Regardless of disciplines or industry, most business experts will agree that productivity "kryptonite" can be summed up in the phrase, "That's how we've always done it." The space between status quo-disrupting innovations is getting shorter and shorter, which means that the cost of stagnation is higher than it’s ever been. If you aren't searching for improvement opportunities in everything from fulfillment to vendor management, chances are you're shrugging off a chance to gain time, resources and sanity out of an overworked section of your supply chain.
Here's how you can stay at the head of the pack, rather than bringing up the rear:
Make Research a Habit
Where do you hear about technological advances and new trends in logistics? If discovery and discussion of your industry is relegated to a logistics convention or meeting once a year, you're being too passive about your applicable education. Commit to checking in with an industry blog at least once a week and make notes on approaches and tools that have promising applications in your warehouse and workflows. Digital versions of popular logistics magazines like Inbound Logistics can not only be read at leisure, but shared with your staff quickly and easily. When you make this research a standard part of your routine, supporting and growing your existing operational knowledge becomes considerably easier.
Keep an Ear on Your Staff
As a supply chain manager, you know that no one is closer to your product than your staff. If one of your team members has consistent complaints about the communication (or lack thereof) between your company and a supply chain provider, don't wave them off. If they have a good idea for better vendor management, listen to it—even if it isn't feasible, it may lead to another idea that would work. Analyze mistakes and deconstruct them and, whenever possible, turn mix-ups into a trigger for investigation rather than condemnation. Was that order picked incorrectly because the picker was distracted, or because the labeling for SKUs leaves something to be desired? Warehouse teams are very adaptable and resilient, which means they'll formulate workarounds on the fly to keep things moving. The problem is that without intervention or awareness on your part, these workarounds will pile up and add a lot of unnecessary U-turns to your workflow.
Consider a Different Perspective
Much like your staff, you want to keep things moving smoothly. Unfortunately, that means innovation may not naturally fit into your schedule. Consciously considering your supply chain from all angles is important for overall efficiency, and initiatives such as reverse logistics will help you consider the cost of a product's full life cycle, not just the one-way journey from raw material to consumer. In general, if you're framing any actions that cost money or time in your warehouse as "just part of doing business"—don't! Automation, recycling, repurposing and even carrier collaboration can mitigate or virtually eliminate incorporated costs that seem concrete. Place yourself in a vendor or customer's shoes and critically examine the shipping/receiving track records from your own warehouse. If you only see what happens among your own team, you're only getting half the picture from your product movement cycle, and you just don't have enough data to truly revolutionize your approach to logistics and the supply chain.
The most important part of embracing innovation in logistics is to keep an open mind. Borrow ideas, tinker with them until they fit the needs of your business, and always keep an ear to the ground to stay updated on new technology. Reach out to logistics tool vendors and try out new systems in a "sandbox" environment to avoid major problems in the event of a failure. You'll discover that repeated research and exploration into these areas will improve your vendor management, SKU handling and overall efficiency throughout the supply chain.