The Opinion Page
News and comments about the issues facing today's SCM and Inventory Management professionals.
Recently on Linkedin, the following question was asked:
Team, any suggestions on how to error proof the pick / ship process manually or with RF. To ensure the customers always gets what he has ordered.
This was my response this morning, for your interest and amusement:
An appropriate answer depends very much upon the nature of the product(s) being distributed, as well as outbound shipment volumes and frequency. This submission will talk about a process that has a heavy manual component.
I agree that verification of outbound shipments is a very important step.
I used to manage (as Operations Manager) a small (40,000 sq foot) warehouse that stored and distributed finished goods of very high per unit value. The goods were fragile as well. We had a high sku-count (about 7,500 sku's), large customer data base, and our WMS was a combination of manual pick/pack/ship with a bespoke computerized customer service system that generated the picking documents. It was very "1980's", but we succeeded in achieving over 99.5% inventory record accuracy, high labour productivity, and virtually no customer complaints regarding mis-shipped sku's.
One of my warehouse manager's key responsibilities was performing a visual verification of case contents before the cases were sealed and manifested for shipping. Two of our best full-time staff assisted him in this process, when required. He was on the floor a lot (over 75% of his day, typically - no hiding in his office) and he was obsessed with accuracy.
But, inspection does not ensure Total Quality, and Dr. Deming's Point #3 of his Fourteen Points is "Cease Dependence on Mass Inspection." I agree with Dr. Deming wholeheartedly, and even he granted that some exceptions do exist to this rule. In the spirit of Point #3 we succeeded in building quality of processes upsteam. If we had failed to do this, my warehouse manager would have been overwhelmed with mistakes at the verification stage.
I believe that it is important to have a clear and unambiguous product numbering hierarchy. We dealt with all manner of colours, shapes, and sizes. The product's UPC code, or other numerical identifiers, had to describe the item precisely. It was not good enough to describe a product as being "blue". Was it "sky blue" or "turquoise" or "teal" or "royal blue" or "midnight blue"? We had a code for each. Everyone from customer service to order entry to warehouse operative had to understand the importance of the product codes.
Our order entry staff were well-trained, so that errors at this stage were minimal. If an error did occur, we could easily trace it back to the order-entry operative and take corrective action in that area (was it human error? Did the customer make a mistake? Is some re-training required?).
Warehouse picking staff were well-trained and cross-trained in other areas (e.g. packing and shipping). We favoured full-time employees, and literacy (read, write, speak) in English was a prerequisite. We found it difficult to train part-time and temporary employees to a sufficiently high state of knowledge to ensure quality. If any ambiguity existed, the order pickers were unafraid to ask questions.
While we did not embrace a formal cycle counting routine in our warehouse (I very much recommend it, though) we did use some of the corrective actions suggested by cycle counting. We investigated, for example, any instance where a customer order had passed through the order entry predisposition stage onto the warehouse floor, but the picker could not locate any stock. This would trigger a root cause investigation.
So, I suggest that verification in combination with sound upstream processes will lead to success in shipping accuracy.
John Skelton is the Principal Consultant and founder of Strategic Inventory Management.