Recently, a customer sent in a PO for 300 pcs. of a brand-new rotomolded part – great news!
Upon further examination, though, a major problem was discovered: the specified “MUST” ship date was 3 days from receipt of the PO. This would prove difficult to accommodate for a number of reasons, most significantly that it failed to account for that nagging detail we in the business call “building a mold.”
This particular incident was quickly cleared up and was good for a laugh around the office, but it struck me as yet another incidence of a growing trend that has been the source of some very serious headaches.
For many buyers (I like to call them the ASAPeople), desperate shipping instructions like “ASAP”, “immediately,” or “now PLEASE NOW” are employed so frequently that they may as well be boilerplate language. Practical matters like adherence to quoted lead times or the realities of capacity constraints are of no concern or relevance.
Often, a dramatic picture is painted. Until the arrival of your rotomolded tanks, they say, production here will be utterly crippled. Employees will sit idle, machines will go offline, our customers will likely riot in the streets. The wheels of American commerce will slowly grind to a halt. Only you, brave rotomolder, can save us all! So, really, what’s the best you can do for me?
Faced with such theatrics, we tell them that we’ll do the very best we can. Then we disrupt schedules, scrap long-standing plans, run machines around the clock, and authorize overtime if necessary – whatever it takes. Against all odds, the deadline is met! High fives and good vibes all around. Then…
Scenario A: The customer sends a glowing letter of appreciation that is quickly framed and hung in the conference room. Our relationship with the customer is forever strengthened – they know that we can deliver when they really need it!
Scenario B: We watch as the finished skids collect dust on the dock for 3-4 days as shipping arrangements are worked out – or something. Grumbling ensues. What happened to the idle employees, the rioting customers? Can the wheels of American commerce really afford to stay halted until the very best freight rate is obtained?
Sadly, one of these scenarios is much more common than the other (hint: space remains available on our conference room wall).
I feel I should stop here to note that Formed Plastics values all its customers immensely, and we are always happy to do whatever we can to meet the challenges of their uniquely difficult business climate. But on the other hand: can we try to restore some freaking sanity here?
Words matter… until they don’t. “ASAP” matters, until it’s overused to the point that trust is permanently damaged. As the ASAPeople continue their assault, it’s critical that the gatekeepers (those who deal directly with the customers) are able to effectively discern the truly legitimate ASAP requests from the non-urgent ones. After all, how many times can you fire up the troops for an all-out effort on a job where the effort turned out to be completely unneeded? If ASAP-bullets aren’t fired strategically, a production manager’s credibility and his workers’ morale will crumble in tandem.
Personally, I try to evaluate each incoming ASAP request as diligently as possible before communicating it to production and setting off the inevitable frenzied dash on the shop floor. This evaluation typically takes the form of simply asking the customer to confirm that the desperation expressed on the PO is reflective of reality. After all, it’s extraordinarily easy for a buyer to type “ASAP” onto a PO when all he knows for certain is that the parts are needed sometime in the near future.
It’s much more difficult to check inventories against existing and expected orders or to perform the other kinds of tedious chores that would allow a buyer to specify more reality-based requirements. So if nobody is asking, then why bother? ASAP it is!
I’ve found that a quick phone call to the ASAPerson can very often accomplish more than exchanging dozens of emails. It goes without saying, this is one of many instances where having established a strong pre-crisis relationship will pay huge dividends.
In the end, it’s unlikely that the ASAPeople will be changing their ways. All we can do is work to manage and understand them better so that their often unnecessary pleas for NOW! are safely contained within an email, the telephone, or the fax machine. By establishing strong relationships with our customers, we can ask the kind of questions and get the kind of answers that will spare the shop floor from the immense stress that goes with chasing an unending string of down-to-the-wire deadlines.
David Long is the Executive Vice President of Formed Plastics, Inc. and a member of the ARM Future Leaders.
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