This concept is still a point of contention between Sales and Manufacturing. A typical situation is the customer requesting a shipment on the 25th of the following month. Sales contacts the schedulers and they are told that the 28th is the earliest the customer will get it. Sales then tells the customer the 25th because they are afraid to tell the customer they can’t get what they want and they figure they’ll just put pressure on manufacturing anyhow as the ship date gets close.
Why not, in the past, manufacturing has always found a way to get the job done in time.
There’s a couple different situations going on here. One may be the Sales group is either afraid to tell the customer the truth because they’ll get yelled at, or they are told by their leadership to give the customer what they want and we’ll figure it out when we get there. Another reason might be pure unethical behavior. A third and very probable reason is we in manufacturing have previously gotten orders done early but have never explained to Sales what we went through to get it done so they think we always fudge our dates.
Let’s look at these.
If we are afraid to tell the customer the truth because we’ll get yelled at, then shame on leadership. A customer may not be happy with the response, but they can always re-plan and adjust if they know about the problem ahead of time. They just don’t want to be surprised. Leadership should also be chewed on for fostering this mentality. It’s one thing to be aggressive, be proactive, and be assertive. It’s stepping over the line though of good business sense when we ignore reality and tell the customer something we can’t do.
If we tell the customer what they want thinking we’ll figure things out later, again leadership should get chewed on. This is exactly what causes the capacity problems described earlier. In my mind, this is a complete abdication of managing workloads responsibly. The work will get done but you’ll pay for it. You’ll pay for it financially when you have to pay overtime and profit margins suffer. And you’ll pay for it organizationally when employees get burned out and employees begin getting contentious with each other because we don’t manage our business.
If we flat out lie to the customer on purpose, the employee who does this and everyone who encouraged it to happen should be fired. There is absolutely no place for this.
END OF DISCUSSION.
What happens many times though is we don’t lie, we fudge. We tell the customer we can meet the commitment because in the past we’ve squeezed lead times and somehow gotten the order done in time. What’s missed in all this is Sales has no idea what manufacturing and others went through to accomplish this minor miracle and worse yet, manufacturing never tells everyone else what they went through to jump through these miraculous hoops. They figure everyone should already know. As much as I love manufacturing, shame on us if we don’t help others understand what it costs to jump through hoops. When it happens, we should document what it costs and share this at the various meetings we attend where appropriate. If as a company we decide to ignore it, shame on the leadership. They better not bellyache though at year end when we aren’t as profitable as expected. If after legitimate thought and discussion we have to do it occasionally, then so be it. We may not like it, but it’s the environment we exist in today. All we can ask is that we try to do things thoughtfully, to the best of our ability, and ultimately profitably. Being a manufacturing martyr though and expecting everyone should understand without having to say anything is foolish and manufacturing should be taken to task for this attitude.
If ultimately we have done our best to explain and nobody chooses to listen, then individually we have a choice. We can hope “No doesn’t mean never just not now” and that someday people will wake up to the ramifications. We can also “put up and shut up” and live with it for the rest of our working life. This would be a shame though as long term an employee will just refuse to step up when needed because nobody will listen to them anyhow so why bother. It’s not worth having a heart attack over is what we’re thinking. A last choice is find a new job. As a human being, we always retain and own the right to change jobs if we desire. Nobody can take this away from us. I’m not saying this is fun to do, or that it will be any different at the next job, or even if changing is something that’s easy to do because of fear, money, or other reasons. But we do own the right.
A last thought too. Growing up, parents and teachers always said telling the truth is easier because it becomes increasingly difficult to keep track of our lies. Needless to say, work too becomes much more difficult to manage.
The management maxim therefore is be honest, be upfront, and people will respect you, help you, and cut you slack when things fail.
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Chuck Nemer is a trainer/consultant with 40 years of experience in Supply Chain Management, Lean, Leadership, and APICS. He currently works with approximately 50 universities and 3000 students annually in supporting the use and play of the simulations in the classroom. Within those 40 years, he has taught, and continues to teach, professional certification classes for APICS, professional development seminars and programs on his own, and on behalf of colleges in their outreach programs to local and regional manufacturing firms.
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