Writer’s Workshop: Adventures in Inventory

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Write a post inspired by the word: supply.

For most of my career, I consulted and trained on Materials Management software, primarily inventory control systems. It kind of went along with my major in college, which was Production and Operations Management, of which a big part is inventory management. The whole purpose of inventory management is to make sure you neither run out of stock on an item while at the same time not having a lot of the company’s money tied up in inventory, particularly items that might become obsolete or for which demand is low.

Most of the inventory managers that I worked with were warehouse men and purchasing agents who had been doing the job for a long time, usually 10 to 20 years, who had become deathly afraid of stockout situations. They knew that a stockout would stop a production line or prevent the company from selling a particularly hot item, so they would go overboard to ensure that it never, ever happened. When I would try to explain how the reordering process worked, they would immediately object, saying, “oh, well, that ain’t gonna work. See, we gotta have (a specific item) on hand all the time, or we got trouble.” They had a point, but my mission was to help the company reduce their inventory. I was lucky when the big boss would walk in during one of these sessions and say, “look, you’re just here to learn how it works. Later, we’re going to sit down with you and talk about how we’re going to use this, and we need your input on this. Okay?” That was usually sufficient to end the discussion so I could move on until the next sticking point, which would generate another long discussion where I would tell them how something would work and they would tell me why it wouldn’t work for them.

Really, the guys had nothing to worry about: most companies used a replenishment method called min-max, which is like two lines on the wall: when you see the lower line (the min), order enough to get back to the upper line (the max). The mins and maxes had been determined long before, and would work exactly the same with our inventory system as with any other. (As a side note, we once adopted two kittens who we named Minnie and Max. Guess why.)

My favorite training story: I was sent onsite to a Catholic hospital to do a training session. About half the class were Sisters of the order that operated the hospital. To a kid who had spent eight years being taught by Sisters, it was like my chance for revenge. They thought it was as funny as I did.

9 thoughts on “Writer’s Workshop: Adventures in Inventory

    1. The real problem was that the new software represented a change, and many times the decision was made by their bosses without consulting them, so naturally they were threatened, as though the software was going to take their jobs. So they’d take it out on me. Fortunately I could dish it out as well as I could take it…

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  1. The print-on-demand printing company I create designs for often lets items run out of stock and will have a notice on the item as being out of stock. And it’s weird popular things like envelope seals or envelopes in general or ribbon. So often wonder what’s going on with their inventory system. (I was sick this past week, so I didn’t do any blog posting.)

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  2. Very interesting! I do a lot of ordering at my job, and it irks me to no end for my bosses to tell me to keep at least two items on hand that I’ll need, the extras of which always end up going out of date before they can be used. And also, telling me to keep ordering items that aren’t being sent, resulting in quadruple orders (or more), and those are items which will also go out of date before they can be used, AND we do t have room for that much inventory. But, I’m not the boss, so I keep doing what they say.

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    1. Sounds like they’re from the “I’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it” school of inventory management. Especially with an item with an expiration date. How do they figure that, if they backordered once, another order won’t be backordered? You really have to wonder…

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