One of the biggest mistakes that a company can make is believing there's no way to improve, especially when it comes to warehouse processes. With the unique demands of omni-channel in play in nearly every industry, there's no such thing as a "set and forget" approach that will hold together for very long. It's not a stretch to say that continuous improvement is the only surefire way to remain competitive, that standing still essentially means falling behind in the current business arena. Even if your team and facility work amazingly well together, chances are there's at least a few of these seven warehousing and logistics tips you can leverage towards fine-tuning.
1. Get Manual Recording Out of the Picture
The fastest way to tell if you need this particular innovation is to take stock of how many writing instruments — pens, pencils, markers, etc. — currently reside in your warehouse. If there's more than a small handful for incidentals that you regularly rely on, you're leaving too much to risk. Recording, taking inventory and even signing for invoices when digital options are available and viable is risking the strength of your warehouse. Human beings are fallible, and one incorrectly-read number can send pick-packers wandering down aisle after aisle, squinting at the wrong signs. Nicole Pontius of Camcode advises setting up an automatic barcode scanning and upload system.
Once it's been set up, your team simply places handheld scanners in their charging cradles and the data they contain will be instantly uploaded and searchable. Digital files are especially important for warehouse managers that need to frequently check up with a C-Suite. Easily-transferrable updates on overall warehouse progress will help keep everyone on the same proverbial page.
2. Learn, Embrace and Use the Internet of Things to Your Advantage
Maybe you don't think your industry needs a lot of tech upgrades, that it's just fine firmly stuck in analog mode. The truth of the matter is that all industries and products can benefit from metrics to study and use, no matter how "low tech" the products or components they're dealing in. Certain benchmarks hold the same weight across multiple business fields: overall volume, product turnover and average processing time, just to name a few. The Internet of Things (IoT) can deliver this important data to your company without needing to uproot familiar processes. It's often simply a matter of changing or modifying your scanning equipment or obtaining data already being transmitted by your 3PL provider. Even if you're too busy to peer deeply into these insights, getting the data-gathering infrastructure in place will ensure you have a data history to build on. In the event you later hire a professional to handle your accumulated big data feeds, they'll be able to draw more precise conclusions with a larger volume of data points to draw from.
3. Make Your Metrics Match
Imagine if a modern brick-and-mortar company in a competitive industry shrugged off the need for a web presence. Consider the outcome if a website never researched their rival's sales and offerings to see if their own needed work. Both stores would be stuck in the past, unable to capture a fresh slice of market share due to their reluctance to face change. Metrics are very similar — what was important and relevant a scant few years ago may be utterly obsolete today. There's a reason that marketing teams discuss Facebook likes and not Myspace fan counts and why corporate PR gurus spread their message via Twitter and not a newspaper.
The measure of your company's success needs to be reflected in the metrics you're recording and using to spur positive development in your team. Ask yourself what your most loyal customers want out of each order, and use their answers to help determine the right behind-the-scenes tracking metrics.
4. Get Out from Behind the Desk
Metrics, readouts and periodic mandatory meetings will only tell you so much about the health of your warehouse. Make a point to regularly walk the floor during different work volumes to assess potential problems or areas of waste that can be minimized. It will promote a better team attitude and offer valuable face time with your employees. A recent article in LeanCor noted that forward-focused warehouses should also have a formalized plan in place for improvement suggestions from your team. Some warehouse processes that make sense from a managerial standpoint are actually a time-wasting headache to employees on the front lines. Listen to your staff's suggestions to identify these time sinks and derive more efficiency out of your staff as a whole. Better yet, make a morning stand-up meeting a new tradition in your warehouse, allowing employees the chance to address topical issues before they head out onto the floor.
5. Take Vendor Scorecards to Heart
If the only thing you compare your warehousing and logistics performance to is your previous performance, you're settling into an echo chamber that will hurt your business. Vendor scorecards and regular feedback from your buyers are tools that give you actionable insights and clearly outline expectations. Use the needs and expectations of your biggest clients to steer important improvement efforts. Chances are they've had experience with other larger companies in your sphere of influence, and their desired goals may be very helpful in remaining competitive. In fact, paying special attention to metrics like order accuracy may also reward you with a larger volume of orders or more frequent ones.
6. Align Digital and Physical Attributes
So, say that you're already using wireless technologies comfortably, gathering metrics and keeping everything on track. How precise is the human-to-machine element of your workflows? If your floor team struggles to find barcodes on bins, or ends up manually entering faded barcodes out of frustration, the system has broken down. The juncture at which human senses meet automated ones should be standardized and clearly labeled to cut down on confusion, advises Nancy Master in RFGen. While entirely automated warehouses may be a reality in the future, right now, a company must be able to depend on the human members of its team, and that means removing as many obstacles from their working paths as possible. If possible, shadow one of your pick/packing employees to see where he or she runs into a roadblock, whether it be with poor shelf labeling, broken handheld scanners or something else that can be easily adjusted by management. Your targeted problem-solving will help keep the two halves of your fulfillment center working together smoothly.
7. Don't Copy Someone Else
Warehousing perfection is an elusive goal, and the temptation to leap on a turnkey solution is high. Warehousing and fulfillment, however, should be treated as entirely unique from company to company. Even within the same industry, each brand has their own earmarks and adjustments. Your vendors may be further out or more close by, your facilities may be bigger or smaller and so on — that means that what works for your competitors may be a complete mismatch for your brand. Considering basic frameworks or mimicking a clever data collection strategy is fine, but keep your eyes on your own paper otherwise. Your system needs to run into a few snarls in order to be the right fit for your company. Ignoring the learning process will stunt your brand's natural growth.
Make no mistake: The warehouse processes you already use are an excellent start, and improving upon them doesn't mean they weren't the right fit for your company. Athletes don't get to the Olympics based on sheer, untested talent, and the same applies to stellar warehouse management. Practice makes perfect, so use these seven tips to cut the fat and make your warehouse and supply chain into the lean, mean machines you've always known they could be.