Business & Leadership Behaviors Project Management Thoughts

KonMari & The Challenges of Automating Your Inventory – Part 2

One thing that most of us have a hard time dealing with is our stuff.  It’s everywhere.  Some is unseen as it’s tucked away in cabinets/drawers/closets/basements/storage.  Some is in full view in piles/bins/cubbies.  For most of us – it’s overwhelming and hard to manage.

Enter Marie Kondo.  Ms. Kondo has made quite an impression on the American public – and our stuff.  She has her fans and she also has detractors.  While her particular focus is on our stuff at home, I found that many of her basic rules and her approach were applicable to the stuff in our businesses too.

Accountants call our stuff Assets.  Assets are an important part of our businesses as they help us to get our jobs done.  Unfortunately, Assets at work are sometimes handled like our stuff at home.  In either case, if we’re going to get the most value out of these items, we need to get our arms around what we even have.

Last week we talked about the WHY – the reasons you need to do an inventory or an audit.  There are many reasons – but when it comes right down to the basics, if you don’t know what you have and where you have it – you’re not getting any value out of it.  Even worse, misplacement is likely costing you – in time (the search, the workaround without it) and money (replacements, spares, insurance).

Don’t Procrastinate

This week, let’s talk about what to expect when conducting that first inventory.  The dread / fear / anxiety of what this experience may be is a big reason why people don’t do them in the first place.

Unfortunately, caving to that avoidance impulse is costing you – sometimes in small ways, sometimes in big ways – but it is definitely costing you.  But maybe if you go into it with an understanding of what the experience will look like – while keeping the benefits of the results (the WHY) in focus – you’ll get yourself through this.

Gear Up

Conducting an inventory or audit is plenty of work by itself.  Bringing in automation can make it MUCH easier.  An automated solution helps by marrying the data that you likely already have in your ERP or business systems with an electronic tool to guide your inventory team through the activity processes – capturing their work along the way.  By keeping everything electronic, you minimize the risk of manual errors.

Naturally, I’m a little biased on this particular approach since we manufacture mobilePLUS.  However the key is to take the time to look at the critical factors – your processes, people and environment.  Take what you find there and complement it with available tools and you’ll have the HOW you need to get started.

Dig In

You have a reason.  You have a process.  You have the tools.  The next step is to just get started.  Getting started can sometimes feel like the hardest part.  But as you get moving, it gets easier.  Jim Collins called this The Flywheel Effect in his book, Good to Great.  It’s true for many challenges – and it’s definitely true for inventories.

The key is to keep the start simple – and just go:

  • Start with what you know – You know what locations need to be covered. You know what’s fair game as an asset (defined in the HOW).  Check in with the key people in those areas that can answer questions along the way and start auditing your assets.
  • Gather it all – When in doubt – just inventory it. It’s easier to discard data on items that you don’t need to track than to go back in and do another inventory round.  Besides – if you did your homework on your process and tools, capturing extra assets won’t be a burden – just some extra scans.
  • Be ready for support – Your team is going to have questions, is going to get frustrated and is going to get distracted by their other responsibilities. Be ready to help and motivate them along the way.

Clean As You Go

The reason why the first inventory takes so long is that it is a great opportunity to clean things up along the way.  Yes – this makes for more work.  But the upside is that every inventory that follows will get easier and easier.  Gotta love that Flywheel, huh?

  • Label – Make sure that all of your assets have the right label / tag / mark for your new inventory process. If a label has been damaged – replace it.  If the label was put in the wrong place – move it.  The label is a critical factor in your inventory process.  It is absolutely worth the time to get this right.
  • Assess – You’ve finally got eyes on this asset. While you’ve got it, note the condition.  Is it usable?  Does it need repair?  Get the most value out of the time with the asset by capturing this information while you have it.
  • Sort it out – Get the asset ready for the next step (if any) – Leave it where it is. Mark it for repair.  Mark it for disposal.  If there are some obvious actions that you want your inventory team to take while they are out there – do it.

Bring It All In

Once everyone’s returned and you’ve rewarded the team for their work (pizza can help), it’s time to look at the results.  Next week we’ll focus on what happens after the inventory.

The first inventory has the biggest effort.  It’s not that the act of inventorying an asset is necessarily hard.  It’s just that the magnitude of the effort can be overwhelming.  Your first inventory is going to be frustrating (where did that come from?), time consuming (will this ever end) and will likely exercise the swearing category of your vocabulary.

But taking on that inventory is worth it.  I promise.



Anne Hale is the Director of Client Services at HL Group, Inc., a premier provider of mobile inventory management, RFID and supply chain solutions. She manages our client engagements, helps with sales and marketing and is facing the reality of the stuff in her basement.