We haven’t even gotten through peak season 2016 yet, but there are some quick steps you can take now that will help with post-season assessment of your fulfillment operations and planning for 2017. These steps will not take much time but will be invaluable in January and February as you look for ways to improve your operations.
During peaks in the direct-to-consumer businesses, weekly volumes can be 5 to 15 times higher than normal. For categories like apparel and shoes, which can have return rates from 15% to 30%, volume continues at peak rates well into January.
Here are 8 things you can do to record observations that will help you with post-peak analysis and planning for Christmas 2017.
People are not good at taking notes. They think they can recall key things but few can accurately. After you’ve finished a crushing holiday season, you’re lucky you can remember your name! Get your line managers to do this too. My point is to “journalize” your observations as you see them, which helps put things in perspective. Just note them to return to later.
Make a video and take pictures
This will be invaluable especially if you use an outside resource like a consultant or material handling integrator to provide solutions. They’ll get the picture more realistically. Take simple mobile phone pictures or video of storage areas at maximum capacity, aisle congestion, any issues with conveyance systems, etc.
What could you have done differently in terms of advertising, recruiting and training? How could labor have been used more efficiently? Where were there too many people and not enough for the workload? How could scheduling replenishment in off hours free up congestion? Could a partial or a full second shift increase productivity?
Where can workflow and process be simplified?
Seasonal temps and part-time workers may not have ever worked in your type of facility or for your company. Make some brief notes about where they failed to produce. Can the process be simplified and workflow improved? Could the process be broken into multiple steps which would make them more productive? Can your skilled employees handle the complex tasks?
In a couple of warehouses this year, we have made changes which were fairly radical that increased storage capacity and throughput. Are there ways to reset pallet racking systems and storage to get more capacity? Can you make better use of clear-span aisle widths and outer wall areas? Would a slotting system or hot pick areas help increase picking productivity?
Exception conditions and errors
Low volume, average day exception conditions and errors are greatly magnified and often create slowdowns and process inefficiency. Back orders, caused by product that isn’t in the right location or inaccurate inventory counts, can bring a picker’s productivity to a temporary standstill. Log these and deal with how to solve them later. One thing we have seen clients do is to have DC inventory control personnel do aisle checks to make sure product is in the right location. Don’t take time to count but at least have it in the right slot.
Shipping systems and loading trucks
Are there things you would do differently with carriers, dropping a trailer, loading trucks, etc.? Could you extend pickup cutoff times? In less automated facilities are there ways to use expandable conveyors into trucks? Sometimes the speed of shipping and manifesting systems create bottlenecks. Later you can determine if the shipping can be increased.
Call a consultant during peak
Inviting resources like consultants in now to see your facility at peak is extremely valuable to help you set up post-holiday assessment. Yes, you can describe the conditions but there is no substitute for seeing it in person. It doesn’t mean you have to take time now to get proposals and hire them.
Taking these 8 steps now will help you identify problems and areas of needed improvement in 2017 planning. All you need to do for now is get everyone to identify and document issues. Good luck with your peak operations this year and beyond!
Curt Barry is Founder & President of F. Curtis Barry & Company