Moving Beyond Smart Part Numbers

March 29, 2013
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During a process review session this week, I got involved in a terrific conversation about Smart Part Numbers. You know what I’m talking about – those cryptic SKU identifiers so popular with the folks in the warehouse, on the shop floor, in production planning. There is logic and structure to the characters and the numbers, structure that codes identification and classification details onto those bin labels.

We are having problems with item WC1-644-A019910.

During a process review session this week, I got involved in a terrific conversation about Smart Part Numbers. You know what I’m talking about – those cryptic SKU identifiers so popular with the folks in the warehouse, on the shop floor, in production planning. There is logic and structure to the characters and the numbers, structure that codes identification and classification details onto those bin labels.

We are having problems with item WC1-644-A019910.

Oh, that’s because the trim press is down in building A.

Smart Part Numbers serve as a handy shorthand – you, the observer, may not understand that WC1 obviously refers to Trim Press 43, and the 4 in 644 (no, not that 4, this 4) meant it was in building A, and the 4 (yes, that 4) indicated it was a fast moving product. Your understanding doesn’t matter, the folks on the floor know what they are saying to each other.

data management

… wrapped in an enigma …

This is why it is so difficult to dissuade the organization about the need to eliminate Smart Part Numbers. Sure, the data base architect and the query / report developer can detail all of the technical overhead introduced with this approach. It doesn’t matter – all of our internal processes and communications rely on these patterns and codes. (and besides, I don’t understand all of your techno mumbo jumbo).

Ah, but the local GM came up with a breakthrough insight. He is relatively new to the company, and did not “grow up with” the internal codes and special language of the legacy Smart Part Numbers. His point – we have to see this from the viewpoint of our Customer.

Our Customers have no idea what the Complicated Part Numbers mean, or how we use them for our internal process flow. In fact, the Complicated Part Numbers are a hindrance for the Customer – locating the right products and finding the right parts in our catalog, or decoding the bill of lading or the invoice we send them.

To our Customers, our Complicated Part Numbers are our own brand of techno mumbo jumbo.

To drive out the reliance on Smart Part Numbers, all areas of the business (customer service, operations, and IT) need to work together to define streamlined material handling processes and technology-enabled, attribute-based part number lookup solutions to deliver the same operational efficiencies. A learning process, a big change for many organizations – but the key insight that triggers the need for this effort – seeing ourselves through the eyes of our Customers.

Of course, if the Voice of the Customer is not a driving force in your company, you may have deeper problems …