The People First Proposal

I would like to propose organisations put people first when it comes to their priorities. 

Organisations may say they already do but based on my observations, they aren’t. 

Two (2) banks asked me one day to update my business’s account information.  They gave me a pile of forms for my business accounts’ signatories to fill up.  On top of that they required board resolutions and corporate secretary certificates that formally authorise the signatories as representatives of the business. 

I told the two banks that I submitted forms with the same information when we first opened the accounts few years before.  I also said there were no changes in the board resolutions and corporate secretary certificates from ones we gave already.  I complained that filling up the numerous forms and having them signed by the account-holders would be a time-consuming inconvenience.

The staff from each of the two banks shrugged off my arguments and said it was bank policy; my complaints meant nothing.

Both banks had mission statements that placed high importance on their customers.  But after going through the tedious experience of filling up forms with information that didn’t need updating, it seems that the banks don’t really practice what they preach.  People aren’t first; policy is. 

It’s not only banks.  Government agencies and private enterprises seem to have relegated people to a lower category of importance. 

We don’t have to look far for examples. 

Employees of businesses complain they have to fall in line and wait for hours when they need to transact with government agencies.  Sometimes the agencies would turn away people who had already been waiting for half a day, citing excuses such as computer glitches or CoVID-19 limits. 

Staff of these agencies would tell complaining people that it’s government rules.  Rules, in other words, are more important than people who had invested time to wait only to be turned away. 

When I complained to an internet service provider (ISP) that my internet reception was spotty, the ISP sent a technician to check.  After inspecting my modem, the technician told me that the cause of the problem was a cable box outside of my residence but that another contractor would have to fix it as he wasn’t authorised to do so. 

When I followed up with the ISP, the agent replied that my “account and job order were escalated and already included/linked to plant isolation which [the agent] can’t commit any ETR (estimated time of restoration).”  Whatever that means. 

The agent continued saying he “will now close this conversation since your current concern has been noted, explained, and escalated to the pertinent group.”

I received no more news and the internet never got better.  Apparently, the ISP put their procedures first before people.  I plan to change to another ISP once the contract with the current one expires. 

I propose organisations put People First in their policies & procedures, and show it.     

Banks shouldn’t burden customers with unnecessary forms and requirements that in the first place don’t need to be filled up and submitted. 

Government agencies shouldn’t make people wait for hours only to turn them away. 

ISPs should fix problems and feed back to customers, not leave them hanging. 

It doesn’t need much in terms of resources or staff training to put People First.  Much can be done by making it part of common-sense management. 

First of all, it doesn’t take much for staff to be polite and to listen to their customers.  Listening does take effort but it isn’t rocket science.  One just has to take time to hear what the person is saying. 

Second, organisations should study the impact of their policies & procedures.  What are they putting first? 

Bank staff would cite periodic audits as the reason for clients having to fill up forms.  The staff fear audits because any detected deviation would be a bad mark on their performance.  The fear of negative audit reports has made it a priority for bank staff to follow policies & procedures and ignore the complaints of clients.  People don’t matter to bank staff because their attention is in their preserving their so-called good performance via compliance. 

Executives can re-orient their policies & procedures and put People First.  It starts with executives re-writing policies & procedures that consider clients’ needs and how performances of employees are measured and managed. 

Why not, for instance, banks consider waiving the updating a client’s account information if the client can simply sign a statement that there is no change? 

Why not include auditing the feedback of clients on how they feel about the bank on top of looking for errors or oversights in the execution of procedures?  Why not praise staff for very good positive feedback rather than punishment for performance no one can perfectly do? 

Why not ISPs set up a system to check the completion of jobs for clients?  And have a small team be accountable for the completion?  But consider every completion that receives positive client feedback as a basis of praise for the team? 

Why not government agency heads just have a front-liner who’d monitor the queues of people waiting to be served?  And communicate at the earliest about how long the wait would be rather than turning people away at the last minute?  The same front-liner can also feedback to agency heads how many people wait every day and find ways to reduce the queues.  And why not agency heads praise staff who succeed in reducing the queues? 

