Making e-commerce sustainable has never been more relevant and challenging than during the COVID-19 pandemic, but here are three things you can immediately implement in the warehouse to insure productivity and survival …
1) de-prioritize your value add programs
3) concentrate on picking and shipping.
Value Add Programs
These are the activities you conduct to get your warehouse from simply productive to attaining operational excellence across your entire facility. For most these practices require extra people (not the easiest commodity to manage currently), time (excellence is an investment of time) and administrative monitoring.
An easy way to identify your Value Add programs is to think about the essential mission of the distribution facility: shipping product out to destinations and curtailing or modifying any programs that does not make that physical process faster. Some examples of programs that may be curtailed are: Cycle Counting, Inventory Consolidation, Audit and Validation Programs - unless required in your industry.
Here are some ways to modify those processes and fold their efforts lightly into other operations to still accomplish a portion of them, but focus them where they can be less impactful.
Reduce your inventory control (cycle counting) to only include your fastest velocity movers or your highest cost items. That should reduce the number of people and time needed to accomplish this very important program, but will still allow focus on the items that need focus. You might also have a second count on pallet or case quantities for those same items during the receiving process, conducting an immediate validation in lieu of a count of those items at rest on a shelf.
Thinking in Silos
This doesn’t mean that managers should view their warehouse as processes and teams who cannot share resources or goals, but does force management teams to begin every day with the thought that every process must feed directly to fulfillment. Consequently, a process slowing down fulfillment must be addressed with people and effort with urgency – even at the cost of other KPIs.
Normal operations allow for an understanding that work in a specific warehouse process ebbs and flows, and small changes to a team can normalize work across a facility over the course of a day. In an environment where silos are effectively used people are moved to teams - and that team focuses on immediately solving issues that direct shipping.
For most of us trained in modern warehousing, our normal approach to operations is to push orders out the door, but always think about demand. This approach is highly productive, but isn’t measured against efficiency - rather it’s measured against fulfillment as the only measure of success.
Concentrate on Picking and Shipping
When labor is reduced, when demand spikes, plus stability is threatened, the one thing that doesn’t change is the need to fulfill orders. When your management team must decide which tasks to assign to their limited labor resources, default to responding to the pull of inventory to the customer. All other operations require attention and labor, but only as much as needed to meet demand.
Easy examples to think about include: prioritizing putaway tasks to only those items back ordered or your fastest moving items, and assigning your receiving and putaway resources to picking as soon as available. After demand is met (or your carriers have picked up), then begin the putaway process for staged goods on your receiving dock.
Times like these require a more focused problem solving skill set – and cuter companies survive by learning to address problems by their measure of service to the customer, while other operations diminish in value until that specific need is met.
This is where adaptable and flexible cloud-based WMS comes into its own, optimizing space and labor resources to ensure efficiency and productivity improvements. Easily configurable, it also allows for such measures to be quickly and inexpensively enacted.