Category Archives: Supply Chain Fun

“He Ships, He Scores!” Improving Your Supply Chain with Games

Mario Fork Lift
Friday evening had arrived, and I was very excited to be on my way home. My wife and I were going on our first date in over four months – the first time we would leave our new daughter with family as we had some fun. After dinner, we went to one of my all-time favorite places: The Nicklecade. The Nicklecade is an arcade full of older games that each only cost $0.05 to play. Ten dollars can keep two people playing the gaming classics all evening. As we played Ski-ball, Dance Dance Revolution, San Francisco Rush racing, and even Guitar Hero, I was struck by how motivated I was on a Friday night.

I had just spent an entire week in typing emails at a computer and occasionally helping with repetitive physical tasks in the warehouse. Now, on a Friday night, I was in front of computers again pressing buttons and tossing ski-balls up the ramp over and over to try and beat my wife’s high score (which I was unable to top). How could the similar skills and activities be so fun and motivating as I worked for tickets, and less so as I worked for paychecks?

The Game of Work

My question caused me to recall a business book classic called The Game of Work by Charles Coonradt. Written in 1984, before a generation was raised on videogame achievements and scores, Coonradt was struck by a similar question to mine regarding construction workers. They would slowly plod along building a house, but during lunch time, they’d run to a local basketball court and give everything they had to obtain 4-on-4 lunchtime victory. Realizing that the principals of games could increase motivation and productivity in the workplace, Coonradt defined five rules of gamification – harnessing the power of game thinking in traditionally non-game work.

  1. Clearly defined goals – Put the basketball through the basket
  2. Better scorekeeping and scorecards – The score is 87 to 89, our team is down by two with a minute left in the game.
  3. More frequent feedback – The scoreboard tells you immediately if you made a goal, and a referee’s whistle will sound every time you break a rule
  4. A higher degree of personal choice of methods – Score points; it doesn’t matter if they are lay-ups, dunks, field goals, or 3-pointers
  5. Consistent coaching – whenever I have a question, I can look over to my coach for guidance or call a time out for more detailed help

Supply chain and operation works lends itself directly to this type of job enhancement. Below are some examples of how gamification has helped boost productivity.

Charles Schwab Throws Out a Challenge

In Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, the story of Charles Schwab keeping score is a fun example of early gamification.

“Charles Schwab had a mill manager whose people weren’t producing their quota of work.

“How is it,” Schwab asked him, “that a manager as capable as you can’t make this mill turn out what it should?”

“I don’t know,” the manager replied. “I’ve coaxed the men, I’ve pushed them, I’ve sworn and cussed, I’ve threatened them with damnation and being fired. But nothing works. They just won’t produce.”

This conversation took place at the end of the day, just before the night shift came on. Schwab asked the manager for a piece of chalk, then, turning to the nearest man, asked: “How many heats did your shift make today?”


Without another word, Schwab chalked a big figure six on the floor, and walked away.

When the night shift came in, they saw the “6” and asked what it meant.

“The big boss was in here today,” the day people said. “He asked us how many heats we made, and we told him six. He chalked it down on the floor.”

The next morning Schwab walked through the mill again. The night shift had rubbed out “6” and replaced it with a big “7.”

When the day shift reported for work the next morning, they saw a big “7” chalked on the floor. So the night shift thought they were better than the day shift did they? Well, they would show the night shift a thing or two. The crew pitched in with enthusiasm, and when they quit that night, they left behind them an enormous, swaggering “10.” Things were stepping up.

Shortly this mill, which had been lagging way behind in production, was turning out more work than any other mill in the plant. The principle?

Let Charles Schwab say it in his own words: “The way to get things done,” says Schwab, “is to stimulate competition. I do not mean in a sordid, money-getting way, but in the desire to excel.”

Quoted from Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People

A Jewelry Manufacturer Keeps High Scores

A factory that made recognition jewelry created a very simple computer program in the 1980s. The employee would log in his or her manufacturing job, say polishing 100 medallions, and the computer would time him. After the employee completed the work, he or she would see how quickly he or she had accomplished the work. The computer then ranked him or her against personal past records as well as everyone else. The program let the employee know whether the score was above or below average – and by how much. This simple program quickly increased efficiency of the entire factory as everyone tried to beat their coworker and their own records.

Real-time Shipping Dashboard Focused our Warehouse

A couple years ago, as our company quickly grew, we felt a need for better visibility to our warehouse operations. I had worked at Sonic in high school where little TV screens showed each order and helped me know how many hamburgers to make. Could we make a dashboard that showed us what orders we had to ship? With some VBA coding, I was able to create a real-time shipping dashboard that did just that. Every ten minutes, the computer would automatically update from our system database and show the orders we needed to ship and had shipped already that day. If an order went late, it would show up in red. As long as everything was green on the dashboard, we knew we were shipping on time and winning for the company. The dashboard was so effective that I was able to completely step away from warehouse operations as the team worked together to keep the dashboard green – or score points –rather than a manager directing every step.

