by Michael Koploy, Software Advice

A November 2012 survey found that distribution center managers understand that their warehouses aren’t entirely optimal, but they lack the time, resources and strategies to greatly improve operations.

Specifically, the survey found that mid-sized warehouses (approximately 50 workers) lose almost 3,000 hours a year due to workforce inefficiencies. Additionally, while 89 percent of those surveyed indicated that new technology could help managers recoup these inefficiencies, only 70 percent had conducted a thorough review of practices in the warehouse in the past year.

In this post, we’ll identify four strategies to help evaluate your warehouse operations and eliminate redundant, ineffective processes.

1) Maintain a Thorough Process Log of Any and All Changes

While it’s common to keep track of inventory error rates, many warehouse managers fail to take advantage of the insight within these metrics. While they certainly do point to problems, error rates are best utilized when seen as indicators of systematic failures within your organization.

The best way to pinpoint these failure points is to meticulously log any changes in training procedures, new workers, new technology implemented, or other changes within your warehouse. The ability to put these changes on a time scale is the difference from the ability to be proactive and reactive when analyzing error rates.

2) Emphasize Processes that Reinforce Accountability

When creating a procedure or process in your warehouse, the benefits realized in these methods are lost when workers circumvent the system or create work-arounds. All too often, a mistake made at the start of the picking process isn’t a big concern for the perpetrator--they know that someone down the line, likely a packer, will fix the problem for them.

Create a workflow within your organization that creates accountability, but also puts an emphasis on the importance of accuracy. For example, create an area for packers to place errant inventory, and ask them to notify pickers of the mistake rather than fixing it themselves. The near-term losses in efficiency will be regained in the long-term with workers that are more attentive to the little things.

3) Offer Profit-Sharing (in Addition to Extended Education)

A profit-sharing program is popular strategy that entices workers to care more about performance and accuracy. For example, if a warehouse sees a 40 percent increase in productivity which leads to a 12 percent increase in profits, the warehouse workers will share some of these gains. This in-turn leads to more productivity from workers, and thus even further increases in profits.

Businesses can make these programs more effective, however, by offering extended education courses and meetings for their workers. This has two main benefits. First, these courses show workers their importance to the business, leading to more empathy among workers and a natural boost to performance via increased morale. Second, it can show warehouse workers how their jobs are related to the business as a whole--and thus reduce mistakes due to carelessness.

4) Have Leadership on the Floor

Regardless of the amount of effort you put into streamlining the warehouse, redundancies and unnecessary activities will arise over time. It’s just the nature of the beast. And the repetitive nature of many warehouse responsibilities make these habits not only hard to solve, but hard to discover until it becomes a big problem.

One method to help identify these tendencies quickly is to have an outsider look-in--namely, a member of your company's leadership can help just by walking the warehouse floor. When doing so, ask your leaders to question “why” things are being done, more so than “how.” Having eyes that aren’t entrenched in the day-to-day is a helpful way to root-out strange practices.

For more details on these strategies and other helpful suggestions to improve the warehouse, check out the post: Strategies to Boost Your Warehouse Workforce’s Efficiency.

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