In a survey conducted by Intermec at the end of last year, it was reported that mid-sized warehouses lose approximately 3,000 hours a year due to workforce inefficiencies. The survey also noted that 30 percent of warehouse managers had not conducted a review of their processes in the warehouse in the past year.
In this article, we cover five strategies to help eliminate common issues that lead to reduced efficiency within the warehouse workforce.
1. Create Processes to Reinforce Accountability
Warehouse managers often turn to automation to improve fulfillment, but the benefits of automation are lost when pickers are careless (and assume a packer down the line will correct any mistake). Warehouse managers should require the perpetrators to resolve their errors, advises Paul Thomson, COO and co-founder of the travel item e-commerce site Minimus.
Thomson’s team has reduced picking errors by asking packers to place erroneous inventory on a “reject” shelf. The responsible picker is then notified, asked to stop what they are doing and correct the error by fetching the correct item. Short-term losses in efficiency are quickly regained by establishing accountability among workers, says Thomson.
2. Document Procedural Changes & Compare against Errors
For a warehouse, accurate inventory picking isn’t a benchmark for success–it’s a necessity. “In our industry, you rarely get credit for the 99.99 percent of things that go right,” says Milton Cornwell, COO of third-party logistics provider Materialistic.
Most warehouse managers keep close tabs on internal picking error rates. But because error rates fluctuate, it’s difficult to know if inadequate training, improperly implemented technology, unrealistic expectations or worker negligence is the cause. Managers should create a meticulous log of all changes in the warehouse, and then compare them against error rate changes over time.
“We look at error rates as an indication of an imperfect system,” says Thomson. By knowing what has changed recently in the warehouse environment, Thomson and his team are able to either understand if they need to re-train a new class of workers or if there is a malfunction in warehouse technology.
3. Improve Profit Sharing Programs with Extended Education
To increase the impact of a profit-sharing program, leadership should help workers understand how the warehouse fits into the business. Profit sharing is a popular way that businesses emphasize quality work and incentivize teamwork in the warehouse.
Success reflects efficient implication of one team’s action with others. Generous employs not only shares profit for its warehouse worker, but he also believes its training programs for warehouse workers–which discuss its business in general as well as the implications of one team’s actions upon others–are an important catalyst for its success.
4. Ask Leadership to Walk the Floor
I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for Undercover Boss. But while the reality show often ends with a cheesy, made-for-TV epiphany from the CEO, asking your leaders to walk the floor can help find extraneous, unnecessary activities that might otherwise go unnoticed.
Ask a senior member of your management team to help pick packages or assist in the storage yard for a day. During this time, ask if they question “why” things are being done the way they are as much as possible.
The leadership at Minimus will frequently help on the warehouse floor, and Thomson recounts how one executive recently asked why a particular scale was being used in a staging area. Because many manufacturers don’t provide an even weight for products and zeroing-out a large scale is time-consuming, counting by hand is a better way to count items. Workers agreed this was inefficient, but it was just the way things had been done as long as anyone could remember.
Minimus eliminated the scale and can now process orders more accurately, thanks to the ability of the non-entrenched executive to question the necessity of the process
5. Avoid Over Engineering Your Warehouse
To achieve operational efficiency and high return on investment from new technology, it’s important to remember a new warehouse management system won’t break bad worker habits. Placing an expensive technology investment on top of an inefficient, unregulated workforce is a recipe for a poor return on investment. Thomson says that his team is considering a new software product that could improve pick-and-pack rates, but he hasn’t yet pulled the trigger on the purchase.