With traditional models being turned upside down, the pressure is on for businesses to become more adaptable and flexible with their planning, writes Tony Dobson, SnapFulfil's CEO for UK & Europe.
Here are his Top 10 tips for any warehouse needing to learn, grow and succeed in a new world driven by fast moving e-commerce and ever shifting customer demands.
- Know what's changed. Regulations, guidance and safety standards have all updated in the wake of COVID-19. Good warehousing includes understanding the rules by which you must operate, not just for compliance, but the health of your employees and their families.
- Understand who you have lost through redundancy/furlough. In most warehouses, especially smaller operations, your most reliable staff perform a lot of tasks, which sometimes binds together or glosses over operating challenges. Evaluate your team, consider who is no longer there, and dig into their roles and responsibilities.
- Expect shifting sands. Leaders and managers need to cultivate resiliency in their teams. Shifting priorities and focus will happen, so the best guidance we can give to our teams is to be open to change and offer them confidence that you'll be right there with them.
- Prioritise your operations. A common warehouse prioritisation pattern is: picking, packing, receiving and putaway, followed by inventory control activities, such as cycle counting and consolidation. In this way, the focus is on immediate fulfilment activities, then re-filling the warehouse, then ensuring inventory validity - and resources need to be allocated to accomplish those goals in that order. Be transparent on the costs of this type of focus, and be ready to adjust priorities.
- Stabilise your own suppliers. As much trouble as you're having, spare a thought for your suppliers' warehouses. Check and verify - and if new lead times are needed prior to placing orders, ensure you understand and communicate them.
- Have a personnel plan. It's a challenge to manage staffing levels in these unpredictable times, so it's worth regular strategy sessions with your leadership team to understand what the trigger points are for bringing on temporary or full-time employees.
- Tighten up dispatch and delivery. Businesses re-aligning their strategy to focus more on delivering into the retail channel or D2C should use their WMS to take a fresh look at shipping visibility and accuracy. When it comes to customer satisfaction, this is one of the most crucial measures of all. Incremental improvements in visibility and error reduction will yield proportionately greater benefits to sales growth and customer retention.
- Manage resources. There will be days when the amount of time needed to complete tasks exceeds the number of man hours available. In an environment where hours are scarce, but demand for work is not, managers have to prioritise work effectively. In a pre-COVID-19 world, warehouses probably had four or five critical processes but these may need to be refined even further when time and resource is at a premium.
- Is it time to invest? Advanced cloud-based WMS's like SnapFulfil find their value in letting you do more with less - and much more accurately. The most effective warehouse operations use a WMS to establish optimal picking and packing methodology, underpinned by highly efficient receiving and putaway activity.
- Set goals and celebrate success. When times are difficult it's all too easy to lose sight of strategic goals. Navigating the "new normal" inevitably means that further goals will need to be set and regularly evaluated. And just as important is to recognise when goals have been met and celebrate every win. Leaders and managers are under tremendous stress and every hourly employee is just as burdened. Warehousing can be thankless - but we have an opportunity to run warehouses tightly, professionally, and use every resource to its fullest.