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Lessons Learned: Expediting Is Easy, Accountability Is Difficult

By Randall Schaefer, CPIM | N/A 2010 | 5 | 11

Expediting is necessary when schedule changes cannot be accommodated by enterprise resources planning, safety stock, or other tools used to organize production. The rest of the time, it is nothing more than a crutch being leaned on by weak managers. These people believe expediting is inevitable and thus conclude that procedures and disciplines that bring order to factories are a waste of resources because, eventually, production management always comes down to expediting.

In the 1960s, I worked for a company in which the plant superintendent embraced this "expedite" attitude. He believed inventory accuracy was not worth the effort. Stockroom location accuracy was a pipedream. Scrap was minimal, so what was the harm if we never reported it? When the chips were down, he thought he could fabricate, assemble, and ship orders through long hours and sheer willpower. Whether he succeeded or failed, the attempt consumed resources that kept other orders from shipping as scheduled, and the scramble to recover necessitated more expediting. He cared nothing for the chaos he caused because he believed real manufacturing people got onto the factory floor and pushed the right things through production. Production reporting, schedules, and discipline of any kind were unnecessary in his view. This plant superintendent would promise customers anything they wanted and scream at the operations folks to perform. Our top managers understood what was happening, but they did nothing.

It's important to understand that there are two types of expediting. Type one is caused by customers and suppliers who require a business to overcome their own mistakes. In this case, long-term company viability relies on accommodating customer-generated expediting. But allowing the occasional expedite request is different from always promising whatever the customer wants and embracing a planning process that consists of having fits down on the factory floor. Supplier-generated expediting also must be tolerated in order to achieve short-term schedule attainment. But continually excusing late deliveries from a low-priced supplier eventually will prove more expensive than paying a bit more to a supplier that can be depended on for timeliness.

The second type of expediting is caused internally, and there must be little patience for it. When an urgent production run is necessary because the stockroom did not have the quantity indicated on the inventory record, someone made an error. In spite of the attitudes of too many production managers, errors do not magically sprout on records in such numbers that all attempts to control them are futile. Each error is caused by a specific person making a specific mistake at a specific time.

Production managers must determine whether the cause of an expedite action is external or internal and track and attack the likely causes. Some dragons can be slain only by old-fashioned expediting, and that is OK-when circumstances dictate. But when that's not the case, expediting must be reduced or eliminated, just as any other type of waste. Any company experiencing more than a just a bit of internally generated expediting should know the primary causes and have a plan to eliminate them.

Randall Schaefer, CPIM, is an industrial philosopher and independent consultant. He is the editor of the "Lessons Learned" department in APICS magazine. Contact him at randallschaefer@att.net  

Do you have an anecdote that teaches, enlightens, or amuses? Consider sharing it with the readers of APICS magazine. Stories should be approximately 700 words. Email submissions to "Lessons Learned" editor Randall Schaefer at randallschaefer@att.net.

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