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.
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.
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