Back in my father’s day on the produce market, buyers and sellers had daily interface in person. It was easy to reach an understanding of what size, color or grade each buyer wanted to purchase. Now that we receive orders electronically and most often reach the buyer through voicemail or email, it is much harder to understand the expectations of each customer. And that customer has a customer who the wholesaler never gets to talk directly to.
Most likely some buyer wrote a product specification over a decade ago and it has since been sitting in a dusty binder under the desk of an employee who doesn’t even know that it exists. When it is brought out through some pre-audit cleaning process, nobody knows exactly what was meant to be communicated when it was created. “By golly, we had better follow it now that we found it.”
Next we run into Richard in Receiving (contact me if you want his real name – I couldn’t print it here). Richard wants the product his way – which quite often is contrary to the specification. Things change over time, but usually the specification doesn’t keep up.
Then there is the desk jockey who writes or rewrites a specification based on something he read on Wikipedia. He never truly understands the life-cycle of the product from planting to consumption, the time between harvest and use or the post-harvest conditions necessary to prolong the shelf life. He was tasked with updating the spec book and he does it without talking to a single person in the supply chain or user community.
I have tasked my team to actively review specifications and challenge what they say. I doubt that many vendors are willing to essentially ‘rock the boat’, but for the good of all involved it is necessary. We have found that even though the spec demands product A, the end user would be happy with B, C or D as well, thereby opening up his options and lowering his cost. The key is making everyone aware of the change and the reason for the change.