It's A "One"
©2020, George J. Irwin. All rights reserved.

Back in the Previous Century, I worked in the Wonderful World of Logistics.

I'm sure you're thinking, wow, that must be really glamorous, making sure that valuable things get to where they're needed on time, or that life-saving equipment and supplies are sent to critical locations.

Not exactly.

Instead, I was part of an organization that made sure that repairers of equipment had the parts and supplies they needed to repair that equipment. Without getting into sleep-inducing detail, I'll note that some of this equipment was literally in the backs of cars and trucks for fastest availability, some was locally available and some was kept in regional or national warehouses. In general, the more often it was used, the closer to the repairer it was kept.


When that didn't happen, it was part of my job to understand why and how to fix that. We had computer systems, processes and protocols to help establish the "desired state" but we never quite got there. Among the most important protocols was the classification of items by the relative quantity used in servicing this equipment. A "one" was used most frequently, a "two" next most frequently, and so on. Although it varied from company to company, that was a general way of looking at volumes. For us, higher numbers were in the dust-gathering category, but that's another story.

Some usage volumes would vary over time. The most spectacular example of this, before someone figured it out, was a rush on Double A batteries which occurred like clockwork each November and December. This was "seasonality" at its best… in the sense that repairers were stockpiling them for their own use at Christmastime. Once The Powers That Be determined the real purpose for those Duracells and Evereadys, the supply was cut off no later than Halloween and didn't return to stock until President's Day. It took another season to also automatically cancel "emergency orders" for them, however. It didn't take a Masters Degree to figure out that we were spending about twenty times the value of a package of Double A's to overnight air ship them cross-country. I believe the exact phrase used by Management was for them to get their own batteries. Well, no, there were a few choice words in between "own" and "batteries."

Anyway, at one point in this storied part of my career we were trying to figure out the root causes of a significant shortage of loopholes for the doubletalk generator. This particular machine was small and relatively insignificant compared to some of our other products but there were lots of them all over the place. And they were also installed in a non-trivial number of Top Executive Offices around the country. This resulted in a non-trivial number of phone calls from company CEOs to our CEO demanding to know why in blazes their doubletalk generator couldn't be fixed straight away. And you can imagine that by "non-trivial number" I mean anything greater than zero phone calls of this type.

So, to keep any more of these phone calls from annoying the CEO, a task force including me was directed to solve the loophole shortage forthwith or sooner. We were given a week and any resources we needed to address the problem. Well, any resources within reason, which included so many managers pointing the finger at another part of the supply chain that we needed Dramamine as relief from the resulting dizziness. Three days into the week we had not made any progess. Twice daily statuses, at "sunrise" and "sunset" meetings, did not help matters. I was ready to say that we could either provide updates or get work done, but not both. One of our teammates who was already within retirement range actually did say that the Integrated Supply Chain is an Oxymoron—a phrase that we snuck into numerous slides for years thereafter, in one point type.

On day four, we decided that the best approach was simply the brute force one: have management contact the Acme Loophole Company and place a rush order for loopholes, then distribute them as expediently as possible to sites all over the country, so that they could be picked up by repairers everywhere. Whoa, said Finance, on day four and a half, we're going to need a cost-benefit analysis for that. No one among us needs even the back of an envelope indicated that the cost of the actual loopholes would be minimal compared to the transportation cost, which would of course sink that idea. They did not appreciate that the Aggravation Cost of another phone call to the CEO outweighed all of the cost of the Loophole Drop, namely because they operated under a strict concept of "green dollars." I'll spare you the details.

One of my colleagues stated frustratedly, "Don't they understand that this is a 'one'?" Very true; there were something like two dozen loopholes in each doubletalk generator. Multiply that by the number of those machines in service, and, yeah, that's a lot of loopholes.

"Not unless there's a dollar sign in front of it."

"You know, if it was something they actually used, instead of loopholes that they don't because they don't have a doubletalk generator, they might get this."

I sensed my colleague was on to something. "Yeah, like milk or bread."

"Or," my colleague suggested, "toilet paper."

"NOW THAT'S A ONE!" we both exclaimed. No one would dare let a supply of that go to zero in stock.

The rest of the team joined in with other Very Necessary Household Items, but we simply couldn't top toilet paper as the best possible example to make those who were trying to make this Customer Satisfaction issue into a strictly Dollars and Cents exercise.

So guess what each of us showed up with on the Day Five "sunrise" meeting. Half of us grabbed an example of whatever we had in our own personal supply, while others got fancy and bought new stock from the local supermarket.

And the Finance Representative was soon staring at ten rolls of brand new toilet paper.

The task force member who was already famous for the Oxymoron statement, and again had the least to lose career-wise, spoke for the task force.

"So, how would you feel if you ran out of this at the worst possible moment?" No further word pictures of what that worst possible moment were offered.

"And you went to your closet, and there wasn't any? So you went to the store and they were out of them too? How would you feel about that?" No pause as this was meant to be a rhetorical question. "You'd be hot. You'd be furious. You'd want to talk to the manager. Or his manager. Or maybe the CEO of the company! And how would you like to be the CEO having to take time out of his day to somehow explain to you that there was some kind of issue that he would get to the bottom of?"

By the end of Day Five, the order was placed, confirmed, and expedited through the Acme plant, and by the end of the weekend, we were fully restocked with loopholes.

They were a "one," you know.