Lessons in Storeroom Staff Mismanagement
By: Jim Clifford, Director of MRO Services
For personnel involved in maintenance repair and operations (MRO), how storerooms are staffed may be one of the greatest mysteries of all time. In reality, the answer is often disappointingly simple: whoever is available at that time and will not object too severely to being put in there. Unfortunately, as you will soon see, that’s generally the worst possible course of action. What leads me to suggest this? Painful, personal experience.
I was a first-line supervisor in a large manufacturing company. One fateful Friday night, I walked through the office trying to get home for dinner. The Director of Engineering and Maintenance saw me pass through and called out, “Clifford, get in here! We just lost the Storeroom Manager, and I want you to run it.”
Even though I told him I knew nothing at all about running a storeroom, he informed me it was a piece of cake, and I would get the hang of it. The following Monday, I reported to my new cubicle, only to find someone else had decided the job was theirs. He was unceremoniously ejected. (It turned out later that this was a prank. Two buyers thought this was a great opportunity to play games with the new guy, so they acted dumb and attempted to shift their entire workload to me.)
Opening a Can of Worms
I quickly grasped that this was not a normal “position replacement.” First, although no one had warned me, the department was in the middle of forcibly merging two separate groups — material handlers and storeroom attendants — into one very pissed off group. The union and shop stewards were filing grievances on a daily basis. A cross-training program, with no financial incentive, was being implemented and I was expected to keep to the schedule.
As if this wasn’t enough, the Finance department was concurrently requiring staff to perform a full physical inventory, with forced overtime for everyone. I started to experience suspicion (make that certainty) as to why the last Storeroom Manager quit.
Needless to say, the first six months were pretty intense, but the storeroom and I survived. Eventually, I found the time to take a two-day course on running an MRO spare parts storeroom, after which I finally understood what my job function really was. Prior to that, I was one part each piñata, babysitter, referee and psychoanalyst.
Was there a silver lining to this “storeroom immersion?” Sure. It certainly helped to develop my negotiating and counseling skills. I also became very familiar with all aspects of labor relations. From a big-picture perspective, my crash course enabled me to realize just how dynamic and impactful the whole inventory management process is.
But it also came with challenges beyond just the personnel issues. Here’s an example. The aforementioned Finance-mandated physical inventory had produced a computer printout approximately six inches thick!
Supposedly, this was the expected reorder report, but I had no clue what to do with it! If I accepted the data and acted upon it, I would spend the equivalent of a small country’s GDP! As it turned out:
• The magnitude of the data entry errors made the output unusable.
• Item numbers had been transposed with cost fields, “inflating” inventory value to a figure just north of the national deficit!
Fortunately, I didn’t accept this inventory report blindly. I recognized that something had to be wrong, and I set out to get the actual data I needed.
More importantly, I took a life lesson from this that I can share with PCA article readers. I realized, “If it’s OK for the Storeroom to undergo an unknown period of chaos, go ahead and put the next person available in there. Otherwise, get down to business and fix the problems that caused the last qualified person to quit!”