Such sample steps would go a long way in shifting attention for the sake of people than for the sake of procedures and rules. 

Putting People First is not just a slogan meant to be seen in a mission statement poster.  It is a principle meant to be ingrained in all who work in an organisation. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Why Redundant Systems are Out-of-the-Question Necessary

I live in Mandaluyong City, Manila, Philippines and on June 2, 2021, there were three (3) announcements:

  1. The Luzon electrical grid was on “red alert,” meaning power failures of up to two (2) hours were imminent due to shortfalls in supply from power plants;
  2. The water utility company, Manila Water, warned that there would be no water supply later in the evening, as the company was planning to fix a water main which could take up to ten (10) hours;
  3. The government’s weather bureau forecasted that a tropical storm was bearing down on Manila, which could bring heavy rains and strong winds.

None of the above happened. 

There was no power interruption.  Water slowed to only a trickle for up to at most a half hour in the middle of the night.  And the storm brought light rain but no strong winds. 

Though it was good news that none of the above happened, the three (3) announcements were disturbing for the following reasons:

  1. They all came as surprises.  The government was assuring ample electrical supply from April to June 2021.  Manila Water had just fixed the water main a few weeks before so we residents didn’t expect there’d be another job that would entail one more whole night of no water.  The weather bureau was predicting the tropical storm wouldn’t reach Luzon but we suddenly saw the new forecast on social media before the storm would hit;
  2. There was no sense of urgencyPoliticians bickered about the power shortages.  Agencies weren’t advising people about the risks in regard to the storm.  And no one was asking communities to prepare for the scheduled water interruption.
  3. These announcements wouldn’t have been necessary if the systems behind each of them were reliable in the first place

All of us rely on electricity and water for our basic needs.  It’s therefore a given that supply should be reliable, as in 100% reliable.  We don’t and shouldn’t accept anything marginally lower. 

If someone tells us we should be happy with 99% reliability in electricity and water, we would ask that person if he’d be happy having no water or power one day out of every 100 days.  We wouldn’t and no one else would. 

Hence, we expect the people who supply us the power and water to be utterly and perfectly dependable.  It’s what we pay for via the bills the utility companies send us and expect us to pay by deadlines with the threat of disconnection if we don’t. 

Electricity and water, like products, easily follow the supply chain model.  Power plants procure raw materials (e.g., coal, oil, gas, wind, solar, geothermal steam) and convert them to electricity which they deliver via transmission lines and distribution grids.  Water companies likewise procure raw water from reservoirs, treat it, and distribute it via their plumbing networks to household and commercial consumers. 

The procurement, transformation, and logistics that comprise every supply chain are present as well in electricity and water utilities.

What makes the power and water supply chains unique is that the products of both are instantly available.  We get power at the flick of a switch and water at the turn of a valve. 

We consumers expect three (3) things from utility companies that supply electricity and water: 

  1. Reliability all the time.  When we consumers need it, the supply should be there. 
  2. Reliability to all.  Supply should be available all the time to all in a utility company’s coverage area.  It is not acceptable if one community has water and power while another has none. 
  3. Reliability in quality.  Utility companies must supply electricity and water at the quality needed.  If our appliances need 220 Volts, it should be 220 Volts, not 250 or 190.  Water should be clean, not dirty. 

Some executives and politicians mistake capacity for reliability.  Some believe if there are more power plants, the more reliable power supply will be.  Likewise, for water, some believe the greater the reservoir capacities, the more reliable water supply would be. 

Capacity is about the capability of assets, such as machines that can produce more and such as storage facilities that can keep more.  But having the ability to make or store more doesn’t make a system more reliable. 

Manila relies on one large reservoir to supply the bulk of its water.  Some people urge that another should be built so that there would be more water available for a growing population.  It’s an issue of capacity, these people say. 

Manila, however, relies on treatment plants to clean and filter the water.  It also relies on a network of pipes to bring the water to consumers. 

What would happen if Manila had lots more water than needed via two (2) reservoirs but had only one treatment plant and one main pipe supplying several of its cities?  The system may have more than enough capacity but wouldn’t exactly be reliable especially if the treatment plant shuts down or a pipe springs a leak.

