This company's cycle counting
program enjoyed initial success but then stalled out. The situation was particularly frustrating
because the program's justification was based on the elimination of the annual physical
inventory and this could only happen when accuracy reached the goal of 92%, i.e., anything less
seemed like complete failure. Here are the essential facts:
The company had a large jobbing
machine shop with over 10,000 products.
An MRP system processed
thousands of transactions each day as batches moved from one department to the next.
Prior to cycle counting,
accuracy was on the order of 60%.
The finance department had
instigated a cycle counting program with a goal of 92% accuracy.
The intent of
counting program was to eliminate the annual physical inventory.
The cycle counters and their
supervision worked for finance.
Some attempts at determining
root error causes had been made but these efforts were swamped by the massive amounts of
Most of the cycle counters and
their supervisor had received Six Sigma and process improvement training but seemed unable
to relate it to cycle counting.
Inventory accuracy had risen
from the original 60% range to 86%.
Accuracy had been stuck at 86%
for months and frustration was growing.
The immediate cause of this problem is that errors are entering the system at about the same
rate that the cycle counters remove them. When the
removal rate exceeds the input rate, IRA
improves. But, the higher the IRA, the fewer errors get removed by cycle counting. The
fundamental choice is to reduce the entering errors or remove additional errors through more
cycle counts. Additional cycle counts will be expensive and, as IRA improves, even less
The best choice is to prevent new errors from entering the system. The company had trained
their people in Six Sigma and process improvement but they were unable to apply it to the
problem of transaction errors. This reflects several issues:
The most difficult problem with any adult training is the transfer of classroom theory to
actual practice. Classroom exercises did not exactly match the problems at hand and the
inexperienced personnel could not make the transition.
Action Learning assists with this
Six Sigma often has so much complexity-- so many tools and acronyms that people get
confused about which to use and what to do. The reality is that 3-4 of the simplest tools,
borrowed from TQM and Work Simplification, will solve 90% of everyday problems.
Perhaps a more fundamental root cause was the fact that Finance had instigated, planned and
implemented the program without other involvement. All parties operated from a mental model that
considered inventory accuracy Finance's responsibility and that the Finance department received
the primary benefit by elimination of the annual physical inventory. In reality the biggest
benefits are not from the physical inventory elimination.
Moreover, Finance was not creating the new errors. The errors are created in the warehouse,
on the factory floor, in sales, in scheduling and even in other departments. Their participation
in process improvement is absolutely essential.
Transfer the cycle counting program and corresponding responsibility to Operations.
Utilize Finance in an auditing role to verify accuracy metrics.
Employ Kaizen and Action Learning workshops in cross-functional process improvement