“The planning, implementation and coordination of the details of a business or other operation.” (Dictionary.com).
“The detailed coordination of a complex operation involving many people, facilities, or supplies,” (New Oxford American Dictionary, Wikipedia)
“The branch of military science relating to procuring, maintaining and transporting material, personnel and facilities”. (Oxford English Dictionary, Wikipedia)
If you haven’t guessed it yet, I am talking about logistics. The individual blueprint used by businesses worldwide to get from Point A to Point B. How do they get a carton of milk out of the cow and into your refrigerator? How do they get a 650kg Tuna to your cupboard in 6oz tins for $4 a shot? How do they get their stuff into your house? They use logistics, that’s how. They plan and implement.
It used to be that the farmer would milk his cows, load his cart and travel down the road to his neighbours, trading his milk for things he needed. This is an example of the simple beginnings of the use of logistics in milk supply; product production, distribution and consumption. Then the milk world got bigger and discovered the need for milk ‘pasteurization’ and the milk business was born. The farmer now sold his milk to the ‘milk plant’, where the milk people (aka the dairy) would pasteurize it and package it in smaller containers, put it on a cart and deliver it to the farmer’s neighbours for a modest increase in price.
Once again the milk world got bigger. The development of the ‘ice box’ made the ability to store milk in your home easier and the demand for it increased. The ‘milk plant’ people couldn’t keep up, they started to build bigger plants and stretch their business boundaries delivering the milk to more homes. It wasn’t long before they couldn’t get enough milk from the farmer to keep up with demand.
“What’s the problem?” they asked the farmer.
“The problem is I’m so busy milkin’ the bloody cows I got no time to load my wagon and bring it to you! You want it… come get it!!”
So now a truck would show up every day at the farmer’s home and pick up all the milk he had and bring it to the ‘milk plant’. The milk people would do their thing and deliver it to the customer’s door. But once again, the milk world got bigger, mechanization of plants and vehicles made it easier to increase supply and the milk people saw an opportunity to expand their business web and their profits and they took it. They looked at the logistics of their business and they planned and implemented a new way to get the milk to us, the consumer.
First they weaned us off of having milk be delivered to our doors (not a money maker) and made it available only at the market. They developed a network of suppliers (sub-contractors) that built massive refrigerated warehouses and they would distribute the products they made (don’t forget the butter) to them. These distributors would then break down these large shipments and send out a variety of milk products in their own trucks to the stores with a continual supply. The logistics of the supply chain changed but still managed to get longer. From its simple beginnings of a farmer with a cart, the milk supply system had become a massive web of shipping and receiving and all of it involves logistics.
Like the milk suppliers I too am mired in a web of logistics. I am the guy that goes and stocks the stores with a variety of products my company makes. Every few days I go to one of those large warehouses where product for each of my customers is loaded on to my truck. I back my truck into a loading dock and the loader monkeys fill it with the orders that the picker monkeys have readied for me. The system is designed to be seamless and should take no more than an hour to complete and I can be on my way. My average wait time is between 2-3 hours.
The other day I was told my truck was loaded and ready to go. I looked at the time, one hour, I was impressed until I went to the truck to be sure my load was secured properly only to find that half of it was still sitting on the loading dock. “What’s all this?” I asked the monkey who had told me the job was done and I could leave.
“Oh, that’s your mixed cases. I only load full cases.” He said this with the utmost of sincerity as if this was perfectly normal.
“What about all this? Who loads it?” I asked
“Oh, the mixed-case picker guy does that.”
“So why tell me that I’m ‘good to go’?”
“I thought you were.” He said to me again with genuine belief in his voice. “I don’t do the mixed cases. I don’t know anything about them.”
I leave the dock and go find the manager in charge of the picking and loading monkeys. I explain the situation and ask why one person didn’t load my truck completely. “It’s the system we use,” he replied pulling out a flow chart from his desk entitled ‘warehouse logistics’. “Every different area has people who do very specific things. Mixed cases, full cases, large package, small package and those odd items that don’t get ordered frequently are all picked and loaded by different people. Each person counts the cases they picked as they load it and verify the number in their hand-held computers. It’s a well oiled machine.”
“So why didn’t my mixed-cases get loaded?”
“The mixed-case guy went home sick.” He told me.
“So who does it?” I ask.
“One of the other guys when they’re finished their own work.” He pulls out another logistical chart and looks it over. “When the full case guy finishes picking, I can download the mixed case information to his computer and he can finish loading your truck,” he tells me.
“Why not download it now, get him to load me so I can leave and then he can go back to picking?”
“The system is not designed that way. The computer won’t let one area overlap another.”
“How long will that be?” I ask.
“Three hours if he works fast,” he replies.
Three hours! The job will take ten minutes!! I still have a 90 minute drive home!!! I return to the dock and in five minutes I have my truck loaded, doors closed and with paperwork in hand I leave for home. A half hour down the road I receive a message telling me that there are 7 cases of small package mixed cases that I have not loaded. I stop my truck on the side of the Trans-Canada highway and call the manager.
“I loaded everything that was on the dock,” I tell him.
“It wasn’t on the dock,” he tells me.
“Why not?” I ask. “My paperwork was completed which means that the product was already picked. Where were the 7 cases?”
“In the small package mixed-case picking area,” he says.
“Why?” I ask
“Because the guy that moves the product to the dock is on lunch.” He replies.
“Why didn’t the small package monkey put it on the dock himself? It’s a hundred feet away from where he’s standing!”
“It’s not his job.”
I am reminded of sitting in a restaurant trying to get a glass of water from a passing server holding a pitcher of it and being told, “Sorry it’s not my table.” I sell, transport, deliver and merchandise to the store shelf my company’s products. Just me!! Four different tasks!! It takes six monkeys to almost get those products onto my truck!!! What’s wrong with this logistical picture??? I return to the warehouse, get the missing product and head home and get there 10 minutes before the full case picking monkey finishes his regular job… if he worked fast!
The word logistic is a misnomer. It implies something that to those of us that must work within its confines realize is not true; Logistics may sound the same as but has nothing to do with logic.