Got hoarders? Squirrels? How to overcome hidden stores

Jeff Shiver, People and Processes

If you spend much time opening cabinets, drawers and looking behind locked doors in facilities and plant sites, it is almost guaranteed that you will come across someone’s stash of parts and consumable materials. When you begin a maintenance best practices implementation or storeroom improvement effort, one of the first things is to go and collect up all of those parts and materials to put them back into the storeroom. After all, there is a lot of money just laying around out there in those “hidden stores” locations, right?

Before you jump to do this, STOP! If I have learned anything over the years, it is to take a few steps back and ask “why?” It’s far better to NOT assume anything, to hold off on assigning blame, and to simply ask “why?”

One reason that is always present with maintenance people (operators aren’t exempt, either) is the thought process that says, “If I’m ordering one, then I better order two or three just in case one doesn’t work. After all, we don’t stock them, so if we needed it once, I’m sure we will need it again one day, right?” The downside to this thought process is that we can’t afford to stock a complete factory on the side, not to mention that it’s money spent that may never be used or used for 10 years.

In many cases, they “hoard” these items because they don’t trust the storeroom or materials management process. The stashes are “workarounds” for broken processes. You have to answer the “why?”. Maybe they can’t find the parts in the storeroom because the short text descriptions to look up parts are not accurate. As they can’t find them using the short-text descriptions, they walk the isles looking for them. In an effort to force them to use the catalog and stay out of the storeroom, management decided to lay out the storeroom like a retail warehouse. In that setting, the concepts and processes are different compared to a maintenance storeroom. New stock items are not stored near like parts or by equipment types, but simply placed in the first open bin location they fit when added to stock. After a while, the 1-inch ball valve is stored in one corner of the warehouse, the 2-inch ball valve is six aisles away, stored on the opposite side. So, maintenance can’t find it in the catalog with the poor descriptors and they can’t find the part or a similar one to get the line up without walking the entire stockroom floor looking for it. Even then, they still don’t find it. These are just a couple of examples, as there are many more that reviewing the “why’s” can reveal.

You have to fix the system and the processes to eliminate the “hoarding” and those hidden stores. Once demonstrated and having earned the trust of the users, you can then be successful in collecting up the “hidden stores”.

What about your site? Do you have hidden stores? What are some of the reasons that your “hoarders” exist? What have you done to fix the issues?

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About the Author

As a managing principal for People and Processes, Jeff Shiver helps organizations implement best practices for maintenance and operations. Prior ...