An update to Sparkle

SparkFun’s Inventory day was Friday, January 15th. (We have a cool video detailing Inventory Day, you should check that out.) We currently have to do inventory day because we don’t have a system of cycle counting in place. Cycle counts allow you to periodically count inventory in conjunction with an audit plan to slowly count your inventory over time.

We are a big enough company now that inventory day is more disruptive than fun. We needed a way to upgrade our internal ERP system, Sparkle, to support cycle counts. Sparkle is built internally by our software development team, so it was on us to build these tools.

We built a new, shelf-based system with a suite of transfer tools that will allow us to move part locations around, based on their actual real world location. The tool even models our carts, whether they are in inventory transfer, receiving or shipping. When you place something on a cart to move it to a different part of the warehouse, the system will reflect that. We now have shelf/cart level knowledge of our inventory across our entire warehouse.

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We knew that successfully deploying the location data would be a challenge. We would first need the data, and we’d have to test all of the functionality of the associated systems. We decided, after much hand wringing, to deploy in conjunction with inventory day. It was a risk, but it is a risk I defended, and still defend.

We started off with a bit of a backlog of orders. We take orders Thursday night and all day Friday, which would put us at a pretty big deficit moving into the weekend on an average inventory day. Our auditors decided to do some extra counting Saturday; we really didn’t get a chance to ship anything until late Saturday afternoon. This was going to be the first real test of our shipping tools. A few software devs and I worked all weekend supporting the shippers ‘gamma’ testing the new release. This was slow work, killing edge case bugs as they came up and stopping shipping so we could deploy, and getting them back to work so they could do more testing.

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The entire process took all weekend and a bit into last Monday. Needless to say at this point, four plus days of orders were backing up the system pretty badly. By Wednesday, we were able to leverage the new tools effectively enough to be moving at the pace we were at before. Orders have started going out at regular intervals, and we’ve started the process of fine-tuning all of the inventory transfer tools.

The effort to improve continues now and may never be done. With every step in the process we are finding efficiencies and ways to capture and model data we hadn’t thought of previously. We are creating new support tools and data access dashboards to empower our floor managers to make real time decisions that will make SparkFun better.

While it has been a rough transition for us and for some of our customers (thanks for your patience!), we are making these changes so we can be better moving forward. We regret any inconvenience these changes are causing our customers. We’re hoping that things will be moving a lot faster this week.

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