just guess optimistically. The team usually rises to meet my estimated goal. Sometimes I even run the process myself ahead of time. This allows me to time how long it takes me to complete a few rounds of the process to set a realistic expectation.

3.     Add Meaning to the Work

Just before they get set to work, I answer the often-unasked question of “why am I doing this?” Even though these workers may just be on the job for a day, I’ve seen impressive results when they know the deeper reason behind their work. My goal becomes theirs as well, and many of the workers will give extra effort and suggestions to better accomplish the larger goal.

The explanation doesn’t need to be long. It could go something like this: “Today we’re building 3000 displays that we’re sending to Walmart. They have to be built this specific way because it helps the Walmart employees quickly put the product out in the store. In a couple weeks, you can visit your local Walmart and find one of the displays you built. Then you can point to that display and tell your friends or children ‘I helped make that.'” As your team is able to focus on the higher goal, not just the menial work that lies ahead, they will rally behind the cause and work hard to produce something they are proud of. Five minutes before lunch or the end of the day, I gather everyone around and solicit their feedback for improvements to the process. Without your team knowing the end goal of their work, helpful feedback is rare.

4.     Create a Positive Work Environment

As the workers begin, I help set the pace and atmosphere by working alongside them. This helps me make sure the project gets off to a good start, but it also helps me learn more about my team. I rotate people to find their strengths and adjust workloads to balance bottlenecks. Once everyone is comfortable in his or her role, I try to ensure enthusiasm remains long after the first hour of work.

If everyone can do a great job while talking together, then those conversations often keep everyone upbeat. However, if they become distracted while talking, then I instead turn on the radio. I always see better results when I try to have a little fun with my team, especially toward the end of the day, than when I am overly strict and serious. Simple rewards for meeting goals, such as cheap popsicles if it’s a hot day, or letting the team take five minutes longer on their break, go a long way toward motivation.

5.     Don’t Make Leadership a Mystery

The biggest problems I’ve had with temporary workers come from not assigning adequate supervision. I am frequently called away from the work, and when I don’t assign someone to be in charge, disagreements often arise. Therefore, if I can’t be there to supervise, I do everything I can to have one of my full-time employees, or at the very least a returning worker, assigned to answer questions that arise. This isn’t to quell power struggles, but to create order in a group of workers who still don’t know each other. Knowing there is a supervisor close who can answer question creates order and prevents most problems.

Having someone you know and trust working on the project also fosters more communication. That person can act as a liaison to the shyer, new employees by giving voice to concerns or suggestions they have. I’ve received some great suggestions for improvement that passed from a new worker, through a returning worker, to me.

6.     Be Detailed in Time Management

Simple Excel Punch Clock

Being exact in timing brings great results. I once used a clipboard to have temporary workers track their time each day. This created some tension because some people would write 8:00, even though they really showed up at 8:07. To avoid this problem, I put together a simple punch clock in Excel – which you can download from the Supply Chain Resources page. Having the computer track the time took away any question of timing – and saved our company a few hundred dollars.

Another time trick I love is something I learned from my high school band director. Whenever we had a concert, she would ask us all to report at 6:53 PM. Such a detailed time was memorable, and many more people showed up on time than had she said 7:00 PM. I use this same concept with breaks. If its 2:03, then I tell everyone, “Ok, it’s break time, we will start the line back up at 2:14 – so be back by 2:13.” This brings much more success than “Be back in 10 minutes.”

7.     Build Your “A” Team

Finally, do all you can to build your temporary worker dream team. If your project spans over many days, only invite back the hard workers – and ask the temp agency to send you others to try out.

If someone is not working, hindering the work, or fostering a negative work environment, don’t be afraid to send him or her home. I’ve only had to do this on rare occasions because talking to the person often resolves the issues. However, if someone is causing a safety risk or HR issue, send that person home as soon as you can. Failure to do so not only invites the issue to grow, and other workers may mirror that behavior since it’s bringing no consequence.

For the most part, however, your team will likely be full of good, hard workers. Pay attention to the best and consider bringing them on full-time. We have found some of our very best employees through temporary assignments. It’s our vehicle of choice to add a new team member in our warehouse because we can try them out for an extended period before investing completely in them.

These seven simple tips have helped me better manage the projects I’ve run with temporary workers. Investing some time and effort into the process will result in more efficient workers and better results. These projects, although sometimes stressful, can become positive experiences for everyone involved.

