Business & Leadership Behaviors Project Management Thoughts

KonMari & The Challenges of Automating Your Inventory

Last weekend, I watched some of that new Netflix series – Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.  It made me shake my head at how much we as a society seem to constantly dealing with STUFF.

At home, it’s everywhere – in piles, closets, on counters, that chair in the bedroom, the treadmill.  And it moves around.  You might have cleaned off that treadmill right after New Year’s – but be honest, is it really still clear – and where did you put the stuff?

No wonder we can’t ever find anything.  We waste countless hours looking for keys/something to wear/AA batteries (why do I have so many AAA batteries?).  So we give up and buy duplicates (hence the AAA supply, I’m guessing.)


Your business is not immune

At work, it doesn’t seem to be much different.  And I’m not just talking about our team – I see it in every client site I visit.

We waste time in the search and we waste budget in the duplicate purchase.  Only it isn’t just batteries that are the culprits – it’s laptops, tools, and other supplies that we need to run our organizations and serve our clients.

Better to have spares on hand than to waste time searching for things, right?  After all, if we did find ___ does it even still work?

Wouldn’t it be nice to know what you have, where you have it and what its condition is before you need it?


Something’s Gotta Give

We don’t live in a world of endless space and budgets.  At some point, something has to give.  Maybe you’re done wasting time or you missed an opportunity because you couldn’t find what you needed when you needed it.  Maybe your already-tight budget dollars can’t keep going to “extras” for those panic moments.  Maybe you don’t want to insure assets that you might not even have anymore.

When you look at the overall problem – it can be really overwhelming.  Thoughts like “where do I even start?” or “this is going to take forever” or “why bother – it’s just going to get screwed up again anyway” tend to bubble up.

At some point though, you’ll need to get your arms around what you have and where you have it.


Start with the WHY

The first time that you tackle that inventory, it’s going to be work.  It will be time consuming, irritating and likely, swearing will be involved.  But if you’re realistic about what you’re heading into, maintain focus on the why of the effort and take the right approach, you may never have to experience something like this first inventory again.

In my opinion, the best place to start is the WHY.  Sometimes the WHY itself is big enough to keep you motivated to completion – especially if it has a huge consequence.  Do any of these sound familiar?

  • You don’t know what you own
  • You’re estimating numbers (or flat out making them up) whenever anyone asks for asset inventory data
  • You have to keep a portion of your budget open for “spares”
  • You’ve had a scramble/loss/emergency due to not having what you need when/where you need it
  • You have regulations and compliance requirements surrounding your assets
  • You need trustworthy visibility to critical assets &/or serialized items

What is it costing you to not have reliable asset inventory information?  Think about what the true consequences and costs that you’re incurring by not knowing your asset inventory.  Put time and dollars next to those – and multiply those numbers by months and or years.  The results may shock you.

I think you’ll be much more successful in completing the work and sustaining the outcomes if you really understand WHY the effort is important in the first place.


The HOW is Critical

Many people start this process with another purchase – a tool for the job.  Makes everything easier, right?  Unfortunately this can lead to an impulse buy that may not get the job done – and might just add to your pile of stuff.  (Did I mention that I have a nice collection of items from The Container Store?  I love that place.)

Don’t get me wrong – tools are an important part of your asset inventory solution.  I should know – we sell asset track and trace software that combines our partners  great mobile devices, tags, etc. for just these types of problems.

But however great the tools are – they’re not all that you need to tackle inventory issues.  You need to also consider what you’re trying to achieve in the end (the WHY), the process that can get you there, the people involved and the environment impacted.

You need a comprehensive inventory solution – one that combines tools and processes that complement your people and environmentConsidering all of these factors can keep you from wasting time and money – and having another failed inventory solution.

Process – Do you have one?  Is it consistently used across your team?  Where are the holes?  How frequently do you run this process?  When is it required to be completed &/or reported?

People – How many people are involved from start to finish?  Is this their full-time focus or are they borrowed for the inventory effort?  How do you and the team communicate about this effort?  Who supports the team on this before/during/after?  Who uses the inventory data?

Environment – Where are your assets located?  Are they centralized or distributed across multiple buildings/locations/addresses?  Is there network coverage?  When the asset inventory data is collected, where is it going (Business System/ERP/etc.), how is it required and how will it be used by that solution?

Once you look at those things, you’re ready to look at tools available to complement those factors.


A Few Steps You Can Take Now

Maybe you’re not ready to jump into a new inventory solution.  I get it – it’s an overwhelming prospect.  But there are some things that you can do now to help make things a little easier when you’re ready.

Communicate with the team.  Chances are they aren’t a fan of inventory efforts.  But knowing what you’re up against (the WHY) and understanding their roles (the HOW) – and getting their ideas for improvement – can go a long way into making any new initiatives successful.

Start cleaning up your data.  The fact that your data doesn’t fit the reality of your assets may be your primary reason for doing all of this.  But you can start getting the data cleaned up now.  Look for duplicate assets records, duplicate data sources, misspellings, etc.  Consolidate & Clean is the mantra here.  It’s a pain – but it’s worth the effort.

Start marking your assets.  Asset tags will help any inventory process – whether you use an automated solution or not.  If you take the time to consider what information would ideally be captured during an inventory, it will help you determine what you need in a label.  Once you have that – create a label & get started.  Label assets as they are received and ones that you come across in your normal work.


First inventories are hard.  But if you go in with the right reasons, with the right solution and a solid understanding of the experience – then it will be a much more successful undertaking.

Next week, I’ll take you through the experience of that first inventory – so you have a better idea of what to expect.

And if things really go off the rails, we can always call in Marie Kondo.



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 preparing to address the “assets” in her basement.