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A First-Hand Brush With Lean, JIT, and Outsourcing

I rarely get to talk to buyers, and that's too bad. They're busy, I’m busy, and buyers are rarely vetted by their companies to talk to the press. At any rate, I had an opportunity this week that provided some surprising insights into a buyer's typical day.

First of all, I'm not trashing any particular brand, but facts are facts: My Lenovo computer's fan died. This set off a chain of events that I won't bore you with. The key issues here are warrantees, outsourcing, and a lean supply chain.

The buyer in this saga is the guy who locally repairs Lenovo computers. I never contacted this person directly and it took more than a week, a bunch of e-mails, daily visits from UPS, two laptop chassis, and three hard drives to get me back up and running. The reason: Lenovo (correctly, in my mind) insists on handling its own repairs. Fair enough. But it wasn't that simple. Here are a few of the things I discovered:

Surprise No. 1: Big customers don't get preferential treatment. Let it suffice to say that typical global companies (such as mine) buy a lot of equipment from their preferred suppliers. Usually, the bigger a customer you are, the more clout you have. That only applies if your paperwork is in order, apparently. If your warrantee isn't in the right place, forget about a service call.

It also turns out that the people tasked with the actual repair don't know you from a hole in the wall, and moreover, they're not authorized to use their judgment. There is no such thing as fix it now and we'll figure out the details later. (I was computer-less for three and a half days, but I didn't have a backup PC. That's totally on me.)

Surprise No. 2: Lean and JIT are overrated. After the repairman was done with the fan, he discovered we were short one piece of plastic that covers the hard drive and the screws that attach that piece to the chassis. He doesn't carry extra parts. He wasn't there to repair the hard drive. Getting that extra piece of plastic and a screw would take two days, longer since that particular repair was not authorized. The reason for that is…

Surprise No. 3: Brand owners really do outsource their repair services. The guy who showed up to repair my computer also services TVs and brands such as Sony, Panasonic, IBM, Acer, and numerous others. (He's trained and authorized for Lenovo — no worries there.) And that's why the repairman doesn't carry inventory — he’d be carting around an 18-wheeler. If he does have to order inventory, it may come from the manufacturer or it may come from a distributor. And, by the way, he has to have the authorized work order approved (see Surprise No. 1) before he can even order the inventory. He confided that most of his day is taken up by paperwork.

My firsthand brush with supply chain concepts has reinforced the respect I have for the people who have to execute this stuff every day. Yes, I get that this is small-scale and it's exacerbated by a home-office environment. I'm sure there are a lot of profound takeaways from this experience, but only one thing repeatedly comes to mind:

I will never, ever take my PC for granted again.

5 comments on “A First-Hand Brush With Lean, JIT, and Outsourcing

  1. t.alex
    July 21, 2012

    In my case I would look for any repairman that can make it fast. He should have some stock in place. Repair service does not need to follow JIT any way. Customers with a broken laptop are in desperate need to fix it fast.

  2. Mr. Roques
    July 22, 2012

    Maybe if the parts would be the same, he could carry some. But companies, trying to cash in on that, make them as different as possible. What do you think?

  3. Barbara Jorgensen
    July 23, 2012

    Mr.R: a pet peeve of mine. There is no standardization, with the possible exception of USB, and it makes me nuts! Yes, I understand that companies exist to make money and designs are part of that, but really– screws?! Don't even get me started on chargers…even with three similar cell phones int he house I can never find one that is compatible.

  4. Mr. Roques
    August 28, 2012

    I believe there was an effort to standardize phone chargers… not sure what happened with that. 

  5. Barbara Jorgensen
    August 28, 2012

    Verizon offers a “universal” phone charger under the Verizon brand which works, depending on its mood, with one of our Samsung phones and our LG phone. As we don't have an iphone I'm not sure if it would work–my guess is not.

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