News U Can Use

A Supply Chain/Strategic Sourcing learning community devoted to ideas you can use in your work or daily life.

Do You Have a Uniform Problem In Your Supply Chain?

Posted by lowellyarusso on April 9, 2010

I ran across an interesting bit of news from the sports pages the other day. Seems that a player for the S.F. Giants trotted onto the field with a uniform that proudly proclaimed that he played for “San Francicso”. The writer also informed us that, last year, two players for Washington, D.C.’s Major League team took the field on Opening Day with uniforms emblazoned with their team’s nickname, the “Natinals”. (Honolulu Advertiser)

That got me to thinking and looking around a bit. Turns out that MLB has an exclusive contract with a company that makes all the uniforms for Major Leaguers. Without getting into the risk management / due diligence (or lack thereof) that went into the sourcing uniforms and the selection of that supplier, a couple of lessons can be learned from the uniform errors noted above.

First, the only explanation for those mix-ups would seem to be that the lettering on the uniforms is hand sewn. If the process were mechanized, the errors would have affected more than one or two uniforms. The lesson here is that the more you have to rely on human intervention in the Supply Chain, the more your open yourself up to human errors. The second point is that quality should be everyone’s responsibility and not just “what the Quality Department does”. Beyond the obvious point that the players in question MIGHT have noticed the problem as they dressed for the game, what about the 40 to 50 others who must have seen the misspelled monikers on those uniforms? I suppose it’s easy to see what you expect to see but still, someone should have seen the real vs. the imagined spelling.

Let’ take those two points and apply them to your Strategic Sourcing / Supply Chain processes. If you agree that the more human intervention there is in the manufacturing process, the more opportunities there are for error, the implications are obvious. The more you change what you are asking for through redesign, ECNs, and other tweaks to the specs, the more you are asking your supplier to “hand stitch” the product. That, of course, doesn’t mean that, for example, when Toyota notices that a part might be a tad under-engineered, they shouldn’t change the specs. However, by making the equivalent of “glad to happy” changes in specification, you are adding risk that you don’t need.

With regards to the second point, how often have companies been burned by quality issues that were known by individuals but were totally transparent to the organization? I’ve seen a lot of examples of obvious errors (obvious to ME, and I didn’t really know what I was looking for!) that “matched the invoice”, “passed Q/A so it must be OK”, “won’t really matter; we take stuff like that all the time”, and so on. I’d really like to know how much a blasé’ attitude toward personal responsibility for quality results costs companies across the nation. Again, I recognize that, when everyone is accountable, no one is accountable. And yet, in the case of the baseball uniforms, there are only two ways to avoid a misspelling on a jersey: 100% of incoming goods are inspected or 100% of the people who touch the goods are alert for and rewarded for raising quality questions. Which does your company want to hang its hat on for quality?

A final comment. One of the underlying issues re: misspellings on uniforms is the extent to which MLB cares that these errors are made. Arguably, things have gotten better. There were two errors noted last Opening Day and only one this year. Was that in response to a solid Supplier Relationship Management effort on the part of MLB or was it happenstance? The real key to success, for baseball uniforms and for accelerator pedals, is to get the design right, avoid tweaking with that design; and work with the supplier to ensure that they have the processes in place that will deliver a quality product on time, every time. It will be interesting to see if someone takes the field next year playing for the “Bravos” or the “Twims”.

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3 Responses to “Do You Have a Uniform Problem In Your Supply Chain?”

  1. […] Do You Have a Uniform Problem in Your Supply Chain? […]

  2. […] Do You Have a Uniform Problem In Your Supply Chain? « News U Can Use […]

  3. […] some of my previous posts (Were You Ready For Eyjafjallajökull?, Do You Have a Uniform Problem In Your Supply Chain?,  Google, Coke, China and Katrina, etc.) I commented on risks in the supply base and larger […]

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