Tag Archives: Supply Chain Story

5 Questions on How Startups Should Begin Improving Their Supply Chains

Improving Your Supply Chain
Hundreds of businesses are facing the exact same problems as you right now. Many are figuring out how to take their supply chain to the next level. What are some ways other companies have tackled what you’re up against?

In this latest podcast, I address five questions that have come up repeatedly in my conversations with small businesses:

  1. What are some ways to reduce costs and improve performance without sacrificing quality?
  2. How can a small business use technology to improve its efficiency?
  3. How can small business owners get employees and others to buy into managing their supply chain better?
  4. How can a small business oversee and boost the performance of their supply chain partners?
  5. What are some of my best suggestions for making the management of a supply chain more efficient?

Download or listen to the podcast from the link above, or check out the full podcast transcript. Also, be sure to subscribe to the podcast through iTunes or your other podcast app.

[Image Source, modified]

The Most Popular Supply Chain Cowboy Articles of 2014

We’ve seen significant growth this year – online traffic and subscribers have more than tripled from 2013. It’s great to know there’s so many people working together to tame the wild west of supply chain management.

Below is a list of our five most popular articles from the past year:

Number 5 – How Skullcandy Rocked S&OP

How Skullcandy Rocked S&OPFor Supply Chain Cowboy’s first podcast, I had a great interview with Mark Kosiba, former VP of Operations at Skullcandy. He shared a ton of great advice on how small companies can leverage their nimbleness to grow and become world-class operations in competitive fields. If you haven’t yet listened to what Mark had to share, be sure to download it now so you can listen to it during your next commute.

Check it out here: How Skullcandy Rocked S&OP

Number 4 – Startups, Sourcing, and Sustainability with Mark Dwight of Rickshaw Bagworks – Interview Part 1 of 2

Mark DwightWant an example of what supply chain excellence and lean production really look like at a San Francisco bag company? Then be sure to check out this Q&A interview with the CEO of Ricksaw Bagworks. The article received a lot of positive social media attention, especially from people passionate about US-based manufacturing and small business entrepreneurs.

Check it out here: Startups, Sourcing, and Sustainability with Mark Dwight of Rickshaw Bagworks – Interview Part 1 of 2

Number 3 – One Easy Excel Formula to Track Shipments

Ship Track Excel FromulaIf anyone in your organization tracks packages, then they’ll definitely want to take a look at this article. It reviews a free excel add-in that lets you track shipments from most major carriers with a single formula. Even if you’ve shied away from tracking your shipments in the past because of how much work it can be, the article shows how that might now be possible.

Check it out here: One Easy Excel Formula to Track Shipments

Number 2 – Tips for the APICS CSCP Exam

Tips for the APICS CSCP ExamSupply Chain Certifications are growing in popularity to not only help build an educational base, but distinguish job seekers looking to advance their career. This article details what I learned while preparing for the APICS CSCP exam, including useful advice for how to tackle the test. The first section about whether the exam is even worth pursuing is a great read for supply chain managers wanting to develop their team’s skills.

Check it out here: Tips for the APICS CSCP Exam

Number 1, the Most Popular Article in 2014 – Build an Awesome Vendor Scorecard Program in 4 Easy Steps

Vendor Scorecard ExampleThis vendor scorecard how-to article won by a wide margin, attracting one in every four visitors during 2014. As supplier relationships become more important to a firm’s success, scorecards provide a simple and effective method of managing those connections. The downloadable template, included in the article, is a great place to start in building your vendor metric program. If you’re looking for the best bang for your buck in improving your supply chain, be sure to check this article out now.

Check it out here: Build an Awesome Vendor Scorecard Program in 4 Easy Steps

What’s Coming in 2015?

Here’s a sneak peak to a few articles and podcasts coming in the next couple months.

  • The First Steps in Improving Small Business Operations
  • Fighting Fires – a How-To Guide
  • More Business and Lean Quotes
  • Bringing Lean into Your Organization

What else would you like to see as topics for articles? I’ve had some great conversations with readers this past year, and I’d love to hear from you too. What topics are you interested in – and what challenges are you up against? Shoot me an email, or post in a comment below.

As always, thanks for reading, and have a great holiday season and a happy new year! Grab your cowboy hat and join me in riding your forklift into the sunset of 2014.

“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.

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.

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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