4 Keys to manage materials in telecommunications projects

"We ran out of grounding kits!" The warehouse manager was heard to say and thus we realized that the entire volume of installations we had just agreed with the customer was not going to be able to be fulfilled in any way. We had meticulously planned the project and now it was all up in the air. It took weeks for the grounding kits to be purchased/manufactured/delivered. A tragedy.

In any technology deployment project, the availability of materials plays a critical role, but is often given less importance in the planning, compared to activities such as team coordination, design and engineering, reporting and other project tasks.

In this article we will cover the 4 keys to make materials management a non-issue, or at least not a cause of delay in your projects.

1. Have staff focused on materials management.

"It can be handled by the PM in a spreadsheet" is often heard. Sure, at the beginning of the project it's simple: materials to arrive, the stock in each warehouse and that's it. The problem arises later, with hundreds or thousands of shipments to each job site, with re-shipments of failed materials, equipment returns, personnel taking "borrowed" materials and so on.

Having at least one person on the team in charge of standing at the warehouse door (real or virtual!) helps to ensure that these minor movements do not remain only in the good memory of a technician.

This person must have one main quality: Process obsession. First and foremost, the most important thing is to comply with the control and registration processes, to ensure the "health" of the stock and traceability. Secondary is the knowledge of the equipment, even the knowledge in logistics! to stick to the defined process and to take ownership of each material will be the virtue to look for.

A WMS (Warehouse Management System) platform will help simplify daily operations and ensure that nothing is left unrecorded. At Sytex (www.sytex.io) we developed a materials management module that, in addition to keeping inventories and shipments, allows to link these activities to the global process of the project. This way you can know at all times who has each material, at what stage it is, where it was finally installed and all its detailed tracking.

The second important virtue is proactivity, although in truth, it is an important virtue in all project resources. A person attentive to shortages, to accelerated consumption of materials, to propose and improve processes is, again, more important than knowing about technology or what is finally operating.

2. To have traceability of each movement.

A sign should be posted at every warehouse entrance door stating:"All material entering or leaving a warehouse must be searched".

Many times a field technician arrives to take away something urgent, or the manager comes and asks quickly for materials for a test that needs to be done; whatever it is, it must be registered before, by system. "I'll write it down later", "I'll bring it back to you", you hear, and, obviously, it is rarely fulfilled.

The problems come later, we start to have minimal differences in stocks in different places, which start to increase. It is impossible to decipher the causes: theft? lack of control? we send too much?

What every warehouse manager must avoid is the famous "broken window phenomenon", which says that an abandoned warehouse with an unrepaired broken window will lead to more people breaking the other windows with stones. In other words: if we do not record the slightest movement, the result will be that no one will trust the records anymore and the warehouse management can quickly get out of control.

3. Have a good material return process.

When estimating how many materials we need for a project, never count failed/broken/lost materials. On a large project, losing one piece of equipment doesn't seem like a big deal, but towards the end every unit counts!

From the beginning we must think about how to recover unused or replaced field materials and, at the same time, obsess the whole team with the importance of this process.

Reverse logistics is complex, we tend to rely on technician trips, mail or bus deliveries, and each case is unique. Being attentive to each return by keeping a record will greatly help the health of the project.

An easy way to implement the process is not to send replacement materials, no matter how urgent, until the material to be returned has been accurately recorded.

We also have another advantage: quickly identifying failed units for repair or return.

4. Estimate the total materials to be used

Except in a few companies, the people who estimate the quantities of materials to be sold are not the same people who then send materials to the field. This leads to differences, perhaps in criteria, in what should be sent to the site according to the expected configuration.

Also, when starting a project, it seems like the materials will never run out! We see the tank full and it seems to be a problem for later as the focus is on field production.

Having at least one spreadsheet that allows us to map the initial calculation by configuration, the calculation used by projects vs. the actual stock will help to have alerts of deviations at all times.

One goal of the project team should be to improve the quantities shipped to the site. Perhaps they discover that it is possible to ship less cable, or more connectors, for example, depending on what they observe at the end of the installations. If this is recorded and maintained in the usage estimate spreadsheet, we will ensure that we have no major problems going forward.

This control will also help the team to have in one place the information of what materials are sent in each case, making the information transparent for the project team, warehouse and also for new resources that join the organization.


Having a robust materials process generates speed, savings and continuous improvement. Rethinking processes at the beginning of any project will pay off throughout the life of the project and will also help reduce stress for everyone involved!

Continuing the story, everyone in the team went into "get grounding kits any way we could" mode. With a lot of effort and thanks to the team's good relationship with other companies, we managed to borrow a volume of grounding kits that allowed us to sail a few weeks of production. We also managed to get the suppliers to advance us a minimum volume and thus the project (and the promises) were revived. At that point we vowed not to go through any more such shocks and implemented several of these practices in our day-to-day operations.

On a side note, the Telco industry is very small! helping each other, no matter how competitive we may seem, always pays off!

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