The Pre-Peak Season Warehouse Management Health Check-Up
There's a maintenance strategy for every major purchase you’ve made.
- You know when your car needs an oil change.
- You know when the filters on your appliances should be swapped.
- You know when your pick process needs to be reviewed ... you don’t, do you?
Do You Have a Warehouse Management Maintenance Schedule Ahead of Peak Season?
The adage goes: an ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure. It’s much easier to kick the tires before the car takes off down the road. Why should your fulfillment centers — and the people, processes and technology that run them — be any different?
When was the last time your warehouse management system (WMS) had a good pre-peak stress test?
Where Should You Focus?
There are a number of things that should happen before peak. I’ll break it down into categories and then look at things you should review for optimal performance.
Your facility needs to be in its best possible state for peak fulfillment execution. Critical areas should be reviewed and any remedies worked early.
- Space Planning: Not everything happens between racking and shipping. During peak, flexible use of floor space is essential. You should pre-mark zones for overflow, floor stacking and hot picking. Then test your process with those temporary changes.
- Equipment Servicing: Ensure that maintenance has been performed to vendor specifications and any open tickets which have been put off are caught up. You want these assets in tip-top condition when they're hit with high-throughput demand.
- Major Projects: Timelines slip. Changes that were anticipated for peak season will get pushed to next year. Make sure that your plans — throughput, staffing, training — all consider the footprint and features to which you’ll have access; not the ones you were promised.
Your facilities run on labor. In most facilities, the majority of warehouse management tasks are still performed manually. Do you have the right quantity and quality on staff, ready to go?
- Team Size: Many operations run extra, larger shifts during peak surge. Ensure you've hired the right number of temporary staff and look into how you can flex if needed by keeping good ties with on-demand labor agencies and recruiting firms.
- Training and Skills: Have you deployed new warehouse management systems or automation? Make sure that your existing and temp teams have received the training they need to run the technology optimally. Run some roleplay; don’t assume it was all retained.
- Workforce Management (WFM): Do you have ideal workers and areas that are sprinting to get through their workloads? Modern WFM solutions can both manage shift staffing as well as intra-facility repositioning. If you're done in receiving, get those people over to packing and shipping. This is historically manual, but newer solutions can do this dynamically as drops in tasks are detected.
- Other Priorities: Make sure you know who has got other commitments. Many people aren’t living to work. Respecting their personal or professional commitments will maintain high worker morale and loyalty.
Processes are generally designed for one thing: day-to-day predictable average volume. Many processes aren't designed for max flow situations and can break down spectacularly. Practicing for all warehouse management scenarios is essential for business continuity.
- Cycle Count: If you haven’t done one in a while, it’s good to pull that random list of SKUs and get a feel for how accurate your inventory is. If your site accuracy isn’t above 99 percent (depending on your industry), you might be in for more exceptions than you anticipated. Be sure to dig into the numbers and see if certain departments have lower accuracy, which could mask process issues or even fraud.
- Pick, Pack, Putaway: Ensure warehouse management processes are being worked as taught. Highlight exceptions and understand why workarounds are being performed. Update the process where it makes sense and re-train for standardization.
- Volume Stress: Build and run a cycle as high as 110 percent to 120 percent of your previous peak’s worst shift. Ideally re-run sample data from last year. See what breaks. Was it workable? What things didn’t keep up? Identify and correct for as much as you can before it’s real customers’ orders.
- Assortment/Forecast Review: All forecasts are less accurate the further out they're created. Pre-season demand planning might be a year in advance. Have you reviewed it recently? Are early sales highlighting the SKUs you expected or something radically different? Checking sales data from midyear events (e.g., Amazon Prime Days) can give you the time to adjust inbound orders.
For all the benefits technology brings, it adds another area to strengthen ahead of peak. Make sure both the physical and digital systems you’ve deployed are ready for the challenge. From conveyance to communication to execution, these will form the foundation of peak excellence.
- Warehouse Management System (WMS): Are you using old technology to solve new problems? This puts you at high risk of inventory system outages, late/missing deliveries, excessive costs, and “We’re sorrys" to customers. Don’t go through another January retrospective with your CFO asking why sales were up, but margins eroded. With the availability of modern WMS, there are no more excuses. Using our own example, during Peak Week 2022, Deposco’s WMS handled 40 percent more total orders year-over-year (YoY), 17 percent more shipments YoY, and had zero emergencies across all customers during their busiest time of the year.
- Material Handling Equipment (MHE): If you’ve deployed new MHE of any kind — conveyance, automated storage, autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) — then stress test it as well. While conveyance unlocks incredible productivity, it will have a threshold where it fails to keep up. Know where that is and make sure you consider it when assessing the facility.
- Wi-Fi and Internet Connectivity: Operations are more dependent on internet connectivity than ever before. From handhelds to workstations, almost everything assumes you're connected to the internet at all times. When that goes down, operations grind to a halt fairly quickly, causing significant losses. This is especially crucial with the elevated use of Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices in recent years. Collaborate with your IT team to stress test the network from multiple physical positions in the facility. Identify and eliminate dead spots and replace faulty hardware.
Not everything that can fail resides within the four walls of the warehouse.
- Supplier Commits: Don’t assume your suppliers are going to hit their ship dates. Validate. Identify the A items in your assortment — the ones that are driving your sales plan. Call those suppliers and make sure they're not behind schedule. Lapsed receipt dates have a cascading failure effect throughout operations that will be hard to recover from during peak.
- Contract Committed Volume Review: What are the minimum quantity orders? Is your business a priority? Check in with your suppliers and service providers. Most businesses don’t run constant flow and locking down commitments for seasonal demand is critical. Often, you’ll need to commit to pre-buying up to 50 percent of your projected volume, but you’ll gain certainty that you can flex to 100 percent when the demand lands. Run this across your needs list: corrugate, transportation, packaging, MRO. Anything that comes from outside which could threaten your business.
- Virtual Sites and 3PLs: This cuts across every preceding topic. If you're leveraging offsite, and it's not an everyday function, getting in early and including it in every stress test above is vital. Treat your virtual facilities like net-new sites and put them through the same QA you would a new permanent building. This won’t be your standard people, process or technology, but the 3PL’s. While these offer incredible flexibility, they bring equal risk of process failure.
Are You Ready?
Any major purchase you’ve made included some guidance on how to maintain it. In this warehouse management check-up, you can see how many moving parts need attention heading into your peak selling season. Assume that any single item could be what breaks your ability to serve your customers' expectations.
Running a warehouse management health check could be the difference between your best peak or your worst.
Josh Lett is the senior vice president for professional services at Deposco. Deposco’s omnichannel fulfilment supply chain applications help companies rapidly scale their warehouse management and order management operations, to see the inventory they’ve got, where it is, and where it should be in order to fulfill demand.
Josh Lett is the Senior Vice President for Professional Services at Deposco. Deposco’s omnichannel fulfilment supply chain applications help companies rapidly scale their warehouse management and order management operations, to see the inventory they’ve got, where it is, and where it should be in order to fulfill demand.