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6 Common Lean Warehousing Mistakes You May Not Even Know You're Making

Posted by Jared Hammond on Aug 24, 2017 8:00:00 AM


Your warehouse should be––at its core––a bastion of the organization.

Unfortunately, day-to-day operations don't always go according to plan. After being "slightly off target" for organizational goals for long enough, it's not uncommon for managers to look up and realize they're not just off track––they're on a completely different set of tracks entirely.

If your warehouse efficiency isn't up to par, and your bottom line is suffering, it's time to commit to the principles of lean warehousing.

The best way to course-correct an organized operation is to be conscious and diligent about applying lean warehousing principles. That means not only proactively introducing lean practices but spotting areas where you are currently missing the mark, as well.

Are you guilty of some of these 6 common lean warehousing mistakes?

1. Avoiding, Delaying, or Omitting a Regular Profile Analysis

If you don't know the demand on your warehouse, it's impossible to adequately prepare for it. There are three states a warehouse can be in: underprepared (which leads to customer dissatisfaction and delays), well-prepared (which maximizes efficiency and profit), or over-prepared (which wastes resources and overextends risk of damage, theft, and accidents).

You should aim for only the middle ground: well-prepared. When you leave it up to chance by making calls "on the fly," you lessen your chance at success. Determine your demand-using units, such as pallets in warehousing measurements, and regularly assess the accuracy of your forecasts versus your actual input and output.

A profile analysis will give you accurate, dependable data to make important decisions, such as order volume, timing, and even storage space rotation.

If you aren't regularly monitoring your profile, you likely wave off the value it provides because you've never seen those results flex their muscles in reality. Even if you have started collecting data in this vein, if you aren't organizing and using it consistently, you're only working as living proof of the "garbage in = garbage out" theory.

Real data analysis requires more than half a commitment, so if you aren't verifying the accuracy of your warehouse workflow data or gathering it regularly, you're introducing a huge information gap into your warehousing operations.

2. Using a "Set-and-Forget" Style for Standardized Processes

Chances are, you don't order the same number of products you did on your first day in business. You don't ship out the same volume or even have the same customers. So when it comes to standardized processes in your warehouse, it just doesn't make sense to believe they're immune to those changes. Even if you put your "best people" on those standardized processes––if they're faulty, to begin with, they'll continue to deliver sub par results.

Your standard processes should be examined, tested, and adjusted the same way you would roll out performance reviews for team members, or perform maintenance on warehouse equipment. Processes grow old and obsolete; they rest on pillars of information that can drastically change over time, leaving them off-balance or even useless. Think about your inbound process for warehouse goods––the way your team would offload, for example. A single refrigerator is vastly different than the way a team member would handle an entire truck of pallets with time-sensitive materials.

However, standardization is not, and should not, be a dirty word in the warehouse.

Remember that standard processes enforce safety and security, provide a convenient baseline for improvement measurements, and helps simplify with onboarding new team members. Standardization fosters creativity, as well. We don’t want team members being robots––we want them engaged in improving the standard.

3. Skipping a Gemba Walk

Once you've moved into an office or away from the warehouse floor, you've already surrendered an important part of understanding your warehouse: witnessing the way it moves.

When you take the time to get out on the floor, you're telling your company and your team that you care enough to stay involved at every step of the process. You can't lead from behind a window, so make sure you're on the "front lines" as often as possible to truly understand the impact of your decisions and the reality of the work––or lack thereof. This ties to respect for the frontline associates and ensuring they have every advantage possible to perform at a high level, adding value to the customer.

4. Measuring the Wrong Metrics Against Your Baselines

Metrics are simply data––much like misquoting someone, even using the same words in the wrong tone or order can produce an entirely different reaction. Make sure what you're referring to as "productivity" is actually reflective of productivity, and not simply an arbitrary metric that was selected to represent it.

Without a holistic understanding of what constitutes a "good" day or a "bad" day in your warehouse, you won't be able to apply meaningful changes to your workflow and processes.

lean-warehousing-shelves.jpeg5. Failing to Adapt Your Recruiting/Hiring Processes

While every company wants the best talent available, the lean mindset requires members of management to concentrate just as much on improving and developing their employees as finding a good fit, to begin with. Just as you apply continuous improvement to the physical processes and output of the warehouse itself, you must also apply it to the team working on it.

You need to apply the same focus to your career as well. No one is exempt from the potential of the lean mindset of self-development, and leading by example is a timeless technique, no matter what industry you work in.

6. Failing to Ensure Your Entire Team is On Board

Lean processes are the right choice for an efficiency-minded warehouse, but that doesn't mean it's smooth sailing for your entire team. Making this shift fundamentally changes your organization, so without proper preparation, you'll be left with a team that's likely to be both confused and lacking direction.

If your leadership doesn't properly communicate or enforce the importance of your lean improvements, you run the risk of seasoned employees stubbornly continuing to do things "the way they've always been done." That creates a culture clash between your lean adherence team and your experienced employees, putting management firmly between a rock and a hard place.

More work, more interventions required, more corrections needed––it all translates to a waste of time and resources.

If on the other hand, you take the time to discuss and gradually work with your team to instill lean principles, they'll be more invested in seeing it succeed. Additionally, if any team members drag their feet or doubt the potential of lean efforts, being involved in the process will help win them over more quickly and easily.

To Sum It All Up

We've seen these common lean problems across many of our partners before they began working with us. If you feel your operations might include any of the 6 roadblocks above, you can learn how to apply better lean warehousing principles in our free eBook below. In it, we expand upon many of the ideas above, as well as talk through a balanced, tiered scorecard approach and more.

Get your company on the track to focused, efficient results with our guide to Embracing Lean Warehousing. 


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Jared Hammond

Written by Jared Hammond