When Management of Public Housing Inventory Gets ‘Lean’

January 10, 2018

Is management of your public housing inventory lean and mean? Whether your public housing authority is large or small, inventory must be handled properly.

Owners and managers of public housing or mixed-income communities must maintain properties, which means buying materials and supplies to keep properties in good repair. But how an agency orders, stores and uses materials can impact everything from unit turn times and emergency repairs to state audit findings.

It’s imperative your agency has an effective plan in place for the management of these materials and supplies. One of the best things you can do is embrace the “lean” concept.

This process improvement and management methodology comes from the Toyota production system. The primary drive at Toyota was to eliminate waste in processes while respecting employees. The methods the company evolved worked so well that they’ve been applied to everything from building airplanes to ordering office supplies.

But how exactly can a public housing authority adopt these methods? Learn more about best practices and lean inventory management systems.

Warehouse Management

Many public housing authorities have warehouses, which vary from large buildings to small rooms. So, how do you go from a mom-and-pop operation to a complex supply chain? Examine concepts like lean private-sector warehouse management (and stay up-to-date on the regulations within your state on materials control).

Whether you’re a warehouse manager, operations person or senior manager, spend meaningful time in your warehouses to understand every process and step. Listen and learn from the knowledge already in place: Ask what’s working well and what’s not. As you talk to staff, gauge how well the current system is working for them.

If you start off with the solution before you understand the entire situation, chances are the new processes will fail.

Process and Workflow Movement

How does your material move through the entire value stream? Where does it enter? How long before it’s put away — and where and why does it go where it goes? Focus on eliminating waste within your warehouse by looking at the movement of materials, such as building and maintenance supplies.

How hard is it to find products? Do you store some items in one part of the warehouse but put others across the way? Do you put high-use items on the bottom shelf (where people have to bend over to reach them)? Think about where items are put and what unnecessary movements that placement could cause.

Just-In-Time Principles

Just-in-time (JIT) principles help companies reduce waste and increase efficiency by only ordering materials when they are needed. Are you a housing authority with no material? If your staff is running to Home Depot three times a day because they need to get a part, that’s not JIT management.

These principles might be more common within manufacturing than public housing warehouses, but that’s not to say you can’t employ a hybrid approach. A company that manufactures airplanes knows demand at all times, while a housing authority cannot always predict unit vacancy or the amount of damage a unit sustains.

A JIT approach at a public housing authority involves the following:

  • Avoid ordering extra material. Overproduction causes you to waste both materials and the money spent storing the excess product.
  • Waiting is a colossal waste. If your staff is waiting for a part, that costs time and money.
  • Are you overprocessing? Look for other defects in your processes.

The Pull System

Many housing authorities are either using a pull system or trying to implement something similar. Pull material management is when you order as needed and use data about product use to make ordering decisions.

This system requires regular communication with vendors about consumption and resupply times. The New York City Housing Authority’s supply chain employees give their vendors scorecards: Back orders count against the vendor’s score.

Once vendor communication is clear, your agency can bring more rigor to the art of ordering: Establish minimums and maximums on every item. Then, use data to help you understand when to order again.

The Kanban System

The Kanban system, an inventory control process developed by an industrial engineer at Toyota, can be simple or complicated. In the materials-management world, a two-bin system works best for housing authorities.

For example, set up a two-bin Kanban system for drip pans. Put 10 drip pans in each bin. When the first bin is empty, re-order. If your supplier resupplies on time, you should have your next 10 drip pans as the second bin runs out. This process allows you to always have enough material on hand, but not any extra.

The Seattle Children’s Hospital is an excellent example of running a tight supply chain. The hospital doesn’t manage properties, but it does keep a lot of supplies on hand to help keep patients healthy. It uses the Kanban system to stock small and large items, which would also work well for a public housing authority.

Understanding and managing your materials can help your public housing inventory through clean audits and maximize customer service. By following these best practices and adopting these strategies, your agency can become “lean and mean.”

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