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My Top Three Skills

 

Analysis

One of my projects involves acquiring thousands of products from a variety of sources and shipping them to a vendor overseas. Over the last year and a half over 30,000 items have been shipped, many of which we borrowed from libraries that expected them to be returned eventually. After our first, small return shipment was almost double the cost we had anticipated my boss asked me to figure out exactly which products we have to return and to investigate every possible option of replacement so that we only return the essential items to mitigate the cost.

To start, I pulled a full export of all physical products we shipped out of the Inventory Locator. Once the items were all in an Excel spreadsheet I identified which set of products we needed to return, established a chart of all other possible avenues to replace them, reached out to fifteen Supply Planners to confirm which products we had duplicates of in the warehouse to order, and finally formed the list of items that could be replaced in no other way. Of the 30,000 items, I was able to relocate all but a third of the products.

Once my analysis of the products was complete I consolidated all of my research into a single page to provide my boss with a quick reference point for where products were coming from.

Organization  

When I first started working for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt we had a library. Or rather, we had several libraries. They were set apart by subject and reasonably organized by copyright year/market. While there was no digital home for all the inventory it was fairly easy to go to the library and find the book you needed.

A year ago we moved offices and with the move lost all our storage space for the libraries. Also since our move, I’ve taken ownership of an entire division of products from a recent business acquisition. My inventory of books totals 1,219. When they arrived disorganized and in unmarked boxes, it felt as though I’d simply drown in books. The sender clearly had not spent even a minute cataloging what they were sending, I found that I had received over 80 copies of one single book and entire programs I had requested did not arrive at all. I needed to organize, catalog, and store all these books. But where will they all fit? How could I possibly track all these titles, my manager asked me.

I created a 3 Phase plan to take inventory of what we had, eliminate all the duplicates for donation or trash, and organize all the products in a system where anyone on the team would be able to find the book they desired. Here’s how I did it:

Phase 1- Unboxing and piling

Once all the boxes were emptied I had stacks and stacks of books piling up in all the vacant cubicles. I did an initial sweep and pulled out as many duplicates as I could and divided the books into a series of categories.

  • Program Known (clearly labeled on the product)
  • Program Unknown
  • No barcode

Phase 2 – Cataloging and analysis

The quickest, most efficient way to take inventory of everything and weed out the duplicates was to scan the barcode of all the products into an excel sheet using a BCST-20 Scanner and then using vLookups identify which ISBN’s were repeated. As I can scanned I stacked the products in groups of 20 so I could easily move and locate specific products when I was ready to shelve them. For the items without a barcode, I manually entered the item number so those products could be included in the final list.

Once everything was scanned and the duplicates pulled out I used the list of ISBN’s to pull in other useful product information such as program, copyright, and title from the archive and mapped out where in our office each program would be housed in phase 3.

Phase 3 – Shelving

I moved the stacks to the bookshelves and alphabetized them within their program group before shelving the products so that they could easily be located later on. I also created a master excel list with every ISBN I scanned, the program, title, and location of the product so that anyone on the team could look up if we had a book and easily locate it.

Overall I pulled out an additional 331 copies of repeated titles and organized the remaining 888 books over the course of 2 business days and cataloged the entire inventory so that going forward anyone can find what they need in a matter of seconds.

Process Documenting 

Over the course of my time with HMH I’ve taken the task of documenting all our process as well as establishing a folder to easily store and locate materials.

Some of the things I’ve documented are a Cheat Sheet, Tool Navigation PowerPoint, and User Guide for a tool that I built.  In addition to those pieces, I’ve also written a walkthrough script for training new team memebers how to conduct our QA.

As the team expanded I realized we need a consistent outline to introduce each person with. I wrote the script to encompass the background of the project, the layout and structure of the tools and reports, the expectations for QA and when assignments are due, and to go over a set of specific examples of common errors. The script is also posted in case team members would like to reference back to it

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Inventory User Guide

User Guide for inventory locator

Once I completed the Inventory Locator, tested all its features for bugs, and prepped the tool for its official launch the need for a user guide became apparent. While the tool itself is designed to be operated with minimal user interaction, I knew a written explanation of the behind-the-scenes functions would help the team understand just what each button click entailed.

The breakdown

The twelve-page guide begins with how to download the tool. Because multiple team members could potentially be working in it at the same time the database is housed on a server and each user is asked to enter their name upon opening so changes are not overridden or corrupted.

Once the tool is open a small window appears asking you where you’d like to go, you have the option of going to the Control Panel, Product Lookup Page, or the tracker to update your progress.

