Building Your Battle Plan

Many of you are asking yourself, “How can I make the biggest positive impact in 2007?” The options are endless. To help you determine where you should invest your own mental energy and the energy of your team, ask yourself some focused questions:

Where were your greatest bottlenecks last year? Think about your experiences last year. Especially think about those difficult days. Where did you encounter the greatest bottlenecks, and what effect did those bottlenecks have on a) your customers, b) your quality, and c) your labor utilization. For any areas that had a significantly harmful impact, document the problems that were encountered and your understanding of why they occurred.

Did any of your systems reach a breaking point last year? Think about your manual and your software systems. Did you push any systems to their limit, did you not have enough capacity, or did the existing systems simply not have enough horsepower to keep up with your current operating level? Again make a list and briefly identify the problems you encountered. How do you expect these systems to perform during your busy periods this year? How long do you have to make changes before the busy period hits?

How does your facility look for space this year? Do you have enough room to do the job efficiently, or is your facility too crowded, causing inefficiency in movement or in the locating of items? If your aisles have been getting crowded, or if you are hunting for items in an area that has too much stock in too tight a space, make a note of it. Are SKUs getting commingled due to space constraints? If you are adding to the existing inventory or adding brand-new items, do you have room to put the new receipts without hurting the efficiency of your facility? Are the storage locations you are using appropriate for the stock being moved?

How is your team positioned to handle 2007? Does your existing team (management, supervisors, and floor associates) have the expertise to handle the new challenges you anticipate in 2007? Do you have any weak areas that you would like to minimize or eliminate? Now is the time to consider improvements in staff, as well as in supervision and training.

What external factors does your operation face in 2007? Are there outside forces that are causing you to reevaluate your operation or consider changes? These may include competitive pressures, changes in product lines, and corporate directives for increased savings. How are you going to address each of these forces?

Prioritize and attack!
Creating the list of problem areas based on your answers to these questions is easy. Once you have the list, it’s time to prioritize and sequence items for action. In prioritizing, consider a) ability to produce increased savings, quality, or service improvements, b) the time, money, and people required, and c) the potential impact and the potential risk of addressing the particular challenge.

You may want to prioritize some “low-lying fruit” first in order to rapidly achieve a result and gain momentum with your staff. Beyond that, you need to look at both time and money for each initiative. Don’t hesitate to consider adding staff or hiring outside resources when internal resources are too tight.

Sam Flanders is president of Durham, NH-based operations consultancy Warehouse Management Consultants (The Skinny on Put-to-Light

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