Great minds have scoured trade journals, articles and business books looking for the golden ratio of accuracy and efficiency within the fulfillment center, only to come up empty handed. The reason? No two warehouses are alike, which means that no one solution can possibly stretch to cover all the bases. Like many of the best ideas in business optimization, it takes a dedicated supply chain professional, a simple template and a lot of adjusting to find the right fit for your business. If you're willing to be the hand on that helm, take a look at three not-so-secret secrets to kicking your fulfillment processes into high gear.
1. Finding the Right Technology
Consider the process of shopping for fulfillment software and devices the same way you would shopping for a car. Walk into the process knowing what you need from your product, with a firm budget in mind and a healthy dose of skepticism. Ask peers in the industry what they think of X software or Y scanners, and read reviews that assess not only the product but the amount of after-purchase support available.
Don't buy more complicated software than you need. Not only will it be a larger upfront cost, it will take more time and resources to train your staff to use it. Whenever possible, partner with solution providers that are able to provide both versatility and scalability in your digital products. Careful pre-implementation assessment is vital to achieving the best results—even for warehouse management systems.
2. Setting up the Right Interface
It's tempting to set up fulfillment center workflows that follow highly-touted templates or your own personal preferences. Set up your systems with your team in mind, however, and you'll be facing considerably less pushback. The "best" software and dashboards may actually provide very poor results if your in-company users are uncomfortable with or confused by their layouts. That's why it's a good idea to have a brainstorming meeting with your team before you make any significant changes in how order processing is handled. If your solutions provider offers customized products, this meeting may even shape the actual software destined for your warehouse workflows. If you'd like more data-driven research, usability labs offer larger companies the ability to standardize results in order to track down their best software options.
3. Creating the Right Teamwork
Some of the most regrettable time-sinks in order fulfillment come from work done redundantly or without proper collaboration. It's entirely possible that right now, even as you're reading this article, two members of your team or your team and another division in your company are doing the same tasks—ultimately costing the company twice the work hours as the same results emerge. Look into record-keeping throughout the company. Search for areas that shipments or resource orders can be consolidated, and consistently task each of your team members with the same duty. Even if you don't turn up redundancies to eliminate within your own division, your team’s hard work might be ideal support in another area of the company. Additionally, looking into optimizing collaboration between your human and digital staff, if your warehouse uses automation or robotics. In a piece for the MIT Technology Review, Will Knight shares the story of a less-than-exuberant Amazon worker whose robotic shelves moved to her, rather than vice-versa, which were efficient, but robbed her of the chance to walk and stretch her legs during picking.
Your fulfillment center is already well on its way to greatness, but it's up to you, as a supply chain professional, to push it the rest of the way to the summit. Use these three starting points to mark your path, and you’ll soon be driving the well-oiled machine of commerce from the comfort of your warehouse walls.