As the memory of an overindulgent festive season recedes you might be reviewing how well you coped with the seasonal rush. If your business’ pre-Christmas crescendo went without a hitch you might be reviewing a job well done. Others may still be wondering what went wrong, with their thoughts turning to potential solutions – such as WMS – that could help them avoid a recurrence of the ‘Nightmare before Christmas’.
For a business that peaks at the year end, several factors coincide. Firstly, extra seasonal demand means you need to carry higher levels of stock. This puts a strain on warehouse capacity and unless overflow storage is planned in advance, can result in chaotic storage arrangements with the usual systems of location and retrieval abandoned in order to accommodate the extra peak stock.
Secondly, bigger demand means you need to recruit additional staffing to handle anticipated volumes. In some cases this could mean expanding your normal workforce by 100%, usually with personnel unfamiliar with your business. Even with previous warehouse experience they don’t know your operation, and it may not be possible to provide more than basic instruction on procedures.
Add to this the sheer volume of additional orders, perhaps at unanticipated levels, and problems start to occur. Your regular staff who are normally highly productive will be less so because they’re trying to maintain procedures and ‘keep the ship running’ while also assisting seasonal staff. They in turn are still learning on the job and potentially struggling to meet hoped-for productivity targets.
Depending on the length of your peak season you may also experience several stock turns, especially for the faster moving lines. Because of this you’ll constantly be juggling space and trying to ensure that despatches happen fast enough to create space for new stock receipts. This, and the potential breakdown of normal storage procedures can lead to various problems, including issues of rotation.
Add to these factors the likelihood your staff will be working extended hours. Tiredness then begins to affect performance, and mistakes which might normally be spotted and rectified start to creep in. Stock is harder to find because normal procedures have stalled or been abandoned, adding to productivity issues, while untrained personnel inevitably incur more pick errors relating to product, batch and quantity.
So how can it all be different? Without doubt there are numerous factors involved here, including pre-planning, correct procedures, training and the systems used to manage your stock operation. A warehouse management system alone will not, of course, magically remove all the potential issues without other vital activities taking place. However, if there is a key element to this, it is using a system that specifically manages the problems of handling physical stock.
Because ‘physical stock problems’ are basically what the Xmas rush is all about, a system that can manage these issues all year round at quieter times is the best thing to assist you at times of peak demand. A system which routinely imposes procedural discipline to create accuracy and productivity should be the safeguard that ensures these things are maintained at periods of exceptional activity.
Even when put under strain there are many ways such a system can handle more challenging situations. This can include the creation of additional, but still system-managed temporary storage locations and the relaxation of certain handling rules or pick processes without affecting accuracy. A definite advantage is the ability for temporary staff to be made ‘operation-ready’ by using an instructed picking App (on a low cost Android phone!) to ensure everything they do is accurate.
One of the things that deters companies from implementing a system that would minimise peak period disruption is the (often wrong) idea that doing so is a disruptive and prolonged process. ProSKU, which can manage the whole (and fully integrated) process from order receipt to courier despatch is an example of a system that can be, and regularly is implemented in a matter of weeks. We look forward to highlighting the simplicity of this process in future blogs.