How to avoid sub-optimization in warehouse production

There are many ways to optimize the Warehouse. For example, using modern WMS or to increase the production rate by using incentive pay, etc. Usually you use a combination of several methods.

One way that is not so common is job rotation floating staffing positions. The Warehouse management makes a weekly schedule where employees have a new workstation on a weekly basis. The workstation is just a starting point. As the conditions, change during the day the supervisors’ moves resources between departments and work processes.

Warehouse work is relatively monotonous, through job rotation, you get a greater stimulation, and you change colleagues frequently. You minimize the risk of problems and frictions in working relationships.

You also get a staff that has a broad range of skills that makes it easy to support other departments that not have enough staff, for example due to illness and holidays or maybe have peaks due to promotions or seasonal goods.

We humans are by nature creatures of habit we like to have routines and to feel secure in our comfort zone. Therefore, many companies have their warehouse staff stationed in one department and sometimes even stationed on a particular work process. It makes the staff feel safe and comfortable. It is important that the management not giving way to the staff’s views regarding this. It is not efficient or optimal for the business. It is not good from the employee’s perspective either as it becomes repetitive strain injuries of monotonous working.

Another effect of allowing staff become too permanent in a department is that the staff feels loyalty to his/her department and not the warehouse as a whole, and then it will be sub-optimization in the warehouse. There is unwillingness to help other departments that have a high workload. I have seen examples where management hires staff to a department because of heavy workload while another department has an overcapacity instead.

This is a leadership issue. It is important that management communicate to the staff that it is the big picture that counts, it does not matter if 5 out of 10 departments are effective. It is in everyone’s interest that all departments are efficient. Senior management is not interested in details, only the last row in the result.

It is not possible staffing a warehouse optimally by department. However, you can get far if you move resources between departments and tasks throughout the warehouse. The workload is not continuous or evenly distributed across all departments.

It is a complex work using resources optimally in the warehouse, particularly in large warehouses with many departments and hundreds of employees. It is impossible to do the optimization manually. Modern WMS have sophisticated tools for this. It is often not included in standard WMS but an optional feature. WMS analyze and calculate need for resources using historical data and number of assignments in the system. If the WMS don’t have any good feature for work management, there is LMS (labor management system) as a third party software you can use. It is a great support for analyzing efficiency and work load in the warehouse. If you want to be really efficient I can promise you, that some kind of tool is necessary to measure worked hours in each department when you use rotating and floating workforce. It is impossible to keep track of all hours in each department in a manual way.

It requires a strong and good leadership in order to utilize the resource calculation tools. It is up to the warehouse manager and supervisors manually move resources from areas of low workload and resource abundance to the departments that need strengthening. Often there is an unwillingness to be moved and it creates tension in the relations between staff and between staff and management. It is important that the management communicate to the staff that they are employed in the warehouse not in one department. Management must explain that it is in everyone’s interest that the entire warehouse is effective so that the company can remain competitive.

It is required that the company is investing in leadership training for warehouse managers and supervisors so that they dare to take difficult discussions and dare move staff continuously. If supervisors hesitates and avoids it means efficiency losses. In a large warehouse with several hundred employees, it can mean big economic losses in poor efficiency. It can also mean a big difference in the level of service if several departments are behind in goods receiving. Poorer level of service means lost sales or lost production.

Important to remember:

  • A policy describing that you are employed in the warehouse not in a department. It is the employee’s responsibility to see the big picture.
  • Job rotation, if there is a large warehouse, you cannot rotate over the warehouse but within the department. You secures warehouse production if as many as possible have expertise in so many work processes as possible.
  • Move staff between departments. Moving staff as soon as there is a need, everything to avoid sub-optimization.
  • The larger the warehouse the more important WMS has great tools for capacity calculations and planning of resources in the warehouse. LMS (labor management system) is a great tool, some WMS have LMS as a module.
  • Last but not least, strong and good leadership. It does not matter how good WMS tools you have if you do not have good leadership that dares to take decisions and communicate decisions in a good way.

Roberth Karlsson

One thought on “How to avoid sub-optimization in warehouse production

  1. Can optimization be done without featured WMS and/or LMS?

    Definitely, yes. It is a matter of leadership and techniques that can be set up.

    I always have had a problem in the warehouses I’ve been working for improvements. None of them had optimization modules in their computer systems, but my customer WANTED RESULTS NOW. The answer to demands for new systems would have been: not now, we do not have money.

    Saludos cordiales.

    Juan Carlos Viela

    Like

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