After the tool is installed and the needed forum is open I describe the criteria behind each of the buttons. As a user, all that needs to be done is click the button, but behind the scenes, a specific set of criteria queries are conducted to complete the function for that source.

The buttons are in chronological, left-to-right, color coded order.  But one line consists of several queries I built to do all the work.

Line three – Corporate Archives

  1. Yellow Button – Pulls products without a method of acquisition and do not fall into a Material Group of Online, Digital, or Mobile App. When clicked the tool will export results to excel list so that an order can be submitted.
  2. Blue Button – creates an email addressed to the specific archive contact with the standard message request already typed as well as the required ordering number. All the user needs to do is attach the export list from the related yellow button.
  3. Green Button – works with the Material ID table in the center of the page. When you receive a response to one of the Physical locations paste the confirmed the material ID’s into this table and clicked the associated button. Once the button is clicked access first updates the product list for the specific confirmed ID’s, checks the box for located via Corporate Archive, and sets the method of acquisition to Physical, which prevents this product from being requested in later steps.

Inventory Acquisition Completed

Once the inventory process is complete and all available products have been located the tool can generate a shipment invoice and product Product Lists for each individual program when needed.

Final result

With the completed tool, published user guide, and recorded a demo of functionality anyone on the team has access to the instructions and resources they need to either learn a new project or refresh their memory on old process.

After the launch of the tool, we realized there was another way to use this resource: similar to a customer look up anyone company-wide has the option to locate the products they need from our vast, ever growing inventory. If there’s a copy to locate, we know where it is. Whether it’s stored in an office on a shelf, sealed away in a warehouse, or waiting online we have the information and have made it available for anyone to use.

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Tool Navigation PowerPoint

Using a Phase II Tool

The bulk of our project work is completed in Microsoft Access databases. Most people, myself included, start the project with little to no knowledge of how to operate in the databases or find the desired information. Over time I have learned how to navigate in databases, create custom queries, import & export data with Excel, and build tables and relationships.

As part of my self-initiated project to document as many of the Phase II complexities as possible, I made a PowerPoint highlighting basic tips and tricks for using the tools in QA.

Main Page:

The main Genealogy Phase II Forum displays all the base records in the tool. The page is divided into sections which I then highlighted the critical information found in each with a brief description.

Secondary Page:

The second forum shows all the records derived from the bases. Again I highlighted the critical boxes, called out the most common error found from this page, and specifically pointed out that there are three different places the folio (page number) may be located.

Access Tips & Tricks:

In addition to displaying the layout and location of our information, the PowerPoint includes tricks for using access such as:

  • Right-clicking in any field gives you the option to set a customizable filter. You can do a contains or equals to search to find related records or view only the records for one set of pages at a time. 
  • If you apply too many or loose track of which fields are filtered, the orange Filtered button in the bottom right corner of the screen can be clicked and it will remove them all, restoring the page to its default view. Beside this button, you can see how many records fit the criteria and navigate through them using the arrows.
  • From inside a cell using CTRL + F will active a pop-up window to jump to a record.
  • Unlike other Microsoft programs, access automatically saves changes to the data once you’ve clicked out of the cell, and there is no undo feature. Through the nature of our QA, there should be no changes made to the tool as we are only viewing the information. If by accident something is changed or altered simply redownload a copy of the tool from SharePoint.
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The Cheat Sheet

training documentation

The main project I’ve worked on for the last three years is called Product Genealogy Phase II. In this project, we’re going through every page of every product by the program and verifying the image records. The work is done in an access tool and once a product is complete it must pass our internal Quality Assurance (QA) checks. We check that the image found on the page matches the record in the tool.

I started on this project as the first QA person and over the years the QA team has expanded to seven people, all of whom I’ve trained. When I started this project there was little to no documentation of the process, I was given a verbal introduction and simply asked questions as new issues arose. Over time as I QA’d more and more and brought people onto the team the need for written instruction and formal training became apparent. A project of this scale requires lots of time and much of it is hard to explain before it’s happened because there’s always a new issue we didn’t predict.

How I improved the project:

To combat this sense of unknown, in addition to the lengthy, fully detailed process instructions for each component of the project I also wrote a cheat sheet to aid new team members with the process, key points, and general guidelines. The two-page document is easy to read, small enough to either print out and keep beside your computer or simply leave up on the second screen for reference as you work. In the cheat sheet, there are four main sections each with several bulleted points beneath for elaboration.

I broke down the different types of image records that could be found and listed the required components of each (example, something taken in-house should not have a third party credit or the latter).

