Friday 28 October 2016

Did you tell the source of the problem?

I had a great reminder this week that when we have a problem with a supplier we should go straight to the source of the problem not tell every one else.

You know the sort of thing - supplier x is always late, or staff are rude, or products are faulty. Instead of taking it up directly with the supplier however, everyone moans to everyone else, or they call procurement and demand they change supplier, or even climb the hierarchy demanding that the CPO, CFO, or COO do something. In fact shouldn't someone be sacked for this sort of behaviour! 

Living where I do, near the Forth river/ estuary in Fife Scotland, we occasionally get the odd oil rig anchor off shore. Sometimes for maintenance, and over recent years just 'stacked' because it has no work, waiting until it's needed out in the North Sea (or possibly further afield?).

On previous visits the joke within the town has been that the Christmas tree has arrived. 
As it 'spoils' my view of Edinburgh across the Forth sometimes, ok often, my language has been a little strong. Even if it does stop me taking my view of 12 years for granted when I get it back - sometimes a few months later.

As I returned from delivering some training down South last week imagine the language as I turned the corner and saw the recent 'Christmas tree' had arrived in my absence.

However something was very different. For once I could also hear a dull incessant hum from said tree in my bedroom as I tried to sleep! A little like the sound of an expectant train that never arrives. Dull enough that day time background noise cancelled it out, but loud and incessant enough that it was all you could hear when in a quite bedroom at night. I even wondered about moving to my spare north facing bedroom until it was resolved.

As the weekend progressed and a dull headache appeared I was looking up who to speak to at DEFRA, tweeting the local council and generally moaning that something needed to be done. I even sent off an email to DEFRA - although I have yet to hear from them!

My neighbour and a few other locals had a better idea. Ring the company who owns the oil rig. The response from the receptionist was a contract manager's or procurement manager's dream:

"Oh dear, I'll get straight onto the manager, and I'm sure he'll be able to sort something out if he can. He's a 'sort it out' sort of guy. We'll get back to you when we know something. I can't promise it will be today as he may be on site with limited WIFI etc but I assure you we will get back to you".

She rang an hour or so later to say they had received other complaints, and a site visit was actually taking place that day to try to resolve it!

Whether by fluke or not at 1230 that day my headache disappeared, and many of those talking about the hum on social media said they'd had a good night's sleep. As a noise could still be heard with windows open - even if, from my home, less incessant and annoying - we recognised that might have been only due to a change in wind direction.

A local councillor who had also got involved posted the following on Facebook sharing the council's environment officer's update:

Cllr, Forth Ports have updated me so far as the Platform Engineer was out yesterday (26th) and rerouted an exhaust for the generator on the platform, which they believe to be the source of the hum/drone. Additional baffling is also still being considered. I am proposing to visit again tonight or tomorrow (weather dependant) to reassess if this action may have made a difference in reducing noise levels affecting the complainants

He then went on to say:

Communication routes appear to be open to try and resolve this complaint and I am hopeful these will remain open whilst we try and resolve this issue. Whilst the Platform is working with Forth Ports and ourselves and showing Best Practice, I am not considering any formal action and I hope this issue may be resolved shortly but will of course continue to keep you updated.

The latest update provided 28th Oct:

I have spoken to the Harbour Master again this morning. The Platform has had an acoustic engineer out and they have identified the need for additional work to construct baffles and/or muffler around a generator on the Rig. They have advised that it will take a few days to construct, fabricate and install. 

Isn't that what we need from a supplier when we're having problems:
  • Recognition that there's a problem
  • Not being defensive
  • Not over promising when they can respond or remedy
  • Giving us confidence about the person being tasked with solving it 
  • Keeping us updated
  • Exploration of how they can solve it
  • Trying something to solve the problem
  • Having other options if that doesn't work
  • Keeping communication channels open
Let's remember oil rigs don't normally have to think about their neighbours!

The key of course is us remembering that moaning to others and not directly to the supplier is very rarely going to resolve the situation, and if needed for the future, certainly isn't going to help future relationships with that supplier.

What action can you take today to resolve a problem with one of your suppliers - who do you need to contact, and when will you do it?

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
Inspiring Change - Inside and out 

I wrote another blog about how to deal with problem suppliers in January (follow the hypertext link to read it).

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