Just Ask Jim: How A Centralized Dispatch Model Enhances Knowledge Transfer

Any business needs three disciplines to prosper — technical, sales, and accounting. That means a product or a service; a way to sell it; and a method of accounting for the sales and expenses. Dispatch is the same. The technical aspect is shipping (allocating or dispatching); sales is the customer service personnel or order takers; and accounting is the scheduler or logistics manager.

Each position requires different talents and abilities. A person may have one discipline, the rare person can have two, but no one has all three. If they do have all three, what are they doing wasting their time in dispatch when they could be saving the world or making piles of money?

The personnel in different positions will have different interests and knowledge levels based on their job. Customer Service personnel should have deep knowledge of order entry and all the variations of scheduling. They need to be skilled in probing and reaching consensus and selling the customer on the most advantageous time. The Manager-Logistician will have an intimate knowledge of the market, customers, scheduling scenarios and how to acquire from the computer the information needed to solve a problem or make a point. The shipper or allocator will be a game player and capable to redeploy trucks as jobsite conditions change while capturing all status times for reports.

I have often visited dispatch offices and observed how the system is being used. If I notice a feature not being used, I will mention it. The reaction I typically receive  ranges from, “Yeah, I know about that,” to “No, I didn’t. How does that work?” A dispatcher in the adjacent office will often ask, “How did you do that?” Dispatchers will learn what is important to them, disregarding other functions that they see no use for. It is a bit like Microsoft Word or PowerPoint. It has much more functionality than most users need, so one learns enough to get the job done, learning more as the need presents itself.

Larger dispatch offices will have a veritable “people vault” of knowledge. Usually, one person will be the inquisitive, exploring kind who will visit various modules to see what is available; thus knowing where features are and how they work. They will know how to solve computer or network issues when the problem arises. Concrete dispatching is fast-moving and cannot wait. Stopping delivery mid-pour can result in a cold joint and expensive removal. Dispatching is the one place it does not pay to scrimp. Dispatching is the air control of the ready mixed concrete industry. Accounting can wait a week, Sales can wait a day, but dispatch can wait only a few minutes.

Avoid hiring all the same personality type. While uniform personalities may contribute to harmony in dispatch, that is after all, not the goal. What you want to avoid is a dispatch office where everyone is in total agreement and getting along well while providing poor service at great cost. The dispatchers’ goal is customer service and efficiency, which takes different personality types and different knowledge bases.

Non-central concentrates one person’s opinion of what is important in one place, enabling the passing of ignorance onto the successor. This assumes that there is an overlap of jobs to allow this to occur. This occupational “game of telephone” can result in some bad practices in only a few iterations.

Central dispatch enhances knowledge transfer by combining many different talents in one place. Losing one person is inconvenient but not catastrophic.

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