What other suggestions do you have for managing temporary workers? Please leave your thoughts in a comment.

Don’t Be Stupid. Use a Checklist.

As a new father, I can feel the lack of sleep finally catching up with me – especially in the mornings. Leaving my house for work became quite frustrating as I started forgetting important items. On Monday, I forgot to bring my lunch with me. On Tuesday, I forgot my smoothie that was to be my breakfast. Wednesday, my keys; Thursday, my laptop. Fortunately, I was able to go back for my keys and laptop before I drove away from my home, but it was unnerving that I had become so forgetful.
Morning Checklist Post-it
By Thursday night, I was desperate for a solution to my morning forgetfulness. So, to combat the problem, I made a checklist. I took a post-it note and listed the items that I wanted to be sure to bring with me each morning to work. Here’s my list:

  • Phone
  • Keys
  • Wallet
  • Backpack
  • Laptop (in backpack)
  • Lunch
  • Breakfast Drink

I put this post-it checklist right at eye level on my front door. The next day, I arrived at work without anything missing. The entire next week as well – no forgotten items. My checklist solved my problem quickly, easily, and cheaply.

Checklists Prevent Deviations and Errors

This experience reminded me of the power of checklists. Checking boxes helps us follow standard procedure. Most deviations from a standard process are a result of forgetfulness or trying to be too efficient (being too busy or lazy). Seeing each step clearly spelled out in a simple list eliminates forgetfulness and adds accountability to complete each step.

Checklists Save Lives and Money

Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Switch, talk about just how powerful checklists can be. When Michigan intensive care units (ICUs) created a five-step checklist for how to insert an IV, occurrences of infected lines disappeared. The checklist saved the hospitals an estimated $175 million as well as 1,500 lives. More surprising is how simple the checklist was. Step one, wash hands before inserting IV; Step two, clean patient’s skin with antiseptic. The list wasn’t new science, it just helped the doctors and nurses remember each step and slow down to perform them all.

So how can I use the power of checklists in my supply chain? Our company’s operations have many small procedures that capture and track data as our inventory flows through our processes. Here are just a few processes that have benefited from a checklist:

  • Receiving product – a checklist makes sure all the information for each inventory receipt is correctly recorded in our accounting system
  • Quarterly Vendor Scorecard Reviews – a checklist helps ensure we analyze each vendor on every aspect important to our company, such as communication and lead time, not just price
  • Sales and Operations Process – a checklist keeps our forecasts more accurate as it asks us to review and check off each significant customer each month
  • Customer Packaging and Routing Requirements – checklists for key customers help our warehouse team prepare shipments to each customer’s specific requirements to avoid fines and chargebacks
  • Legal Compliance Records – a checklist helps us create and keep all the necessary legal paperwork necessary for a future compliance audit

Ideally, the checklist prints automatically as the process begins. For example, the customer requirement checklist prints on the pick sheet. When the checklist cannot be automatically pirnted, we print a stack of half-page or one-page checklists in advance that can easily be stapled to the front of a paperwork packet. The convenience of having the checklist easily attached helps ensure it gets used.

Checklist Implementation – Overcoming Barriers and Resistance

One major reason checklists aren’t used more frequently is that the process seems too basic to require one. Remembering to bring everything with me to work is an easy process, and most people probably can handle it just fine without a checklist. Had someone else mandated I follow a checklist each morning, I might have become offended that my competence was in question. However, as resistant as I may be, I can’t deny that my morning checklist helps me avoid errors. Thus, I have learned to see the value of checklists for standard work. Sharing stories of checklist successes, such as at the Michigan ICUs, can help others also realize the value of checklist. Involving those using the checklist in their creation, just as I wrote my own, can get their buy in.

The other primary cause of checklist scarcity is the fact that we don’t often review processes that have been in place for some time. Even though writing out my morning checklist only took 20 seconds, nothing motivated me to make it until I forgot something four days in a row. The same is true with processes at work. Until repeated and significant mistakes occur, I likely won’t spend time building a checklist for a process. However, spending a little time now can help avoid larger issues in the future.

To move myself from a reactive to a proactive approach, I have scheduled 15 minutes each week during a less-busy time of day to review a process. If I can create one useful checklist each week, I’ll be well on my way to better discipline and fewer process errors.

To read even more about the power of checklists, check out Chip and Dan Heath’s Fast Company article Heroic Checklist. I also highly recommend their book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, which talks more about checklists in pages 220-224.