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April 26 2022 06:51 AM

Prices are rising, good talent (or any talent!) is hard to find, and the demand for just about everything is increasing. Associates are getting tired of overtime, and it feels like you’re operating on a shoestring. Sound familiar? It is a challenging time, for sure. There are some things you can do today to get organized and get your facility back on track.

Think of the four walls of your operation as a giant jigsaw puzzle. All the pieces must fit together strategically to make it complete. Spending lots of money to increase your throughput in order picking when your shipping dock already has more than it can handle doesn’t make sense. Moving a bottleneck from one area to another simply doesn’t work. Following are some tips to help you make a list of all your opportunities and start prioritizing your needs before the next fiscal year budget so you can justify and get the tools you need to increase your volumes and do more orders with fewer people.

The first place to begin is to ensure you have someone in your organization that knows good distribution practices (if that person is not you). If you don’t really believe you have the right talent, find someone from outside. Sometimes fresh eyes can truly find the golden nuggets in your operation to make it run better and with less interruptions.

1. First, review your technology. Do you have a WMS? If not, going from a non-WMS facility to a WMS facility will, as a rule of thumb, give you a minimum of 30% increase in productivity overall. There is a very important caveat; you need to change your operation to fit the WMS and not deploy over bad practices. If you do have a WMS, great! Make note of the last year it was updated. Get with IT and make sure the system is still viable and the hardware and software are not approaching end of life. As you review every department, make a note of software enhancements that would enhance the efficiencies of each.

2. The first area of the jigsaw puzzle is receiving. Meet with the receiving manager, get a list of what he or she feels they need to make the dock run better. Then, talk to some of the older tenured people in the department and ask them. (Who knows; you may just uncover a simple fix to a software upgrade that no one noticed and that could save minutes in receiving each item!) If you are fortunate to have a new person with distribution experience, ask that person also. From that point, map out the process. Review it with your team and see what steps, if any, can be removed or what steps, if any, need to be added to increase accuracy. Be careful of the “we’ve always done it this way” or adding a step when a specific problem happened one time two years ago. In other words, don’t add steps unless it is really warranted.

3. Follow the same formula for putaway and replenishment.

4. The next puzzle piece — and one of the most important — is order picking. Follow the same process but observe the order pickers. What do they spend most of their time doing? How much time in the morning goes by before they actually start picking (I have seen 30 to 40 minutes taken up by finding their box cutters, shipping containers, RF guns, tools, etc.) This is non-productive time and can be easily fixed with better preparation. If the order picker spends time opening boxes, taking away trash, or unclogging flow rack, you have opportunity. Most of the better-run facilities have the replenisher cut the boxes before they are put in the rack and to take the trash out of the area so the pickers can spend their time picking. If your pickers spend any time waiting, bingo! You have opportunity that usually can be easily fixed.

5. Next, go to packaging. One of the keys here is ergonomics. Eliminate twisting and turning. Try to put all tools at golden zone level. In some companies, you can avoid an additional QA check, while others may need it. Follow the same process noted earlier before heading to shipping.

6. Shipping also entails reviewing your policies. Are you taking advantage of zone skipping or any of the newer features the shippers are offering? Does your flow make sense? Is the shipping station close to the dock?

As you go through every area within the four walls, make sure the flow makes sense and keep in mind the two most important rules: Reduce walk times and reduce touch times

All these steps and tips are taking in consideration that you or a staff member are doing this yourself. But if you are like most facilities, you are already working 120%, so there will not be any time. This is when an outside team may assist. If you hire a consultant that already knows the best practices, many of these steps can be eliminated because they will be able to recognize and prioritize needs quickly with one walk-through, giving you your end result much faster. Don’t spend a dime to save a penny!

Susan Rider is President of Rider & Associates and an Executive Life Coach. She can be reached at

This article originally appeared in the March/April, 2022 issue of PARCEL.