Continuous Improvement in Warehouse Operations -

As regular followers know by now I am a traditionalist when it comes to Continuous Improvement. These days CI comes under the umbrella of ‘Lean’ (or vice versa?) and I would like to take a bit of time to explore what this could mean for businesses over time, and the consequences for the effectiveness of CI activity.

Supply Chains have become and will continue to develop into ever more complex beasts. Change and re-organisations are a recurring element of managing warehousing operations and new systems are now the key drivers for increasing capacity, productivity and controlling costs.

In parallel, labour supply has grown to such an extent that the cost of labour has shrunk as a proportion of the overall budget, and the competitive pressures of meeting more demanding customer service expectations has made ‘fulfilment’ a higher priority.
As I see it, the gap which has appeared over time is in the knowledge and deeper understanding of the techniques that should underpin CI activity. I have a deep admiration for the way that supply chains have developed in recent times in response to market demands, but I am concerned that a small but significant area of capability is being undermined by a lack of focus and an erosion of particular skills.

CI activity now tends to focus on colleague engagement with the aim of empowering all staff to take an active role in highlighting waste and coming up with programs to reduce it. There is also more effort made to engage staff by reporting progress and reinforcing communications with project and KPI updates.

The absolute fundamental building block of Process Improvement is understanding the way that a process is framed within the context of the processes that precede it and the processes that follow it. Traditional Industrial Engineering was centred around the concepts of time study and work measurement that taught practitioners the ways that waste crept into processes and how it could be ‘engineered’ out.

Time study is not all about standard minute values and KPIs, or performance management. It is a process whereby each step in a process is identified and evaluated in the context of flow and best practice, with one crucial advantage being the ability to benchmark across industries and operations. Lean practitioners do not learn this level of analysis and as a result significant areas of improvement can fall under the radar.
Individual processes take place hundreds and thousands of times over the course of a day and repeat themselves day after day. This is why Process Engineering and Process Improvement should be high up on the CI agenda. Small gains are multiplied over and over and over.

In the best spirit of CI, you should also review your CI outcomes over time and consider all the options. Those options should include Process Engineering, done by an expert in Industrial Engineering techniques. You can enhance your CI capability by incorporating Industrial Engineering training into your Training schedule and develop a new set of skills to complement your existing CI team.

For more information contact Peter Hilton at Hilton Productivity Services Ltd.