This is what exactly was the issue for that announcement of no water on June 2, 2021.  A main water pipe needed repair and it was the only one that supplied to a large swath of the city.  One pipe determined the reliable supply of water to hundreds of thousands of people. 

Similarly, it would be nice to have more power plants to have more generating capacity. But if there’s only a single transmission line from each power plant and single substations to process that power before reaching respective consumers, then the power supply may not be as reliable.

Luzon had a shortfall of power supply on June 2, 2021 not because there weren’t enough power plants.  It was because Luzon’s power plants weren’t being managed reliably.  A power plant for instance didn’t have a backup for its boiler facilities that ran its turbine.  Other power plants were down simultaneously for preventive maintenance, which reflected poor scheduling. 

Redundancy is key to dependable reliability in utility companies.  Redundancy is the operation of multiple identical assets for the same process.  Instead of one asset, there’d be two or more even if just one is enough to do on its own.  That means either there’d be at least one idle asset backing up other assets in an operation or several assets running at the same time but at lower capacities as they share serving the total demand. 

For electricity supply, that would mean multiple facilities, not only in the form of multiple power plants but also in multiple transmission grids and substations running parallel to each other. 

For water, that would mean not only multiple reservoirs but also multiple treatment plants and plumbing networks either running parallel or taking turns to be on standby. 

If a transmission line has a fault, the power company can switch to another grid to deliver the electricity.  If a pipe bursts, the water company can switch to an alternate pipeline. 

Some executives, however, see redundancy as a bad thing.  Since it requires extra investment and added operating costs, they would rather not have redundant systems and instead insist that their management teams simply make sure that the systems are always running all the time and perfectly.

Unfortunately, no system is perfect.  Eventually, there will be failure.  It is just not humanly possible to prevent a power line from snapping due to wear and tear or a water treatment plant from shutting down due to an unexpected clog in its filter systems.                                                                                  

Redundancy therefore not only becomes justifiable but also necessary especially when the consumers the utility companies serve, which is practically everyone, demand 100% reliable electricity and water.

Redundancy applies to other supply chains in other industries as well where customers are very sensitive to failure in the delivery of goods and services. 

Enterprises that sell finished products rely on multiple vendors for the same raw materials to avoid run-outs.  They also set contracts with multiple transport providers to ensure there’d be available trucks to deliver the goods. 

Again, some executives mistake capacity for reliability.  They ration procurements from vendors based on percentage of their manufacturing capacities and they ask only so much trucks per transport provider to total only what’s needed to ship in a day.  When a vendor fails to deliver or a trucker doesn’t show up, the enterprise ends up not making what’s needed or delivering to schedule. 

Redundancy means having assets that provide multiples of needed capacity, not just the capacity itself.  It means having multiple sources, multiple facilities, and multiple systems such that when one fails, another picks up the slack. 

And as much as it applies to electricity and water, it is very much applicable to other industries that have very demanding customers.

And it also applies to weather forecasting too.  Weather forecasters rely on multiple monitoring stations and multiple providers for satellite and analytical data.  The data and analyses are redundant but it allows weather forecasters to compare information and come up with more accurate and reliable forecasts.  Which makes it puzzling as to why the forecast was so much wrong before June 2, 2021. 

For critical services like electricity and water, we demand perfect reliability.  Redundancy in systems help assure that reliability.  We expect nothing less from those who provide what we feel we deserve. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Twelve (12) Things Supply Chain Engineers Do for Enterprises

Supply Chain Engineers (SCE’s) are much like any other engineer.  Just as engineers design, build, and install structures and systems, SCE’s do the same specifically for supply chains. 

Supply chain engineers shape the networks, processes, and systems that underlie product and service streams.  Their projects are either big and small.  Project scopes can range from setting up a whole new distribution network to the simple improvement of inspecting inbound materials at a receiving dock. 