I listed the four primary things the QA team should be checking for:

  1. The records in the tool are accurate representations of what’s found on the page.
  2. The records are assigned to the proper folio, and before a folio is marked as incorrect all three folio fields are checked.
  3. There is exactly one record for every image, no more, no less.
  4. Consistency. If a seemingly simple graphic has a record for one page, it should have a record for all pages it’s found on.

I explained each of the columns in our QA report and when they are applicable to fill in as well as broke down the process of checking the products. We examine every 3-5 pages unless there are a high number of errors. If the passing percentage falls below 60% halt QA and return the product for rework. The QA report I designed automatically calculates the passing percentage based on the number of passes vs. fails in the report.

I included four practical tips for viewing information in the access tools as most people are not immediately familiar with the sometimes complex functions and formats. As access is typically the steepest learning curve for new team members I created a PowerPoint further describing how to navigate in the tools.

  1. The Genealogy Phase II tab shows information from all the base records. The top box lists all the product details and the Spec AutoID
  2. When you’re QA’ing the Spec Details box will show the description, the page number, and the spec type. If the AssesUsed box is not checked the image should not be on the page, sometimes you’ll see duplicate specs but only one of them will have the AssestUsed box checked – that’s ok.
  3. The Asset Details box here you’ll see the Source File number, Rights Type and credit.
  4. At the bottom of the page, you’ll see four tabs, the Base Spec Verification tab will show the status of the spec. Descriptions of the different status’s are written out in the box to the right.

And finally, in the cheat sheet, I collected links to each of our internal SharePoint sites that are either used for tracking purposes, housing digital products, the location of the new tools, and the training site where all the lengthy process instructions are available. I listed the links and explained what can be found at each of them so new members can easily find further instruction, new assignments, and fresh copies of the tool as needed.

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Break the Mold

 

The number one most valuable thing I’ve learned in my life is that things rarely go according to plan.

When I was ten I had it all figured out. I’d go through school, graduate with all my friends, and then become a pastry chef. I spent hours and hours designing what my menu would be, how my bakery would look, I KNEW this was what I wanted to do. Then my dad told me that making cakes out of a Betty Crocker box mix didn’t count as being a pastry chef, I’d have to do it all on my own.

Oh.

Back to the drawing board then.

But it was fine because quickly I found my actual calling: hotels. Every summer from fifth grade through tenth grade my grandparents took me on month long road trips. It was an incredible way to see the country and gain a perspective on the world that you just can’t learn from a picture online or in a textbook. We rode mules along the grand canyon, walked across a glacier, watched wild bear cubs play in a meadow(from a far away distance), and sunk our toes into sandy beaches on both coasts. All along the way, we stopped at hotels.

In each new hotel, I had a list. I checked the free snack selection, the number of channels, count and comfort of pillows, view, breakfast variety, pool, and free stuff provided. When we made it back home I organized and compared all the hotels and decided which one had been the best.

Once again, I had it all figured out. I’d get a job working in hotels, I’d travel the world, I’d see all there was to see! I started working at a local hotel in an unpaid internship. I learned how to work the front desk, fold the laundry, and clean the rooms; hotels in all their glory.

By the time I finished high school I had worked in several different hospitality roles and been accepted to a university far away from my hometown of Cedar Park, Texas to begin my glorious traveling journey. There was only one problem: I had been working so hard in real jobs for so long that the thought of four years in an expensive school learning things I mostly already knew how to do seemed dreadful.

Time to change plans again.

I explored new ideas, set my sights on a new plan; after all, at eighteen you know everything, don’t you?

Wrong.

I’ve failed. I’ve won. Often I’ve recalculated or started from scratch. What I’ve finally learned is that there is no grand scheme. There’s not a one track way through life. It’s messy. It’s exciting. It’s risky. It can be rewarding.

For the last few years, I’ve worked for a publishing company. It wasn’t until about a year into working for them that I realized the one thing I consistently did in all my failed endeavors that I enjoyed: I organized.

When I started I knew nothing about Microsoft besides Word, I’d never even heard of an Access Database. After 6 months of using it daily and watching how & what my colleagues used it for I decided I wanted to make my own database, how hard could be? It took months of after hours labor, epic amounts of data loss, problem-solving, and youtube videos but finally I made something great. Here’s what I did.

I find the slow points and problems and I reinvent them.

That’s why I’m so excited to be a part of Praxis.

I enter hopeful, without a plan, and with a few skills to apply to an exciting career, wherever it may be.