Any company dealing with fine arts, interior design or museums logistics inevitably comes across multi-part objects that are harder to keep track of than kids in the gym. The model that we came up with to handle these agile creatures is called “parents and children”; if you thought for a moment that I have something to say about the millennials at workplace, then I’m afraid you’ve grossly overestimated my desire to overshadow Simon Sinek  (because he said it best).

One sunny New York afternoon, I was showing our system to a company that does high end fine arts and museum work and I thought I’d inflicted pain on these good people as the HD TV hookup didn’t work and the projector resolution made for a miserable presentation experience. To my total shock the GMs remained very engaged, and at the end of the demo pointed at a blurry section of the screen and said: “Say, we have a large object that comes in multiple pieces that tend to move Independently. How do you handle that? We saw something on the screen but couldn’t quite make out the details”. I sprang to life and said that we’d come up with a parent-children model to handle such objects gracefully”. The GMs looked at each other whimsically and one of them said: “Funnily enough we have ended up with the same terminology after 20 years. Please elaborate”. And elaborate I did....

For simplicity’s sake, let’s say you have to pick up a dining set consisting of a dining table and 6 chairs. Let’s also say that the dining table comes as a top and 4 legs, each chair comes as a frame and 2 cushions, and the manufacturer has it packed in 4 boxes (one for the table parts and 3 for sets of 2 chairs). For starters we create an item called “dining set - table and 6 chairs” with 7 items (table + 6 chairs) and 23 pieces (1+4+6*(1+2)). Since the item came in 4 packages which can potentially be moved around the warehouse and crated for shipping separately, we split this item into 4 packages (one package with 1 item and 5 pieces making up a table and 3 packages with 2 items and 6 pieces each making up 2 chairs and their pieces). This splitting operation turns the item into a parent. It signifies the fact that the dining set doesn’t exist as one physical monolithic object with a known location and dims. Instead it becomes a virtual shell for the packages that physically move around, have their own dims, location, scanning history and release and delivery dates and status. The number of pieces and items in the children add up to the number of items and pieces in the parent - this system (and the mobile app) enforce family integrity and collective sanity.

At any point in time the system shows the number of items and pieces on hand. Having all children out of the warehouse changes the parent status to released or delivered (depending on the date and type of transaction via which the last child left the warehouse). If you’ve made it to this point alert and present then the natural question to ask would be: “If you’re so smart, how do you handle one item split into multiple packages? What’s the number of items in each package - only one package can have 1 item, the rest should be 0”. Indeed it looks a bit weird at first, but then again there has to be some room for philosophical interpretation in every aspect of human activity, including logistics. If you deliver part of a chandelier to a client and other parts remain in the warehouse, what’s the right number of items representing the chandelier on hand and the chandelier released from the warehouse? It would appear reasonable to think that the number of items on hand should be 1 and the number of released items is 0...

After this short mini lecture Todd, one of the GMs, smiled widely and said: “So you actually get it, eh?”. Now you know how this series got its name.