Most supply chain managers try to solve their operations’ problems by themselves.  If a customer order was undelivered because there was no room on a delivery truck, the manager would find another truck to load and ship the ordered items.  But if the manager observed that pending orders were accumulating and it’s because demand is outstripping trucking capacity, he’d ask truckers to just get more trucks.  He wouldn’t realize that an SCE can determine the best transport asset mix and routing system instead of having more trucks a freight provider will eventually charge to the enterprise.  Without SCE’s, supply chain managers often patch problems with band-aid solutions. 

SCE’s offer an engineering expertise that go beyond the scope of supply chain management.  They synchronise the interconnecting links of supply chains by designing, building, and implementing systems, facilities, devices and processes that would sustain the productive flow of goods, services, and data.  To put it another way, SCE’s bring about supply chains that run reliably at lowest cost and at best quality and service for enterprises and customers. 

SCE’s do a number of tasks that help enterprises with their supply chains.  The following are twelve (12) examples:

  1. Map Supply Chains. SCE’s can lay out the flows of supply chains and make visible the nitty-gritties of an enterprise’s operations, including the processes involving vendors and customers.  Supply chain maps are instrumental in identifying weak points along product and service streams;
  2. Set Up Monitoring Systems. SCE’s can set up systems that would show what’s going on in supply chains as well as alert managers of impending disruptions.  SCE’s can create dashboards that would show key data about supply chain operations, such as status of imports, inventories, pending orders, losses, and scheduled deliveries;
  3. Customise Order-to-Delivery. SCE’s can tailor order fulfilment systems for companies depending on their industries and customer service strategies;
  4. Propose Supply Chain Models for New Products.  SCE’s can design supply chain models for new or relaunched products and services;
  5. Balance Operations to Synchronise Flow. SCE’s can devise systems that synchronise the flow of merchandise from vendors to enterprise to customers.  It is an SCE’s aim to streamline flow to minimize waste in waiting times and work-in-process inventories;
  6. Implement Statistically Based Process Control Systems. SCE’s can implement systems that minimize variability, what some would call statistical control.   At the same time, SCE’s can tweak operational capabilities to churn products and services consistently for quality assurance;
  7. Study Feasibility of Projects. SCE’s can study the feasibility of capital expenditure projects via their expertise in engineering economics and evaluate options to determine which would provide the best rates of returns;
  8. Introduce Ideas to Spread Inventories.   SCE’s can develop inventory planning methods that would spread product stocks along various points of the supply chain which would lead to better customer service and minimal working capital;
  9. Design Operations That Adapt to Supply & Demand Variability. SCE’s can plan and lay out work-place operations that would be flexible to fluctuating merchandise volumes;
  10. Determine Supply Chain Capacities and Baseline Efficiencies.  SCE’s have the technical prowess to compute supply chain operational capacities and efficiencies, whether they be machine, labour, or logistics-related. 
  11. Find the Best Method to Maintain Fixed Assets. SCE’s can evaluate what would be the best maintenance program for the supply chain’s equipment, facilities, and logistical infrastructure.   
  12. Develop Frameworks to Support Collaboration.  SCE’s can help enterprises set up support structures to collaborate better with vendors and customers.  These range from simple communication protocols such as mobile messaging of purchase order status to shared networks and methods for vendor-managed inventories and customer inventory replenishment;

These tasks may sound familiar to industrial engineers.  That’s because they are from industrial engineering.  Supply Chain Engineering is an offshoot of Industrial Engineering in that both share the same purpose:  finding ways to continuously improve productivity.    

Whereas IE’s traditionally work within the confines of an enterprise, SCE’s look at the entirety of supply chains. SCE’s judge their work in the context of supply chains. SCE’s seek beneficial value for all stakeholders along the supply chain from vendors to customers, from in-house departments to 3rd party providers. SCE’s strengthen the interdependencies that exist in supply chains.

Supply Chain Engineers build supply chains.  They do what engineers do but more so for supply chains.  SCE’s have the abilities to do a number of things that would benefit enterprises. 

SCE’s are a new breed of industrial engineers and they have a lot to offer.  It is hoped enterprises will welcome their opportunity to contribute.    

About Overtimers Anonymous