The fine art of doing better with what you have

Until you get the basics right, you'll never get the most from other systems or processes.

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An inordinate number of companies, excited by new tools and systems, continue to overlook the importance of taking a step back and assessing “tamer” options before running off to buy a “silver bullet.”

What do I mean by “tamer” options?  They are nothing more (or less) than the fundamentals or basics common to all top performing warehouses. As you read them, you may not think of these as best practices, at least not the kind of best practices that result in more orders going out the door. But don’t be fooled. Until you get the basics right, you’ll never get the most from other systems or processes.

They include, for example:

Plant: A clean, well-lighted warehouse with rigorously maintained equipment used for its intended purpose directly reflects on management and is a solid indicator of workforce attitude and morale.
Staffing: Continuous training, performance reporting and achievement recognition, and attention to safety and ergonomics tell us a lot about a company’s concern for its employees and commitment to building an environment that enables exceptional performance.
Material and data flow: Is there a lack of correlation between the two that affects inventory accuracy, space and labor utilization, order fulfillment and shipping efficiency?  Layout, process and system modifications can help here. 
Processes and disciplines: What have you done to minimize the number of times products are handled and re-handled?  Are processes well defined and documented?  Did employees have a hand in developing them?  Are they regularly reviewed to identify opportunities for streamlining?
Tools and systems: What are you doing to minimize paperwork and travel times?  Do your systems simplify or impede operator task execution? 

Regardless of your company’s size or available capital, mastery of the “tamer” options will take you a long way towards improving performance.  Moreover, when the timing is right, it will help you to set the stage for reasoned deployment of those technologies and systems that will further fine-tune and optimize your operations.

Read more columns by John Hill at Modern.
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