O+F Then and Now: Take the Simple Managerial Approach

Feb 01, 2003 10:30 PM  By

DESPITE HIS ABUNDANT KNOWLEDGE of avant-garde technology and processes, today’s warehouse manager isn’t all that different from his predecessors. His priorities include the age-old concern of just how to get it all done. Consider these statements:

  1. “I think technology can be a diversion from the basics of management: discipline, intelligence, rolling up your sleeves, and doing the traditional, time-honored, hard-nosed things that get work done. More often than not, a simple managerial approach can solve problems without turning to a capital-intensive solution.”
  2. “Don’t be afraid to make a commitment because of uncertainty about the future. Some mistakes will be made, but if enough of the fundamental pieces have been taken care of properly, you can probably build on the foundation. A lot of times getting it right is just common sense.”
  3. “Outsourcing is a very good way to handle peak capacity. And it gives you the chance to accumulate the data and experience to plan an appropriate warehouse with materials-handling systems consistent with your real needs.”
  4. “Very few catalogers are dealing with a blank slate. … They [have] ‘legacy’ infrastructures — warehouses that have grown up with the business. They were not designed for the performance levels that are expected now. So, if you are not building a warehouse from scratch, how do you optimize the facilities you have inherited? How do you ‘retrofit’ intelligently?”

All those observations came from speakers at the National Catalog Operations Forum’s annual meeting ten years ago. In 1993, as they do now, logistics professionals much preferred practical advice to theoretical wisdom. The suggestions of six industry experts, proffered during a panel session at the conference, were published in Operations & Fulfillment in October of that year. Billed as “an exclusive, roll-up-your sleeves discussion,” the article formed part of what was then the magazine’s “Think Tank” series.

(1) Bob Cocks, Gander Mountain Co. (2) Ted Dimon, Sedlak Management Consultants (3) Charlie Armstrong, Meldisco (4) Ernie Schell, Operations & Fulfillment

Long Ago and Far Away

“Order schedule slip given to customer at a catalog desk at French mail order company La Redoute, indicating day package will be available under 48-hour chrono service program. Bottom of form reads, ‘Your package will arrive quickly; profit from it quickly.’”

Source: Fenvessy on Fulfillment, 1988

Sortation Systems, 1993

Type of Sorter Throughput (pieces per min.) Installed Price ($/sq. ft.)
Manual 5-10 $200
Rake Puller 15 $250
Tilting Tray 200 $1,400
Cross Belt Up to 400 $2,500
Source: Operations & Fulfillment


Twenty-first-century professionals try to prove that they are au courant by using “metrics” as a synonym for the perfectly good term “measurement.” Perhaps the idea that they gain time by pronouncing two syllables instead of three lures them into forcing an innocent adjective into the role of a bullied noun. Descriptors aside, what has really changed when it comes to measuring performance? It may be instructive to compare the benchmarking wisdom below from the annals of O+F circa 1993:

  • Benchmarking benefits

    Judges performance using externally derived standards; assures competitiveness; provides a path to industry leadership; instills a mode of learning

  • Benchmarking targets

    Fulfillment and phone systems; quality system maturity; shipping options; call center practices; speed of delivery; initial fill performance; product quality; customer cost of ordering

  • Benchmarking steps

    Determine scope of initiative; select operations to be analyzed; make comparisons; report what is learned; set goals and formulate plans; carry out the plans; measure changes in performance; repeat the process