Follow Through

The e-mail is staring you in the face. It is mocking you. No, worse than mocking you; it is screaming that you are incompetent.

There is an e-mail from your boss. He is asking for a report about the shipment that left the building yesterday. But that is not the e-mail screaming at you. The e-mail doing the screaming about your incompetence is one that you wrote yourself.

There is a problem. You gave instructions to get the shipment out the door. You sent the e-mail to the shipping manager to make sure the shipment went out the door. You just looked in the system, and the status of the order is "not shipped."

You call your shipping manager. He gives you a confused answer when you ask why TO# 283459 did not ship. You remind him that you sent an e-mail about this order to him, and that you told him in the e-mail to make sure it shipped.

He tells you that it did ship. He, too, looked at the system, and he says TO# 283549 shipped, as instructed.

No. It didn’t. “TO# 283459 did not ship,” you say, with an edge of anger in your voice. That is where you hear the sharp intake of breath over the phone line.

“Boss, I am looking at your e-mail,” says the shipping manager. “It says to make sure that TO# 283549 shipped last night. It did. Do you have the right TO#? Five Forty-Nine shipped, but Four Fifty-Nine did not.”

You are looking at the e-mail you sent. In plain starkness, the message reads:

“Stan, The following TOs must ship tonight!!!

284348 283549 251341 221357 279374

Make sure they happen. – Scott”

“Shit,” you mutter into the phone. You hang up, embarrassed.

What went wrong?

You go looking for the scrap of notepaper you used to write down the late shipments. The VP of sales screamed at you about these late orders during the conference call yesterday. Some of the orders are late because the product was not in the building. Others, because the team could not find the product; the system said it was in the building in a specific location, but the product was not there. Except it is there now — the cycle counts have confirmed the product is in stock. The VP of sales was unhinged in the call, and you did your best not to lose it at him. He did not know the Order Numbers off the top of his head, but he did know the customer, and the customer’s buyer. The buyer who was pissed off that his stores were out of stock during the high season.

The Sales VP had someone call you with the Order Numbers. Sure, the ass-chewing conference call happened yesterday morning, at 9:00 AM. But the call with the order numbers came in at 3:30 PM. They left you a voice mail, which you happened to get at 4:15. You wrote the order numbers down on a sticky note, and then had to look the order numbers up in the system, to get the corresponding Transfer Order number that the WMS uses. You wrote down the transfer numbers, and then wrote the e-mail to the shipping manager.

So where is that little 3 X 3 sticky note? You are hoping that you did not throw it out.

Over on the Shipping Dock

Stan is pissed. The boss just reamed Stan about a shipment that did not ship, and it was not even on the last-minute list. When Stan pointed out that the DC Manager was confused, and talking about a different order, an order not on the list, the boss swore at him and hung up.

Fuming, Stan thought about the orders. There are always one or two late-in-the-day rush orders, super-late orders for a customer threatening to quit doing business with the company. Stan hears it all the time. In the last few weeks the number of last-minute rush orders picked up. Where it was one or two per day, now five to six are the norm.

When Stan got the e-mail at 4:15 PM, the five orders were not even ready. Stan looked up the TOs in the system — none picked, but the tickets printed. Printed days ago. Stan could reprint the TOs and get them picked, but if he did not pull the orders out of the picking queue someone would pick the order again. The system would let the order pick, and move all the way to shipping before the shipping clerk flagged the order shipped. Stan had to find the original printed TOs, since the system had already allocated the product to the order. Printing a new TO would mess up allocation too; the system allocates stock to each TO, and if an item is out of unallocated stock, the system will not print them. No, Stan knew how much trouble taking the easy way would be. He had to find the TOs.

Stan printed out the e-mail and handed it to a shipping clerk, telling them to find the TOs and get someone picking them. This was at 4:30 — the end of the shift. The clerk wanted to go home. She wrote a note on the top of the e-mail with a red sharpie — HOT! Must Ship Tonight! — and taped the printed e-mail on the screen of the terminal for the second-shift clerk to take care of. She didn’t know who the second-shift clerk was, didn’t know if it was a guy or a gal. She hoped that they would not drop the ball.

In the Gemba

The second-shift clerk did see the note. He walked over to the printed order pile and started looking for the orders. The pile was not too deep today — only about four inches deep. He found three of the five TOs, but he still needed to find the other two.

“They must be over in the work queue at the label printing station,” he thought. “These three orders needed labels too, so might as well take them over and look in the piles over there.”

As luck would have it, the other two orders were ready for picking, labels made. The shipping clerk asked the label clerks to print labels for the other three orders while he waited. With the completed paperwork in hand, he handed the whole bunch to a picker who just walked up looking for a work assignment.

The picker picked the orders, taking them to a label table for labeling and packing. The team on the label table labeled the parts and packed the TOs up by Transfer Order. Each order was small, so the team packed each order separately, placing each case on its own pallet for shipment. One of them noticed that the Ship To Address was the same, but remembering how he got chewed out for combining orders the other day, he did not say a word.

A lift driver picked up the pallets and took them over to the dock. The orders did not move all at the same time. Over at shipping the dockhands wrapped each carton to its pallet and loaded them onto the outbound truck. FedEx Freight pulled the trailer at 10:30, and with the trailer’s departure, the order status on these five orders changed to "shipped."

At Stan’s Desk

Back at his desk, Stan wondered about the customers and these orders. Looking at the e-mail again, Stan pulled up each of the orders, looking at the customer names. Four of the orders shipped to the same customer and ship to location. Looking at the shipping weights Stan cringed. Each order was less than 100 pounds, and each order had shipped on a different PRO number. Man, the company paid too much in freight for that shipment. What is this customer going to think when the carrier delivers four pallets, each with one carton strapped and wrapped to it?

The fifth order on the list was not for the same customer. But the one that the boss called about was.

Stan knew he did not make the mistake, but still hated that the mistake all the same.

Back at Your Desk

You find the sticky note. As luck would have it, you see where the TO number on the note matches the number that Stan said he shipped, and the number you have in your e-mail. You breathe a little sigh of relief, ready to throw the note away when you look back at the message from your boss on the screen. Right there, there is the question about this order number.

Why is the boss asking about that order?

You key up the order in the system, and a wave of nausea hits. The TO number on the screen is 283459. You toggle screens and look at your e-mail to Stan. 283549.

Somehow, in the rush to get the orders processed and out to the customer, you transposed the TO numbers. You did it. It is your mistake.

It is now 8:45 AM. The daily conference call with the sales team starts in fifteen minutes. What are you going to say?

This is not a good day.

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