Performing a Holiday Season Fulfillment Center Post Mortem

Last week Curt Barry of F. Curtis Barry & Co. shared his thoughts on planning a holiday post mortem as a way to improve operations for next year “Are You Ready for Holiday 2006?” Because one can’t underestimate the importance of improving your peak-season processes, with this issue Wayne Teres, president of Framingham, MA-based operations consultancy Teres Consulting (, offers the first of a two-part series on reviewing the season past and implementing improvements for the season to come.

If you are like most business-to-consumer direct marketers, at least 50% of your business occurs during the Christmas season. Clearly, the holidays can make or break a company. Fortunately, the time you invest now to improve your holiday season plan will pay dramatic dividends next Christmas season.

The first step is to review what happened. And to do that, you need to collect data in an organized manner so that you can determine what you did right, what you did wrong, and what you want to improve.

Meet with your supervisors and leads, requesting that they think about the holiday season. Ask them each to create a list of what they think went well and what didn’t, with a focus on bottlenecks and constraints to achieving your goals. They shouldn’t try to solve the bottlenecks and other problems just yet, but rather to simply point them out, along with any other areas for improvement. Let them know that you will meet collectively to compile the lists

When you do meet as a group to consolidate everyone’s comments into one list, use large flip charts to ensure that you capture every thought. Be sure to include your performance metrics for each function for your temporary workers. Additionally, when describing a problem quantify it for describing how much and how many.–for example, “on average we had 50 items a day that we could not find” or “we had 100 orders a day that were waiting for replenishment.”

Listed below are some questions to stimulate your analysis of the holiday season:

  • How accurate were your sales projections and inventory receipt projections? Many companies fail on inbound receiving.
  • How accurate were your labor requirement projections for inbound and outbound?
  • Did you receive marketing plans in advance for items being placed on sale?
  • Were you able to find enough quality workers?
  • What benefits did you offer to attract workers?
  • Did you have a referral plan?
  • How effective was your hiring?
  • Did you test potential applicants for skills such as math and picking location matching?
  • Did you use drug tests?
  • What percent of applicants did you end up hiring?
  • Did you have a separate temporary employee manual for the Christmas season?
  • How effective was your training program? Did you have trainers for the seasonal workers? Were the trainers trained?
  • Did you set productivity and quality goals for your new workers and, if so, monitor these goals?
  • Did you provide feedback to the workers?
  • Did you take action to terminate workers who were unsatisfactory?
  • What incentives did you offer? Did you offer an incentive for staying until the end of the season? How well did the incentives work?
  • What slowed you down or kept you from achieving your service, quality, or cost goals?
  • Did you have enough equipment, tools, and resources?
  • Could your replenishers keep up with the velocity of your items or did you have orders waiting for replenished items?
  • Did you perform exit interviews?
  • Did you set a goal for retention of seasonal workers?
  • Did you rate employees to determine individuals to ask back for next year?
  • Did you monitor turnover?

Best-of-class companies begin this process this month. After all, there’s one thing you can count on: Christmas will come next year, and no one will not move the date for you if you are not ready for it.

Next month, we’ll discuss common bottlenecks and constraints other direct marketers faced and what to did to overcome them.