Rotating workforce for a lean and agile warehouse

A modern warehouse should be as cost effective as possible. Agile and Lean are key words in each warehouse with self-respect who want to minimize their costs. However, if these words should mean something in practice what is required of your leaders and staff?

Primarily you need a leadership that not just want to manage current routines and workflow. You need to look forward and like to develop and evolve. He or she must be able to handle change management and like to develop the team. The sales channels become more and more complex, the same applies to delivery methods. Goods in should also be handled in several ways, direct put away, cross-docking repacking you name it. Warehouse production is far from static, therefore it is important to manage resources dynamically.

What I mention above requires a leadership who can communicate in a clear and positive way and who can explain the benefits of moving resources between departments and can also provide positive feedback in a credible way. In short, you have to enjoy interacting with other people. Unfortunately, I have seen companies too often pick someone from the warehouse staff without giving the person the right conditions in terms of leadership training, coaching and a clear job description. Senior management often underestimate the challenges it means to be a leader in a modern warehouse production. Many senior leaders persists in the belief that it’s just about stocking goods they have not seen the journey warehouse logistics made from just warehousing to a cost efficient warehouse production, there is a fundamental difference.

I propagate relentlessly to use job rotation in the warehouse to get as close to one hundred percent utilization of resources as we possibly can. Sub-optimization is warehouse greatest enemy. For example if you only have a small amount of orders to pick, move instead resources to goods receiving. Do not underestimate your staff, if you think they can only become a “specialist” in one operation then you have definitely underestimated your staff. If one person only do one operation, for example picking, I consider it a form of “Taylorism”, which is an outdated and obsolete philosophy. Sure there are staff who may excel at certain operations, but what do you think happens if one person perform the same monotonous task in many years? The lack of stimulation and the risk of repetitive strain injury means that the person in question will soon be unable to deliver on the same performance level. To have the same staff in the same operation to “specialize” themselves does not have the same efficiency gains compared to allocate staff optimally between departments depending on the workload. When you hire warehouse personnel, it is good to discuss the willingness to change and the ability to handle quick decisions because in a modern and efficient warehouse it is routine.

I have been part of projects when a warehouse going from working static with fixed departments to work with floating resources that are allocated in real time. Of course, there are challenges, and it does not always go smoothly at first. You need to have patience and let the staff give expression to their concerns and fears for change. If you do it the right way, I can promise that it will be a success both for the company in form of reduced costs and for the staff in form of increased job satisfaction and stimulation.

Roberth Karlsson


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