Wednesday, May 14, 2008


The IT department where I work has been complaining about a particular issue for a long time:
For over a year the Warehouse department has had difficulty keeping track of their inventory, and we're the ones to fix it.

There is a system in place that is supposed to keep track of it: When we recieve x BlueThings from a Vendor, they use a radio barcode scanner to scan all relevant items when they take them out of the box, and again when they put them on Shelf A. The scanner beams back that x BlueThings have been received, and there are x BlueThings on Shelf A.

When you take y BlueThings from Shelf A, you use a radio scanner to beam back that y things have been removed from Shelf A, and have been shipped. All of these movements will be recorded as long as everything is scanned correctly. There is robust validation in place to make sure that no one takes 10 RedThings off the Shelf B when there are only 4 RedThings on the Shelf B. The scanners even tell you which Shelf to get the Things from, so you don't have to look it up or wander around a Warehouse.

If an Item is serialized or unique in some way, it (usually) won't allow duplicates. If you try to put GreenThing001, GreenThing002, and GreenThing003 on the Shelf C, it won't allow it if there is a GreenThing 001, 002, or 003 anywhere in our Company.

But our Shelves are small, and sometimes only 40 of the 50 RedThings will physically fit on Shelf D. Now there is a way around this. They can put 40 RedThings on Shelf D, and put the other 10 on Shelf B or E or something. It doesn't dictate which Shelf you may put it on. You can even move things between Shelves as long as you use the function that says "I moved X RedThings to Shelf E." and the system updates the database and an entry in the history log is created.

Here's the problem. When putting things on Shelves, and the WH people don't have room, they often just put the the 10 RedThings that don't fit on Shelf D and just toss them on Shelf C next to it, or Shelf G below it, or even Shelf ZZZ in the dark corner of the Warehouse. They figure they'll see that these are right next to where they should be, or they'll just remember that they tossed them at ZZZ, and don't bother to use the scanner to move them.

Flash Forward a month or two and we get an email from the Warehouse staff asking us to delete 10 RedThings from their inventory becuase it mistakenly thinks there are 10 of them on Shelf D. The clincher is that they are absolutly convinced that there is a bug in the system that cause RedThings and BlueThings to disappear or spontainously generate in the database, and are annoyed by our refusal to fix it.

Nevermind that a few months ago, they asked us to remove 40 OrangeThings from Shelf M that popped into exisitance, then three days later asked us to replace 40 OrangeThings that the Alzhiemers riddled database forgot about and aren't showing up in the system.

Keep in mind, that the IT department is being used to cook the books hide other peoples' screw ups adjust inventory, which shouldn't be done by us AT ALL, but we'll not go into that right now.

This week they asked us to adjust GreyThing by about 30 (a rather large amount to lose), adding that she was soooo careful in counting these and made extra sure that the right number got shipped to the proper locations and there's NO WAY they'd loose track of 30 of these things, and it's frustrating and will we please look into it. Be careful what you wish for...

We were in luck, becuase GreyThing was a relativly new item, so the all the transaction history invloving GreyThings only goes back a few months. a Pure Sample, if you will.

I found all the times in the database history where GreyThings were recieved from our Vendors, and found every instance of GreyThings being shipped out to other places. But becuase the "flawed" system is not to be believed by itself, I asked the WH dept for the receipts and shipping orders for everything that included a GreyThing. I looked through them all (like I said, it is a new item, so it wasn't THAT many) and found no instance of something being short by that much. This means the they sent and recieved the proper number of GreyThings, and there's no reason why they shouldn't be sitting on Shelf H.

But they were not.

Now comes the task of delivering my findings in an email. Difficulty: one of my coworkers got reprimanded in the past for suggesting that WH was the problem, not us. He probably could have been more tactful, but still, this must be approached with some caution and humility. So instead of pointing out how it could be their fault, I set about providing the evidence I accumulated in order to eliminate the possibility that the system likes to add or subtract random numbers in the database.

Click Send.

Fast Forward a half hour, and guess who sends an email saying that after doing a search, they found a box full of 30(ish) GreyThings tossed onto Shelf Q?

And now, The Hives:

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