Janet Poeschl, CPIM, CIRM, CSCP | September/October 2013 | 23 | 5
The value of recognizing the internal customer
One of the largest teams within the Pacific Foods supply chain organization is a group of material handlers. Their role is to weigh out ingredients for production batches. It is essentially the same technique as the mise en place used in professional kitchens. Meaning “to put in place,” the term refers to the organizing and arranging of ingredients that a chef will need while preparing menu items during a shift.
Our material handlers review batch sheets, or recipes, to check for necessary ingredients. They measure the ingredients and place them in individual bags or totes. Making one of our most complex soups requires weighing out thousands of pounds of lentils, tomatoes, and onions—and then hundreds of pounds of garlic powder, chili powder, and other spices. It’s not too different from following a recipe at home, just on a much grander scale. Finally, the material handlers label each ingredient with the correct lot-tracking information and configure the ingredients correctly on pallets for the manufacturing team.
As I discussed in my last “Executive View” department, various measures are in place here at Pacific Foods in order to keep team members focused on doing their jobs well. We track inventory accuracy and cycle count performance. We have rudimentary measures for staging accuracy and timeliness. In the past year, however, it became apparent that team members did not fully appreciate the purpose of these measures. There was, of course, a basic understanding by employees that we do not want them to make mistakes. But the true intent behind many of the objectives was elusive to our material handlers. Even more troublesome was the fact that the material handlers did not know what the manufacturing team did with the batches once staging was complete.
Supply chain leadership saw that, if we want employees to see the measures as something other than possibly punitive, we need to connect the material handlers with manufacturing. The material handlers need to think of the manufacturing group as their customers.
Finding your spot
Like many companies, human resources manages new hire orientation at Pacific Foods. The agenda encompasses benefits, enrollments, and basic safety and quality training. After six hours, employees go to their respective departments for on-the-job training. Our manufacturing training department has been studying different methodologies within the industry and is slowly rolling out ideas to new hires, but we still are falling short in explaining where an employee’s role fits within the organization and why it is important.
Recognizing this gap, our supply chain department recently launched a day-long process for supply-chain-specific on-boarding. Taking place after six-to-eight weeks of on-the-job training, the agenda focuses on where supply chain fits within the broader organization. The bulk of the day is spent reviewing suppliers, inputs, processes, outputs, and customers (SIPOC) for supply chain activities from forecasting through distribution of finished goods. A SIPOC diagram is a tool that summarizes the inputs and outputs of processes in table form. (See Table 1.) For each step in the macro value stream, we explain the inputs and suppliers and the outputs and customers—both internal and external. We focus specific attention and discussion on individual roles. We attempt to illustrate the why behind the activities, not just the how.
For a material handler responsible for staging, we explain that purchasing and scheduling are internal suppliers and that manufacturing is the internal customer of their process output—the staged batches. We discuss the internal customer expectation of having batches staged accurately and on time. Next up is a plant tour, during which material handlers can see staged batches in use by their internal customer, manufacturing. The final part of the agenda reviews the company-wide operating system and the numerous performance measures. At this point, we circle back on inventory accuracy, cycle counts, staging accuracy, and staging timeliness.
Most employees want to provide high levels of customer service; however, they may not understand the concept of an internal customer. Because this process is still relatively new, we do not have enough data to tell us if making that connection is driving results. But the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. I expect employees will benefit from interacting with various departments in the same session, and I think we will see very positive results from expanding our supply chain initiative to broader, cross-functional training.
Janet Poeschl, CPIM, CIRM, CSCP, is vice president of supply chain at Pacific Foods. Prior to that, she worked in various supply chain and operations management roles at AlliedSignal, Honeywell, and Precision Castparts. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.