Ideas for Gamifying Your Supply Chain

Having a better grasp of the principals of gamification, how can you better apply them in your supply chain? Here are some ideas:

  • Vendor Scorecards – We’ve been working extensively on a comprehensive vendor-scoring program. We are giving quarterly feedback on how key vendors are doing on dimensions important to our success. We also hope to build a “Vendor of the Year” award to reward good scores. Without the scorecard, however, our vendors can’t be confident in how they can better serve us as their customer.Crosstraining
  • Cross-training Achievements – An easy way to turn long-term training into a game is to create a grid of people and processes. As employees learn new processes, they receive a sticker that becomes a badge of cross-training achievement. Fast-food restaurants do this all the time. When we put this together in our warehouse, I was amazed by how quickly people began asking their supervisor to train them on new skills so that they could mark it off on the grid.
  • Pick-to-voice Warehouse Picking Systems – Wearing a headset that tells you where to pick your next order is a popular technology in large warehouses. These pick-to-voice systems often track efficiency and set goals for each picker. Taking that technology a step further, you could keep score on a large screen or let pickers “level up.” As employees reach certain scores, they could be rewarded with more difficult orders to pick – or move into new zones of the warehouse. Even adding the “1UP” sound from Super Mario and other video game trademarks could make order picking more engaging.
  • Pallet Wrapping Competition – If you have 30 pallets to wrap by hand, divide everyone into three teams and see who can wrap 10 in the shortest amount of time. Whenever students from local colleges tour our company, I ask them to compete in a “warehouse Olympics” game to see how they fare with the most basic of supply chain tasks. I quite enjoy watching college students race, and often struggle, to tape boxes, sort returns, and wrap pallets.
  • Vendor Terms Competition – Our CEO created a list of vendors that he wanted a dozen employees to contact and ask for extended payment terms. Each Vendor had an employee assigned to it. The list was in a Google spreadsheet we all shared, which allowed us to see each other’s progress in real-time. We could approach the request any way we wanted, and we even received a small gift card when we achieved our goal.
  • Real-time Dashboards and Metrics – Building on our shipping dashboard, we now have a large handful of other real-time dashboards. Purchase Orders, Accounts Receivable, and Accounts Payable are just a few examples of how we keep score. Our jobs become a game of keeping the dashboards free of red lines, which helps us focus on activities that help the company.

Supply chain is the ideal place to apply gamification principals. Large amounts of real-time data make keeping score much more achievable than in other less data-driven disciplines.

Whether it’s PlayStation 4, the NFL, or Monopoly, everyone on my team has a passion for games. Tweaking processes to channel that passion has helped my company in powerful ways. Applying Coonradt’s five “Game of Work” principals helps everyone better achieve results that help the company and enjoy their work more. Most importantly, that increase in motivation helps us become a stronger company and a more competitive supply chain.

Now instead of getting back to work, get back to gaming.

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If you’d like to learn more, please check out the below sites that were a source for parts of this article.

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.

Thoughts on the Standard Pig Game

Pete Abilla over at has put together an excellent 5-minute video exercise on standard work. The training teaches the “Standard Pig Game.” It asks you and your team to go through three different scenarios of drawing a pig. The first is with no standard, the second is with a written standard, and the third is with a visual standard. You can access the video here:

The Standard Pig Game Video at Shmula.comThe Standard Pig Game

Note: You will need to supply your email address to view the video, but when I entered mine, I only received one email asking if I would like to receive more information from

Thoughts on Visual Standards

I like this video because it makes a clear point, and it’s easy to share with my team. From this, I plan to work more on creating visual guides for standard work. Diagrams in the warehouse of how to package a product properly is an easy start, but what about the many processes in the office such as writing a purchase order or analyzing sell-through data?

In an effort to train on standard work, I have written scores of step-by-step procedures, similar to the one in round two of the game. However, when I refer others to learn the process from the document, they often soon return to me and ask that I walk them through the process. Essentially, what I have failed to hear is that they are asking me for a visual standard. Written procedures are just too confusing or overwhelming for most standard work. Small businesses especially are always working to document their processes, so this is an important rule to learn early in the creation of standard work manuals.

Recognizing that visuals are the key to standard work has given me a couple ideas. The written procedures that seem to work well have many graphics and screenshots in them. I now strive to add a visual for every step of instruction. (If you don’t take screenshots often, then here’s a great visual process of How to Take a Screenshot)

A great example of visual standards are the instructions for changing the toilet paper in our office’s bathrooms. The toilet paper dispensers in our building are actually quite difficult to figure out; you have to rip off the cardboard to change the roll. However, after posting the directions below, our problem of empty toilet paper rolls quickly resolved.

How to Change the Toilet Paper in the Restrooms

The next level of visual standards that I am striving for is creating how-to videos. When I want to learn how to do something new, I go straight to YouTube and look for a tutorial. I hope to build that same type of resource in my company so that employees can easily learn standard work on their own. Whether it’s a quick video taken with a cellphone or recording your screen as you walkthrough how to access information from a database, videos showing how to do something are gold compared with pages of text. I have yet to find a screen recorder that I absolutely love, but I’m evaluating a list of free screen recording programs for windows.

What can you do in your company to increase visuals for standard work? How can you create training resources that employees will actually use and apply? Share your thoughts below, including how your team liked the Standard Pig Game training.

Epic Warehouse Warning Signs

Recently, I asked my friend in the design department to put together new warning signs for the doors leading into the warehouse. I was surprised the next day to find the following on my desk for approval:
Warehouse Zombies
After a good laugh, I went and talked to my friend.

“Stace, this is fantastic, but not quite what I’m looking for. We really want to warn people about the forklifts…not zombies.

“You’re not worried about the zombies? Okay, how about this?”
Scary Forklift Warning
“We’re on the right track, but it seems like this one suggests: ‘As long as you can outrun your coworkers, you’ll be safe.’ That doesn’t really promote team unity, does it?”

“If you’re worried about team unity, let’s just get rid of the team! Here you go.”
Scary Forklift Version 2
“Removing the running crowd certainly helps, but it might be a red flag for OSHA if they drop by.”

“That’s fine, if you want to suck the fun out of safety. How’s this?”
Forklift Final
“Perfect! I appreciate your creative approach to this task, though I’ll probably never give you keys to the forklift. However, you did inspire me to put together my own sign.”
Forklift Cowboy
Special thanks to Stace Hasegawa for the wonderful signs and Audrey Fuller for editing help.

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