Five More Strategies for Operational Excellence

This is the second in a two-part series. For part one, “Five Strategies for Operational Excellence,” click here.

Examine your order fulfillment processes, step by step.
Order fulfillment is the most costly process in the distribution center. How can you increase throughput or reduce head count? First, map your current processes. Second, identify the methodology of your picking processes and explore whether a different method would be more effective. Third, analyze your pick media and investigate whether you could increase productivity by upgrading. Fourth, determine if technology could enhance the process. Have new technologies or trends been introduced? Has the cost come down on a previously evaluated technology?

Remove barriers to success.
Many times the C-level executives are not aware that such barriers exist–but your staffers sure do, and they can easily explain what they are: a broken printer in the supervisor’s station, no extra batteries for the radio-frequency hand-held, the first shift failing to set up for the second shift. Listen to them. They do the job eight hours a day. They know what is keeping them from performing their job efficiently. Below is an example of simple barriers that caused big productivity losses.

Continually raise the bar.
Challenge every department on every team to find better processes, redirect paperwork, and reduce nonvalue steps. Here’s an example: A music distribution company set production at 400 lines per hour. In some zones, where there were high-density picks, it was possible to double that rate, but because the overall rate was 400, order fillers decided not to work so hard, in effect slowing down so as to make but not exceed the standard. We resolved this situation by changing the rates goals by zone. The result was an overall increase in production of more than 30% without an investment of hardware or software.

Know the value of fresh eyes.
As one client said, “We don’t know what we don’t know.” You take your body, your car, your lawnmower for checkups. Why not your distribution center? Have an operation audit done by an outside consultant who knows practical operations.

Don’t pave over cow paths.
Often when a distribution center makes a change, be it a new conveyor or new software, management identifies the project with the facility’s old processes instead of reviewing new and improved ways of accomplishing a task. Instead, benchmark your distribution center with others in your industry or with others that have similar operational flows. Share ideas through local association meetings or roundtables. Constantly evaluate new technologies and trends, and stay aware of what is going on in the field by reading publications about your industry. Don’t be stuck in the “we’ve always done it that way” mud.

If it hasn’t already become apparent, operational excellence doesn’t require a lot of money. Just practical steps for success and a commitment!

Susan Rider is president of Upton, KY-based operations consultancy Rider & Associates. She is moderating and presenting several sessions at NCOF, including “Achieving Operational Excellence: The Gold Nugget” on Wednesday, May 2.

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